Tyne & Wear

Newburn flood flats: Search for unknown culverts

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Media captionFlood water gouged out ground beneath Spencer Court on 25 September

Newcastle City Council has begun a search to find out how many culverts are underneath the city after a block of flats was left close to collapse.

Floodwater gouged out ground beneath Spencer Court, Newburn, on 25 September, damaging the foundations. The flats were later demolished.

The council said "no one knows" where all the culverts were in the city but it was now working to map them all.

The council inspects the 42 known culverts once a year.

Mick Murphy, technical services director at the council, said: "Some people don't know what they've got under their land, but everybody that owns a piece of land has a responsibility if they've got a watercourse coming through it.

"Whether that's a culvert or an open stream... you've got a responsibility to maintain it in good condition."

'Buried' problem

The northern culvert, which runs under Spencer Court, has been cleaned out for investigations to be carried out.

Image caption This culvert, built in 1906, which takes the Ouseburn under Shieldfield, is the biggest one in the city

A few months ago a Victorian-era culvert was discovered under the rugby pitch at the Royal Grammar School in Jesmond.

John Knapton, a structural engineer, said the problems at Newburn were a "warning" that there needed to be a "more regular regime" of inspection.

He said: "We have got to start taking our historic infrastructure far more seriously.

"Because it's buried doesn't mean we should just simply forget it.

"The problem is simply that they can't cope with the levels of rainfall we are experiencing now."

Mr Knapton said the older culverts, which were generally built from brick rather than reinforced concrete, were "pretty dated" and were amongst those the authorities most needed to "keep an eye on".

Neither Northumberland Estates, which owns the land where the culvert stands, nor developer Dunelm Homes has so far admitted liability in the Spencer Court case.

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