Newburn flooding: Do residents stay or go?

Flood damaged Spencer Court flats, Newburn, Newcastle The council advised homeowners near Newcastle's Spencer Court flats to leave but many have now returned home

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Residents evacuated from houses next to a Newcastle block of flats so badly damaged by flooding it needs to be demolished are making difficult decisions about whether to stay or go.

Floodwater gouged out ground beneath Spencer Court, Newburn, on 25 September, exposing the piles holding it up and damaging foundations.

Alison Nicholson and Nina Werber, from nearby Millvale, feel very differently about what they should do.

Mrs Nicholson, who is taking refuge in a nearby leisure centre, will not go back home until she has an absolute guarantee there is "zero danger".

Mrs Werber went back to her a house a day after it was evacuated.

The council fears more heavy rain could cause a dene, or large dip, north of their housing estate, which is full of water, to overflow.

'Zero danger'

Mrs Werber and Mrs Nicholson are both mothers, they both describe their children's safety as their first priority.

But one is homeless and the other is frightened of another flood, living with the windows open so she can hear when it rains.

"The only way I'll go back to Millvale with my children is if they say there is zero danger," said Mrs Nicholson.

Alison Nicholson has been living in Newburn Activity Centre for four days

"At the end of the day it comes down to people's lives and I will not put my family's, my children's, lives at risk.

"If other people choose to go into their properties and stay then that's their choice but I will not, no way, put my family at risk."

In the meantime she has nowhere to go, is off work sick, has no income and is relying on the kindness of Newburn Activity Centre, social services, local pubs and residents to keep her children fed.

Mrs Werber came back to her home in Millvale after neighbours told her the promised security patrols had not materialised.

Worried about burglary or vandalism, many of her neighbours did the same thing, although the patrols are now said to be running.

Mrs Werber sleeps, "but not very well".

"Not last night, the night before, there was quite a loud bang and we still don't know what this bang was," she said. "I thought it was actually the flats starting to come down."

'Fingers crossed'

She might be scared, but says she does not really think anything will happen to her house.

Leaving initially out of concern for her daughter, she now thinks the situation has been "blown a bit out of proportion".

Start Quote

They reckon the sheer force of the water would have knocked a human over straight away”

End Quote Nina Werber Millvale resident

The prospect of being out of her house for longer than originally advised is also an issue.

"They've evacuated us for two weeks but you know what our weather's like. Then it's going to be hitting winter soon and all the snow, so it could be indefinitely.

"So we're just going to have to live each day as it comes and fingers crossed nothing happens to our property."

Mrs Werber's house is flanked by two denes. Newcastle City Council has warned the one to the north "is full of water, could overflow and cause more flooding if rain is heavy".

The other, behind her home, has debris from earlier flooding and "could fill very quickly with water if a culvert becomes blocked", said the council.

"The dene at the top was so full, if that had got any fuller the water would have only gone one way - and that was to our houses," Mrs Werber said.

"They reckon the sheer force of the water would have knocked a human over straight away."

Long-term effect

As well as further rain, the effect of the demolition of Spencer Court flats concerns her.

A neighbour, Stephen Ross, is also worried about how much water the flats might be holding back and whether the demolition will release it - in the direction of his house.

Flood damaged Spencer Court flats, Newburn, Newcastle Dunelm Homes say they will make goodwill payments to residents of evacuated homes

The long-term effect on the value of the houses is a greater concern, he said.

"There's an awful lot of money invested on this estate by people who are just stuck and not knowing what to do."

Some Millvale residents have said they have not been kept informed.

The demolition of Spencer Court is due, but both Stephen Ross and Nina Werber say they do not know when.

"Not being told is the main thing," said Mrs Werber. "You would think they would tell us when they're demolishing the flats but they're not telling any of us.

"We haven't seen hide nor hair of anybody to tell us any updates."

A spokeswoman for Dunelm Homes, which built the flats, said residents have not been given a date for the demolition because one has not yet been set.

She said: "As soon as we have information we will make it available - we have been doing that every day. We are going as fast as we can."

The company said it will make goodwill payments to Millvale residents who have left their homes for "reasonable" out-of-pocket expenses.

Its new helpline number is 07771 930287.

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