£300k new-build homes subsidence update - Mother and children marooned in Banbury home - fire service would have to cut barriers in emergency

A mother marooned with her two children in one of a dozen subsiding homes on a Banbury housing development feels cut off from emergency services by builders’ barriers.
The front of Rima Akter's home fenced off in a second barrierThe front of Rima Akter's home fenced off in a second barrier
The front of Rima Akter's home fenced off in a second barrier

Rima Akter and her eight-year-old daughter and four-year-old son have been left in the two-bedroomed terraced house for 18 months while other residents have been moved out so remedial work could be carried out on the foundations. Mrs Akter is expecting a baby in early October.

The story of how developers Taylor Wimpey built homes on clay woodland that began to subside can be seen here, here and here.

Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue service inspected the situation yesterday (Tuesday) and said it would need to cut and remove fencing to get to the house.

The security barriers preventing vehicles getting to the frontages of the homes at Crouch Hill RoadThe security barriers preventing vehicles getting to the frontages of the homes at Crouch Hill Road
The security barriers preventing vehicles getting to the frontages of the homes at Crouch Hill Road

Mrs Akter rents her social housing through South Oxfordshire Housing Association (SOHA) which has been trying to find her alternative accommodation while her house is also repaired.

While she remains in her home, Mrs Akter is concerned about access to emergency services. Today (Tuesday) Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue services visited to inspect safety barriers that the young mother worries could prevent a quick response in the event of an emergency.

Following the Banbury Guardian’s intervention on Monday, Mrs Akter was offered one of the neighbouring properties as soon as it is fixed but Mrs Atker does not want the continued disturbance of the construction ground works from 7am with a newborn baby.

"The work on all the houses was supposed to take six months. It’s now seven months later and they’re only half way through. I can see it going on through the winter. The other residents were moved out in January 2021. I’ve been left here for 18 months in a house that is cracking around me,” she said.

The narrow perimeter passage which is Mrs Akter's only access to the back of her homeThe narrow perimeter passage which is Mrs Akter's only access to the back of her home
The narrow perimeter passage which is Mrs Akter's only access to the back of her home

"I moved here in 2015 and there have been problems from day one, with the boiler, the flooring, the kitchen units and the doors. My back and front door have each been changed than over 10 times because of movement of the walls. There are cracks in all the ceilings and rooms are becoming damp. I’m worried about the cost of keeping it warm and dry when the weather breaks.

"There is trouble with the gas boiler. Sometimes I don't have hot water heating because there's a leak connected to the subsidence which is a worry as it goes under the flooring.”

Mrs Akter is unable to access her house through the front door because construction workers have erected high, locked safety barriers outside and around the car park.

Her only entrance is through garden doors into her living room via a narrow passageway around the perimeter of the terrace block. This means she has to carry shopping, one bag at a time along the path. It also means she has not been receiving mail or internet deliveries.

"I don’t know what would happen if emergency services needed to get in. I think they would have to be along the same path. Vehicles cannot get into the car park at the front.” she said.

"This situation has affected my mental health. They start work around 7am and it’s noisy and dusty. When they’re drilling the floors and ground in the houses it’s very loud. I can’t open my windows.

"The children are woken early every day; my daughter knows the house is cracking and asks if it’s going to fall in on us. She wants to know why we have been left her and when we will be able to move.”

Mrs Akter said SOHA had offered her a property eight miles from Banbury which she had to refuse because of her children’s schooling. She has been told that if a property is found the National House Building Council (NHBC), Taylor Wimpey’s insurance agent, (which is organising remedial work on the houses) will organise the house move.

An Oxfordshire County Council spokesman said the county Fire and Rescue Service has visited the address and inspected access in and around the Crouch Hill property.

“They noted the fencing that’s been erected and bolted together; however the small padlocks on the gates into the compound could easily be snapped with bolt croppers that all frontline fire appliances carry. This would then allow emergency crews full access to further cut or remove fencing as necessary.”

A SOHA spokesman said: “Work on 43 Crouch Hill Road is due to finish on September. 30. Ms Akter’s home is not dangerous, structural movement having stopped.

"Soha has made every effort to find suitable alternative accommodation for Ms Akter including corporate rents (that is, Soha would deal with a private landlord on her behalf to house her on the open market) until her house was ready to live in again. We started this process in 2021, both using a relocation agency commissioned by NHBC and seeking properties through the two largest social landlords in the Banbury area. Nothing we could offer suited Ms Akter.

“Soha offered to rehouse her two doors down the road as soon as remediation works were complete on that property. We acknowledge it would not be the best solution

for Ms Akter given that she would, in effect, be living next to a building site while work goes on around her.

“We therefore continue to search for alternative accommodation offered by others for Ms Akter while noting her as a priority potential tenant for any Soha home in her desired area. We are standing by to assist Ms Akter’s move as soon as something is identified which is acceptable to her.

“Regarding the heating system leak, Ms Akter reported this to us most recently in 2020 when we attended to rectify a water leak. Soha undertook a gas safety inspection in June 22, so we know the property is safe from a gas perspective.

“The NHBC assure us that during the day the operatives on site would be able to give access to emergency vehicles. Outside working hours the site signage has

the mobile number of the site foreman who is available round the clock to provide the code to the keypad lock.

“We are told by the site contractors’ contracts manager that he has spoken to postal workers on a number of occasions and has witnessed post being delivered to 45 Crouch Hill. The contractors have undertaken to put up a sign, at the point where the walkway starts, showing that pedestrian access to Ms Akter’s house is along the side path. We agree that this access is not ideal but the only possible short-term solution.

"Soha yesterday installed a lockable letterbox so that deliveries can be left with confidence when Ms Akter is out.

“The most recent Soha visit to Ms Akter was Tuesday August 16, when two staff attended in addition to our contractors installing the letterbox.

“Ms Akter did not tell us she was pregnant which would impinge upon the timescales for completing remediation work on her home. However, as previously stated, we are happy to make any internal adaptations which would make her life easier in the short-term.”