Geoinvestigate launches mine shaft and sinkhole helpline and adviceline
About mine shaft and sinkhole helpline.
Mineshaft and sinkhole risk helpline was created by Geoinvestigate to assist the public seeking information and advice on Mine Shaft Hazard (MSH) and sinkhole hazard. It is specifically targeted at the house conveyancing market and sellers and buyers but is also useful for builder, developers, planners, property agents, insurers and lenders dealing with mine shaft and sinkhole hazard.
Please contact our telephone helpline on free call 0800 1712011 or email geoinvestigate @qnetadsl.com for help and advice from experts.
The following article is provided to give those involved with mine shaft and sinkhole hazard some general background to the problem and how it is investigated and remediated. It touches upon the issues created by the recent introduction of risk assessment into the house conveyancing market. Its main focus is mine shaft hazard which can result in sales falling through at the last minute and buyers being unable to get mortgages on properties affected by MSH. The article is split into 12 sections
1 We can help
While we cannot promise to answer all your question and provide a successful outcome for each enquiry Geoinvestigate can help in several ways
2 About mine shafts
This year Geoinvestigate has dealt with more calls and emails about mine shaft and sinkhole hazard than in any previous year. We have been told about mine shafts opening up in public parks and wasteland, house sales falling through at the very last minute because of mine shafts and homeowners discovering that they may have mine shafts under their homes and gardens. One very worried caller said he thought he had a mine shaft under his living room, another under her garden where the kids play.
3 How big is the problem?
The UK Coal Authority record some 150,000 coal mine shafts and other mine entrances and as many may exist again but are unrecorded or “missing”. They estimate that there are 25,000 square kilometres of abandoned underground coal mine workings and tunnels in the Britain. The number of shafts probably double when other non-coal mine entries made for the tin, copper, lead, iron, clay industries etc. are included. The total number of abandoned mine entries in the UK has been estimated at 405,000. There are on average 15 mine shaft collapses a year in the UK and up to 30 collapses of the ground caused by mining legacy.
There are 130,000 properties within 20m of a mine entry – an often bandied about measure with increasing importance today with regard to selling your home near to a mine shaft and getting a mortgage.
Many parts of the country where the underlying geology is Limestone, Chalk, Salt/Brine or Gypsum suffer from natural sinkhole formation posing similar hazards to mine shafts.
In the UK there are hazards that lie beneath our feet left over from our past and very long mining history. This dates all the way back to 3500BC and earlier when our Neolithic ancestors were mining flints from the ground for axes, arrow heads and fire starting. Following Bronze Age tin and copper mining the Romans mined lead in Cumbria, tin in Cornwall and gold in Wales. Medieval and subsequent farming practice extracted chalk on a large scale in the South of England to improve agricultural land. Sandstone and limestone has been mined extensively throughout the UK for building stone while clay and sand has been extracted for pottery and foundry bricks and linings.
Organised coal mining was occurring as early as the 13th Century steadily increasing through the 17th, 18th, 19th & 20th Centuries as the Industrial Revolution arrived and took grip in Britain. The Peak District of Derbyshire once had 25,000 lead mine shafts while in 1920 a staggering 1.2 million people were directly employed in coal mining in Britain. Coal mining reached a peak in 1970 with the extraction of an astonishing 120 million cubic metres of coal per year but has since declined. There are estimated to be a staggering 25,000 square kilometres of abandoned coal mine workings and tunnels in the UK today.
Many tens of thousands of homes in the UK either have mine shafts or sinkholes under their floors, gardens or driveways or their properties are near enough to mine entries to be blighted by them when it comes to selling. Many of our parks, woodlands, playing fields, sports grounds, roads and schools in former coalfield areas contain one or several mine shaft hazrds unbeknown to the general public using them. From time to time these mine entries collapse or reveal their presence and failing condition through ground subsidence.
4 Your stories
For many sellers finding a mine shaft on their property or land is the beginning of a long nightmare with no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel and with little hope of ever selling their home at a fair market value. Properties affected by mine shafts may be worth 20% to 30% less than normal market value.
This year Geoinvestigate has dealt with more calls and emails about mine shaft hazards than in any previous year. One caller said they were unable to sell their house even though the mine shaft was not on their land but under a neighbour’s property making the problem impossible to sort out.
This owner, unbeknown to them had several sales fall through at the very last moment because of mine shaft hazard (MSH). Their buyer’s lender (the RBS) refused them a mortgage because of the mine shaft. The couple selling the house only found out because one buyer sorry for them told them about the mine shaft to their complete surprise and horror.
The Bickleys describe being ‘prisoners’ in their home because a mine shaft in their neighbour’s property meant they couldn’t sell their own – and they have warned that countless more homeowners may be in the same boat. They believe they are the tip of the iceberg and from the large number of similar mine shaft problems Geoinvestigate has received from the public this year we believe they are right.
We have been told of Banks and Building Societies “changing the goal posts” and inexplicably withdrawing lending on properties with known mine shafts but which they had previously been happy to provide mortgages for. They had had no problem lending on these properties 10 years ago but wouldn’t lend again today even though nothing had changed. One Bank still wouldn’t lend even after an inspection by a Coal Authority surveyor of a property with a mine shaft had reported “NO PROBLEM”?
5 Who pays?
Properties affected by mine shafts may be worth 20% to 30% less than their market value and sometimes even less. Geoinvestigate has been told of price knock downs of 50K and 60K and more on homes with mine shaft problems sold to cash buyers or in auction. Sellers are disadvantaged by not being able to sell properties affected by MSH on the open market. In many cases buyers reap the financial rewards from the dire situation sellers with mine shafts find themselves in. Other properties have been withdrawn from the market because they would not sell or the owners could not afford the high cost of the mine shaft investigation and treatment needed to make them safe.
Mine shaft blight is not only about money it’s about people lives and feelings. Distressed caused by financial uncertainty as well as worry about the safety of their home and being unable to make future plans can place an intolerable emotional burden on even the strongest. Recently on TV one couple described the nightmare of being a prisoner in their own home.
It can cost a homeowner £5,000 to £15,000 plus VAT to investigate a mine shaft hidden beneath their house. Assuming the shaft is successfully located (and this is not guaranteed) then the owner is also liable for the cost of stabilising the shaft which may be upwards of £50,000 plus VAT as well as finding alternative accommodation while the work is carried out. In one case fixing a mine shaft cost cost a whopping £105,000 ten years ago.
No wonder then that one homeowner said she would be in a better position if the mine shaft under her home subsided forcing the Coal Authority to step in and cover the cost of the investigation, repairs and temporary accommodation for her family.
If investigation fails to locate a mine shaft the situation remains unresolved and the seller is no further forward, only heavily out of pocket and facing an uncertain future. Unless the mine entry has caused damage neither the Coal Authority nor the Structural Insurance company will step in to pick up the tab for the investigative work or the cost of treating and making sure the mine shaft is stable.
Owners are completely on their own unless the shaft is a problem or the property has suffered subsidence or damage as a result of it in which case of coal the Coal Authority are liable for the cost of stabilising the ground and building repair. However the CA is not liable when non-coal mining problems need to be fixed. We have been told of one instance where after inspecting a house with a mine shaft beneath it the Coal Authority advised the owners they weren’t liable because it was a sandstone shaft and not coal. A similar shaft nearby cost their neighbours £105,000 to stabilise.
Mine shafts are an endemic hazard in many parts of Scotland, England and Wales and potentially a dangerous left over from our industrial and mining past. While instances of mine shaft collapse are very rare and building damage and personal injury even rarer the results of a mine shaft collapse could be very serious if an occupied building were to be affected or the ground unexpectedly gave way under a garden, playing field or road.
In 2016 a massive sinkhole which collapsed in a garden on Magdalens Road, Ripon nearly cost the life of Frances O’Neill who saved herself from falling into the deep hole at the last minute by grabbing a clothes line. Building damage is rare and injury and fatalities even rarer from mine shaft and sinkhole collapse.
Understandably for this reason mine shaft and sinkhole hazards must be treated with considerable caution and respect.
6 Are old mine shafts safer
Don’t be fooled, age is no guarantee that mine shafts and sinkholes do not exist or that they won’t suddenly collapse. Episode 7 of BBCs Rip-Off Britain show aired on 17 October 2017 covered mine shaft risk.
The TV show raised a few eye browse because it appeared to initially downplay mine shaft hazard. The bombshell claim was made in the show that the shaft under investigation didn’t really exist because it was based on an unreliable 150 year old map and there was an absence of building damage.
However later on the show got back on message agreeing that the mine shaft might be there after all and that only excavation or drilling by a specialist mining consultant like Geoinvestigate could resolve the home owner’s problems.
The shaft in question is recorded as a definite feature on an Ordnance Survey map of 1884. At the same time Victorian engineers and surveyors were measuring and building the Forth Road Bridge, one of the engineering wonders of the modern world. Didn’t they do well and weren’t they accurate !
The skill and accuracy of the OS surveyors and map makers was the envy of the world in Victorian times and remains so today. So there is no reason to doubt in this instance that there is not a mine shaft at the position shown on Coal Authority data base though there always remains the possibility that not every shaft may exist or be exactly where it’s expected and this shaft may be somewhere else nearby and perhaps never found.
Shaft hunting is notoriously difficult and can end in disappointment both for the client and the Engineering Geologists tasked with finding it. Specialist mining consultants like Geoinvestigate are aware of these problems and always advise clients about the difficulty of hunting shafts and that there may not be a successful result every time.
The absence of visible surface damage is no guarantee either that a shaft isn’t there or that it will remain stable into the foreseeable future. Many old shafts collapse many years after they were abandoned and without prior warning.
While the impression was given in the Rip-Off Britain show that the Bank had withheld a mortgage because they had assessed the property in question to be “HIGH RISK” surprisingly no independent up to date risk assessment was provided during the TV show? Perhaps an opportunity to inform the public about new conveyancing mine risk assessment was missed here. The obvious question remaining unanswered at the end of the show was – what would the outcome of an up to date risk assessment for this property be? Would it result in the same negative outcome for the seller or would it be more favourable persuading the Bank to lend resulting in a sale? After all the show was about risk assessment and how it can help provide better “nuanced” or objective judgement of mining hazard.
As the mine shaft is < 3.5m from the party wall of the property and perhaps even under the house itself and there is uncertainty about where it lies as well as the nature of the ground conditions it lies in, Geoinvestigate would have assessed the mine shaft to be a significant HAZARD warranting further investigation to properly assess its RISK.
Alternatively the advice provided in a specialist Coal Authority Mine Interpretive Report of 2006 and again in 2016 that “statistically the risk of damage to the main building is very small” together with a site inspection by them of 2012 which found “No Problem” should have been accepted by the Bank and a mortgage provided to the buyer on the understanding that the property is insured by the Coal Authority and to date there continues to be NO PROBLEM. After all the same bank accepted this argument in 2006 when they originally sold the Bickleys a mortgage for a house with mine shaft.
Personally speaking I would have had great difficulty persuading my partner to buy or rent a house either in 2006 or today with a mine shaft hazard under or close to it unless I had proof that it was stable or that it had been treated and fixed and our family and our castle was 100% safe. I would also have concerns about renting a house with a mine shaft below it and I would certainly want to know about this before i made decision about which property to rent.
So to summarise at Geoinvestigate we are always astonished by the accuracy of Victorian Ordnance Survey maps in general. The assumption that these can mostly be relied upon underpins all of todays mine search and risk assessment businesses and services no matter how elaborate and colourful the presentation of this data becomes in future years. Without relying on old maps, plans and records the desk top study of mine shafts and mine working and the risk assessment that flows from this simply couldn’t be done today no matter how fancy the computer systems manipulating the data becomes in the future. So if a mine shaft is shown on an old map it would be least imprudent to say the least to ignore it just because its is old.
The best advice given on the recent TV Rip-Off show was to carry out excavation and drilling investigations to locate the mine shaft and properly assess its risk. Geoinvestigate advised the Bickley’s to do this well before the show was made
7 Finding mine shafts by excavation & drilling
In some instances Mine shafts can be found by completely stripping the topsoil or trenching at close spacing and examining the natural clay below it for the presence of a mine entry. A shaft might show up both as a localised change in colour and composition of the surface eg a patch of grey ash stoney coal waste in a sea of orange clay.
Sometimes a concrete or timber mine shaft cap might be found with the attendant risk that there remains a deep void beneath it. Where possible accidental breaking through a cap into a mine shaft should avoided for reasons of public safety. Mine shaft location by excavation becomes much more difficult where the land has subsequently been raised by infilling and the mine shaft is buried below several metres of made ground and newer buildings. Deep trenching or drilling may be appropriate in this situation but the deeper the shaft lies buried the less chance of finding it.
Providing the site conditions are favourable and there is no interference nearby activites and objects non intrusive geophysical (geophizz) methods including electromagnetic and microgravity survey and ground and aerial drone GPR may help locate targets quickly without the need to disturb the ground. Suitable sites are typically level, distant from walls, buildings and roads and underground services and made ground is absent. Even where geophizz has been successful excavation and/or drilling will be required to confirm which of several targets is actually shaft and to enable treatment works.
Like mine risk assessment Geofizz cannot provide certainty with regard to mine shaft location, condition and whether or not a shaft is liable to collapse and what risk level it poses currently – as mentioned on BBC Rip-Off Britain only intrusive investigation and inspection will do this.
8 Risk assessment reality check
Mine risk assessment still relies of on the skillful manipulation of older and newer data and expert decision making by experienced professional engineering geological companies like Geoinvestigate. We have been doing this successfully for a long time.
Contrary to the impression the public might have mining risk assessment does not involve either sophisticated “Black Box” technology or extremely clever computer algorithms churning out reliable RISK ASSESSMENT forecasts.
Many factors affect mine stability many of which are not always known eg the exact position of the shaft, bedrock depth and whether or not its been infilled. Mine risk assessment still relies on human input and decision making and because of this the risk forecast is an opinion or a guide but not a certainty.
Mining risk assessment is subject to error and by its nature must err towards caution and perhaps in some cases pessimism. It might be argued if forecasting mine risk and whether a collapse is imminent is so difficult and unreliable why bother.
Rather instead let the ground itself provide notice that a critical stability threshold is approaching through progressive ground subsidence and the appearance of visible building damage or this threshold has suddenly been exceeded in a rapid ground collapse event. Because the later may not be spotted in advance it poses the highest risk of harm to the public though we know from the that statistics that injury and fatalities from MSH are extremely rare. This is a reactive strategy while the UK Coal Authority have over the years carried out a rolling programme of mine shaft inspection they essentially rely on reactive strategy to deal with the Britain’s coal mine shaft legacy. With over 150,000 mime shafts in the country, many in private gardens, under housing and roads how else could the problem be sensibly managed for mine shafts let alone dealing with very shallow mine working hazard.The cost of investigating and remediating every mine shaft and fixing them would run into 100s of millions if not billions of pounds of taxpayers money and would simply be an impractical and never ending task.
Sometimes the signs of mine shaft problems are there to be seen in advance. Recently after a collapse in the West Midands Geoinvestigate examined images from several years before which which showed the driveway was sagging before the driveway collapsed. So sometimes mine shafts do reveal themselves before they collapse us though most of us are unlikely to be aware that of their presence let alone recognise tell tale signs of movement.
A sagging wall in Bristol in the following image may reveal the true position of a mine shaft. If correct the actual mine shaft lies several metres to the left of the position recorded by the Coal Authority, highlighting that mine shaft location can be uncertain. However walls and driveways also sag for reasons other than mine shafts.
The following image shows a mine shaft subsidence hollow in a garden. Excavation and drilling will confirm whether a mine shaft exists at this location, what its depth is and whether it is infilled.
It is Geoinvestigate’s experience that the greatest impact of mine shafts has not been from the extremely rare instability events they cause but the perception by lenders and banks that they invariably pose HIGH or UNNACEPTABLE RISK in the property and real estate markets. A property with a mine shaft would today be considered a potential bad debt by financial institutions and something to be avoided at all cost in the aftermath of the banking collapse of 2008. 2008 was caused by bad debt and bad loans. The American subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2008 led to the Great Recession of 2008-2009. It started with fears about whether American mortgage borrowers or debtors could pay their lenders back.
As with the UK in the early and middle 2000s the lending boom in the USA had led to a situation where mortgages were being sold almost willy-nilly, making many a “fast buck” and huge profits and large bonuses for the brokers and financial institutions selling and underwriting them. Subsequently in the aftermath of the collapse which followed this spree lender, banks and financial institutions have been heavily censured and penalised with fines and compensation claims. The behaviour of the lenders was in some instances cavalier if not verging on piratical.
Therefore mortgaging a property with MSH today would be looked upon by lenders today as a liability and a potential bad debt and one to stay well clear of.
It is hardly surprising then that the Bickleys case highlighted on Rip Off Britain show date back to the height of the lending boom in 2006. Recently Geoinvestigate have been made aware of 3 other similar cases where mortgages were given on houses with MSH between 2006 and 2008. The RBS was again involved in one of those.
9 Actual risk of mine shaft subsidence
The risk to the UK public from surface collapses of mine workings, mineshaft and other sinkhole phenomena is reflected in the very small number of fatalities (< 15 according to one source) since 1920. While even 1 death is one too many the statistic show the risk to the public from MSH is extremely small.
The risk of physical buildings damage is aptly summed up in the following Coal Authority standard phraseology
“statistically the risk of damage to the main building is very small”
“the statistical risk of such subsidence occurring is small”
“the Authoritys records demonstrate that the statistical risk to a house suffering physical damage as a consequence of coal mining subsidence from ground movement associated with a coal mine entry is very small. This includes houses which are within a zone of possible ground movement related to a mine entry”
“Typically only one or two houses are affected each year out of the tens of thousands of houses which have mine entries within 20m of their property boundaries”
While Geoinvestigate does not dispute the very and extremely low risk that mine entries pose to buildings and public safety an event if it occurs can have a catastrophic outcome as happened with the tragic death of solicitor and mother of two Alison Hulme on 26 July 2009 caused by the victim falling down a recently collapsed and unguarded mine shaft in Ayrshire, Scotland. Perhaps her death from hypothermia and not the fall would not have occurred if she hadn’t taken her dog for a walk near to midnight and she had been able to see the shaft during daylight hours or the emergency services who attended the incident at 2.15 am had delayed treatment until 6 hours later because of fears about ground instability. Subsequently on this occasion the emergency services were heavily criticised for their inaction by the then First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond.
The often bandied about phrase “within, or within 20m metres of the boundary of the property there is 1 or several mine entry/s” is the crude cliff edge threshold used by lenders to assess lending risk in respect of MSH. It was originally created by the Coal Authority to define a sensible maximum mine shaft search and reporting area. Obviously the closer a mine shaft is to a property the more interest in it there is. “20 metres” was never intended to be a risk tool nor the basis upon which a decision to withhold a mortgage would be made though it would seem to have increasingly become this more so since the financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent increase in risk aversion shown by financial institutions in the aftermath.
Put simply a mine shaft near too or under a house has become too risky for the financial institutions to lend on even though previously they would have been happy to lend on a similar or even the same property both with MSH. Regrettably Rip-Off Britain allowed itself to be distracted from the main issue of “changing goal posts” in the lending industry to making wild assertions that the mine shaft wasn’t actually there at all despite the strong map evidence. Perhaps a bombshell claim makes for better TV viewing than sound investigative journalism. Hardly surprising then that when Geoinvestigate reconnected with the owners after the show and told tell them that the evidence suggested that shaft probably did exist they were “devastated”.
If you are lucky and you have a large garden and the mine shaft is within 20m of the boundary then then a mortgage is normally viable because it has less impact on the main asset namely the house. If the shaft is < 20m the chances of getting a mortgage reduces becoming NIL if the shaft is very close or under the building as highlighted by the Rip-Off Britain example.
10 New house conveyancing risk assessment
Up till recently mine risk assessment abbreviated CMRA in regard of coal mining legacy coal was reserved mostly for new building and development. Since 2011 CMRA is now a statutory requirement where a new building is located in Development HIGH Risk Area or (DHRA) of the former UK coal fields. This makes sense because the developer will pay for the cost of the investigation and fixing or remediating coal legacy defects affecting the stability of the land including capping mine shafts and pumping cement into shallow mine workings.
Occasionally a building can be moved to a more stable part of the site and the cost of all the investigative and improvement works offset against in the resale value of the development. All this is feasible because development has yet to occur and there uninhibited site access and flexibility in design. In this scenario the public is not picking up the tab for the works need to fix mining legacy.
However this changes with the introduction of mine risk assessment into the property conveyancing market where existing property is to all intents and purposes treated as though it were new development with regard to mining legacy risk assessment. Existing development will come under greater scrutiny. Geoinvestigate have described the process as analogous to a clothes wash.
For the first time Britains existing housing stock will be put through the wash to rid the stains of our past mining legacy. Properties which come out dirty or stained and identified with mine shaft or mine working hazard will require a 2nd cycle of assessment and/or intrusive investigation followed in some cases by a 3rd cycle of remediation. The owner can stop the wash early by either withdrawing their property from the market or selling it at a cut price to a cash buyer or in auction. If however they continue with the wash further cycles they are going to have to put a lot of coins in the slot.
It could be argued by some that it was high time that the country coal mining legacy was properly scrutinized and problems fixed with regard to the existing housing and property market. Others will argue that its putting the cart before the horse and investigation and fixing problems which haven’t even arisen yet and may never and in this context one is reminded of the Coal Authorities advice “statistically the risk of damage to the main building is very small” .This is a proactive approach to dealing with mining hazard and one which would cost the homeowner dearly and could cost the nation 100s millions of pounds to rectify unnecessarily in many cases . At the same time properties which are identified as Medium or High risk could be severely blighted with no option for the owner but to withdraw their property from the market if they could not afford the cost of investigation and remediation. There would also be time delays.
Geoinvestigate are concerned that the industry is walking blind fold into making an even bigger problem. In our opinion new mine risk assessment procedure is being introduced in to the UK conveyancing market through the rapid spread of the internet and intensive marketing without proper appraisal of it pros and cons by interested parties including, risk assessment providers, estate agents, solicitors and most importantly without public consultation. Whereas CMRA is mandatory conveyancing risk assessment is creeping in through a door left wide open in the conveyancing market without the same stringent management. A CMRA provided for a new develoment checked by experts in the Coal Authority whereas a conveyancing risk assessment is not. In fact the first scrutiny it may get may be from a lender who may not be suitably qualified to make objective decision on the information provided but who will probably consider it with an eye to caution.
The recent appearance of elaborate and cautious (perhaps verging on pessimistic) risk assessment into the property conveyancing market house in Geoinvestigate’s opinion may be increasing problems for lenders with MSH rather than improving their situation. In some cases it will result in property blight.
While reducing unit report costs and rendering down complex risk assessment to snappier “HIGH”, “MEDIUM” & “LOW” risk output terminology undoubtedly appeals to today’s highly competitive conveyancing market and lenders appetites for simplicity it doesn’t necessarily follow that these “New” risk assessment” products and services will offer any better outcome for sellers with MSH.
The recent Rip-Off Britain did not allow the public the opportunity of comparing the outcome of a new independent risk assessment for the Bickley’s property with the decision the bank made not to lend. Would both risk assessments have had the same negative outcome for the seller namely NO MORTGAGE – the viewer is left guessing?
Until analysis is carried out to show what their impact has been on the conveyancing market and decision outcomes with regard to mortgage success on properties with MSH no plausible claim can be made that the new way is resulting in better outcome for sellers affected by MSH than the old ways.
Many mining specialists like Geoinvestigate have been doing a skilful job of mine risk assessment and investigation for a long time. So in our opinion there is really nothing much new in the UK mining risk assessment market currently. What is new has been the release to the private sector in 2016 of the Coal Authorities mining data base.
What is also new in 2016 is that the risk posed by coal mining legacy on the existing housing stock is being scrutinised during the conveyancing process as though it were new building. This has never happened before. The advantage of the “old way” was properties with coal mining hazard would get a mortgage and would be bought and sold with the protection and peace of mind of the Coal Authority insurance attached to them. If something happened the subsidence would be investigated and fixed at Coal Authority/taxpayer expense.
However this is changing as new mining searches are now identifying properties for sale at risk resulting in some sellers having to spend a lot of money investigating hazards risk companies have identified or believe might be present with no actual proof. This can end with the recommendation from the geotechnical consultant engaged by the home owner advocating immediate expensive stability work even where no problem has yet developed. An example would be the identification of mine shaft below a house. The seller is liable for the exceptional costs for a problem which hasn’t occurred yet and may never. The seller has a choice investigate and fix or loose the sale. The buyer faced with a pessimistic risk report and no short term solution may walk away or have no option but to withdraw because their bank will not lend.
Geoinvestigate’s concern is that properties with mine working or mine shaft hazard may be irretrievably blighted as a result of the new in depth screening that will be carried out as part of changes in conveyancing mine search with no prospect of for some of those selling unless the owners stumps up a lot of cash to pay for the works themselves.
Another change in new conveyancing mine search and risk assessment is the colourful repackaging intensive marketing and reselling of its report product by private sector companies.
Contrary to the impression the public might have mining risk assessment does not involve either sophisticated “Black Box” technology or extremely clever computer algorithms churning out reliable RISK ASSESSMENT. Mine risk assessment still relies on the manipulation of existing records much of which are “old” as well as skilful interpretation and decision making.
Even today sound objective risk assessment still relies on old records, data manipulation, interpretation and decision making by experts like Geoinvestigate. It is not a science but an art.
While the distillation of complex risk into simpler snappy terminology and catch phrases may be attractive to lenders such over simplification can lead to the misunderstanding of actual risk and perhaps overly pessimistic and wrong decision making. Ultimately this leads to the financial penalty falling on home owners unable to sell or obtain a fair price for their property on the open market. Instead they have no option but to expose themselves to the uncertainty and perhaps the humiliation of a much smaller market made up of cash buyers or auction bids where prospective purchasers have come to expect massive price knock down and bargain on properties affected by mine shaft blight.
One person’s loss is another’s gain – in this case the family home at an unfair price.
Such unfair treatment perhaps verging on discrimination against homeowners affected by MSH would be considered wholly unacceptable to the rest of us spectating from the comfort of homes built on solid ground. The unfair treatment of sellers with MSH has been allowed to continue because the full extent of the problem remains undisclosed. The many Individual cases which occur have not been collectively publicised and individual homeowner rarely speak out for obvious reasons.
Neither do the Banks and Building Societies air their dirty washing in public. The bad practices and behaviour of the financial institutions and lenders leading up to the banking collapse of 2008 and its present day impact on homeowners with MSH who took out mortgages during this period including the 2006 case highlighted in Rip-Off Britain are still to be fully exposed.
The Coal Authority is perhaps seen by some affected by MSH to be an aloof fence sitting “consultee” – a spectator detached from reality with regards to understanding either the impact MSH has on real lives nor actively seeking sensible solutions to this problem with the financial institutions but occasionally stepping in when obliged to do so. The following statement from the CA on the property highlighted in the Rip-Off Britain show may reflect how out of touch they have been in this regard.
“We (UK Coal Authority) believe from our experience and from discussion with the Council of Mortgage lenders (CML), the body acting to represent mortgage companies operating in the UK, that properties with mine shafts within 20m do sell and with the support of a mortgage. However when a local property market is experiencing difficulty, which can be for many different reasons it is perceived that the presence of a mine shaft can add to these difficulties” CA 2012.
“As far as your insurer is concerned, the discovery that there is an old mine shaft on your property is not necessarily a ‘change in circumstances’.” CA 2012
This does not explain why then in 2016 when the owners were trying to sell their property and the housing market had been steadily rising in the Midlands since 2011 one buyer after another could not get a mortgage for this house. The only logical explanation is the mine shaft, the perception of toxic risk in this regard and the changing goal posts applied by lenders in recent years to MSH and in this case specifically the RBS.
If as according to the Coal Authority there is no ‘change of circumstances’ why shouldn’t lenders in the Bickley’s case follow the good practice of insurers and continue to lend on this property. The questions arise – are insurers smarter than lenders because they quite rightly perceive mine shaft risk to be typically very small. Are they more sympathetic to public plight and opinion and the adverse hit they would received if like lenders they were to be involved in the sharp business practice of ‘changing the goal post’ when there is ‘no material change’ in circumstances. Perhaps lenders have been remiss on all 3 counts and perhaps its time lenders changed and should either voluntarily fall into line with regard to their continuing to lend on properties with MSH or they should be made to.
Hopefully with public and parliamentary pressure and increasing publicity and discussion about mine shaft blight that situation will change in the near future making house selling on the former British coalfields simpler while removing the current prison or nightmare experience that many currently experience when trying to sell their homes with mine shafts or mine working hazard.
11 Getting a mortgage is easier in the “Sinkhole Capital of Britain”
In the market town of Ripon, North Yorkshire recently coined the “Sinkhole Capital of Britain” banks and building societies have no problem lending on buildings and hazards which may be underlain by sinkholes. You can get a mortgage almost anywhere in Ripon even in a higher risk area or an area where there has been a previous or nearby sinkhole collapse.
The map highlights RED areas where there are sinkhole subsidence hollows. The ground between and above them is built-up and liable to unpredictable sinkhole collapse. Well publicised sinkhole collapses forming craters of 15m and 10m diameter occurred in 2014 and 2016 on Magdalens Close and Road.
So lenders are happy to lend against sinkhole hazard in the Sinkhole Capital of Britain but not against mine shaft hazard elsewhere?
According to the local Council sinkhole hazard in Ripon is unpredictable even after very intensive ground investigation has been carried out and the next event/s could occur almost anywhere in the Town. Astonishingly even where an old sinkhole event is recorded nearby or there has been recent collapse a mortgage for a property in a higher risk area is normally still available to home buyers in Ripon.
The contrast between lenders looking unfavourably upon mine shaft hazard but favourably on sinkhole hazard seems a blatant and inexplicable contradiction to us and one which has yet to be explained by the lenders themselves.
Speaking personally I would rather buy a house close to a known mine shaft position than have the unpredictability of a sinkhole opening up anywhere under my garden or house. Neither does the warning by the British Geological Survey that dissolution and sinkhole formation can occur within a lifetime in Ripon seem to deter lenders from lending or for that matter buyers.
One or two sinkhole events in Ripon (population 17,000) occur each year while there are typically 15 mine shaft collapses each year elsewhere in the UK. Excluding the combined population of London, the SE (where has mining and mine shafts also exist) and N. Ireland of 17 million you are 196 to 390 times more likely to be affected by a sinkhole event in Ripon than you area by a mine shaft event in the rest of the country. While this analysis may be crude it clearly highlights the more favourable attitude shown by the financial institution to lending in Ripon where the sinkhole hazard is much higher but where it is much easier to get a mortgage than elsewhere in the country near to or over mine shafts.
Perhaps home owners and sellers dealing with mine shaft and mine working legacy are right to feel that the lending industry is currently unfairly discriminating against them. We at Geoinvestigate and Rip-Off Britain do.
12 Mine shaft and mine working disclosure
While there is a legal requirement for sellers to disclose mine shaft and mine working hazard there is no such specific legislation covering the rental or ‘buy-2-let’ market in the UK. With the repeal on the 1st October 2013 of the Property Misdescription Act consumer protection in this area has refocussed on the existing Unfair Trading Regulations (CPR) of 2008. The purpose of the change is to make compliance by sellers and landlords stricter regarding the information they should make aware to their customers.
However in the UK the landlord has the responsibility of deciding what information is ‘material’ and worthy of notifying a tenant or lessee of including mine shaft and mine working hazard.
In the US state of Florida there is currently similar scope for withholding information on the states major sinkhole problem. In Florida properties that have previously been subject to sinkhole subsidence or collapse have since have been repaired (or in some cases not repaired against the advice of Engineers) and placed back on the rental market without declaring this to new tenants. In several instances subsidence has recurred to the worry and anger of the tenants who were unaware of the problem. In one instance unknown to the tenants an engineers report was available several years before recommending the property was evacuated and the ground stabilised by grouting. To avoid this Florida lawmakers intend changing the law to make sinkhole disclosure mandatory in the rental market.
It is Geoinvestigates opinion that UK law should be similarly changed to specifically highlight mine shaft hazard in the rental market thereby stopping unscrupulous landlords who having obtained a MSH affected property at a knock down price from introducing the same property into the rental market without telling their customers/tenants that they may have a potential mine shaft hazard under their home.
Recently Geoinvestigate experienced a potential future non-disclosure situation in respect of mine working hazard. Unexpectedly very shallow mine workings were found beneath a house with the recommendation by us to grout or for the owners to plan for a significant cost reduction in the value of the property when it is sold. However the owners only concern was that the borehole information should remain strictly confidential which of course it is and that a report should not be submitted to the Authorities which in this case there is no requirement to do so . However the owner was warned by us that there was a legal requirement and a duty of care to disclose this defect when it the time came to sell though it was clear from the nature of the discussion that they had no intention of doing this.
The defect only came to light because of a error which resulted in deep coal mine drilling instead of shallower investigation. This serious defect had remained unidentified by a standard CON29 coal mining search several years before but would probably be discovered if new style risk assessment were carried out and it is probable that the owners haven’t reckoned on this eventuality. By the time they come to sell new risk assessment may be the norm in the house conveying market increasing the chance of their discovery and identifying other properties at similar risk.
While such an outcome would be a positive result for conveyancing risk assessment and some properties will appropriately be flagged up as being at Higher risk we have reservations about the major problems it will cause. As a result of mine risk assessment many more home owners and sellers may be burdened with unnecessary expensive Site investigation and remediation costs and property blight where there is currently no problem and physical damage and even the slightest signs of movement of a property is yet to occur.
Only time and a review of the outcome of new conveyancing mine risk assessment will tell whether it has made significant improvement or it has been a mistake and a practice which should be restricted to the new build sector only. Here there there is much greater flexibility and tolerance to its outcome both with regard to investigation, treatment and cost than with the existing housing stock.
Geoinvestigate can help
Geoinvestigate’s purpose in providing this helpline service is partly to get home owners affected by MSH to take their grievances about unfair MSH treatment to the Banks, Building Societies, their insurers and their Members of Parliament to rectify the problem. It is ou poinion that changes for the better will only come for homeowners with MSH when the problems are aired in the open and pressure is put on the lenders from all sides to face up to their responsibilities and to act more objectively and fairly with regard to assessing hazards arising from Britains coal mining legacy and the unsympathetic treatment they dole out to many sellers dealing with this problem.
While we cannot promise to answer all your question and provide a successful outcome each situation Geoinvestigate can help you several ways
If you need assistance or advice dealing with mine shaft or sinkhole hazard contact the experts at Geoinvestigate