Is there a hole in your due diligence checks for homebuyers?

Sinkholes are an ever present issue, and an area of risk that solicitors and conveyancers should be highlighting to their home-buying clients.

Last month another large sinkhole emerged in a residential cul-de-sac in St Albans. The 12 metre diameter hole, which was 10 metres deep, woke residents in the middle of the night and ruined a front garden and driveway on Fontmell Close. Five homes had to be evacuated, with 20 people having to be taken to a centre set up at a nearby sports centre.

Solicitors and conveyancers can easily assess the risk of subsidence as part of their due diligence by ordering a Landmark Information Group ‘Homecheck Ground Stability’ search, Groundsure Ground Stability report or one of Searches UK’s new suite of Mineral Extraction Search Reports from their partner mining experts, Terrafirma.

Lisa Summerton, Sales & Marketing Director, at Searches UK said:

“Searches UK’s range of ground stability reports look into a wide range of datasets to reveal the risk related to a property. These reports are delivered by our friendly and professional team who are on hand to help you with any queries you may have.”

Rob Phillipson, Sales & Product Director, at Landmark Information Group said:

“In this particular instance, the results from the Homecheck Professional Ground Stability Report identified a number of risks, based on the historical use of the land at the address in St Albans. Given the potential impact on a property, ground instability risk is clearly something which conveyancing solicitors should be checking as part of their due diligence process. At Landmark, our residential and commercial reports contain data from multiple sources to provide risk screening and next steps.”

Landmark Information Group carried out a search on Fontmell Close which identified Natural or Man-Made Cavities within the 250 metre search area.

A sinkhole is classed as a collapse of ground over a naturally formed void at depth. They typically occur when the ground below the surface has been dissolved and are, therefore, usually found in areas underlain by chalk, limestone, gypsum and salt. They can also occur as a result of ground collapse over man-made voids in the ground, such as mine workings or historic quarries.

Subsidence is also a ground instability risk and this can be caused by a number of factors including shrink-swells due to different soil types, drainage patterns, man-made disturbances and more.

Catherine Shiers, Technical Support Consultant, at Groundsure said:

“We always recommend that ground stability searches are undertaken ahead of purchase to highlight any potential issues that could arise from past mining activities as well as natural instability problems.

“Groundsure’s experts undertook some investigative work on the sink hole in St Albans and found that this area was formerly used as pits for the extraction of clay, possibly for the London Brick Company.

“Analysis was undertaken using historical Ordnance Survey mapping which shows the clay pits present between c. 1879 and early 1900s. These were later infilled and the properties along Fontmell Close constructed. Due to the age of the properties it is unlikely they were constructed in line with modern building regulations and therefore more susceptible to ground stability issues arising from the compression, dissolution or settlement of materials used to fill the pits. This issue could have been a contributory factor in the creation of the sinkhole. Additionally, the removal of the clay may have exposed the underlying chalk, making the ground more susceptible to dissolution.

“Groundsure’s leading residential reports Homescreen and Homebuyers would have picked up the presence of these pits and confirmed that ground stability issues should be considered when purchasing a property in this area.”

Tom Backhouse, Lead Geologist and Managing Director, at Terrafirma Mine Searches said:

“Sinkholes associated with mineral extraction and mining are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon throughout the UK. There have been over 35 minerals extracted from beneath our feet for millennia and it is the often hidden legacy of this industry that can cause problems for the ever-growing UK property market today. Mining and mineral extraction touches every corner of every county in the UK, with mine shafts, shallow underground workings and open/backfilled surface quarries littering our landscape, often lost and forgotten.

“Ground collapse associated with mineral extraction is increasing and the recent St Albans sinkhole is an evident reminder of the problems this lost, but very real, mining legacy can have on property and land. A quick glance at historical mapping will tell you that the vicinity of the St Albans sinkhole was extensively exploited for brick clay, however, our expert interpretation and local mining knowledge revealed the presence of chalk extraction and potentially extensive underground workings in the surrounding area. Terrafirma’s search reports are the only available product in the conveyancing market to provide that level of interpretation and expert knowledge.”

Terrafirma are the local mining experts, and through Searches UK are able to provide mining and mineral extraction search reports for solicitors, conveyancers and land developers across the UK. Their innovative suite of search reports ranging from their ‘Certificate of Risk’, their Mineral Extraction Search Reports and Interpretative Mine Search Reports are best placed to identify and assess the risk to property and land from past, present and planned mineral extraction.

To find out more about any of our products and services from Searches UK visit their website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+. Alternatively call them directly on 0800 043 1815 or email them at [email protected] to speak to one of their dedicated team today.

This article was submitted to be published by Searches UK as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Conveyancer. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Conveyancer.

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