Sinkholes really are the stuff of nightmares. The thought of the earth opening up and swallowing you without trace is truly terrifying. The recent story of 37 year-old Jeff Bush from Florida, who disappeared into the earth as he slept in his bed turned that awful prospect into a reality which still haunts the rescue workers that were first called to the scene.
Unfortunately sinkholes are not isolated to Florida; dramatic accounts of holes opening up without any warning have come from as far afield as China, Guatemala and even Hemel Hempstead. The causes of sinkholes are as varied as the places where they have occurred but the most commonly cited cause in the UK is from disused mines.
Conveyancing solicitors will often carry out mining searches when someone buys a property, particularly where it is a known risk in the area. With estate agents selling property neighbouring the recently created sinkhole in Hemel Hempstead as their “Property of the Week” it highlights the need for buyers and their solicitors to be thorough with their searches.
Should Mining Searches be Carried Out?
When solicitors act on behalf of property purchasers they will usually recommend that a variety of searches are carried out in order to spot any problems. One of the searches that is often recommended is a mining search. Buyers may wish to reduce the cost of searches by avoiding those they think are unnecessary but this is not advisable given the tiny relative saving that is made.
Historic mining activities may leave little evidence that they existed but still can pose significant risks. If old mines collapse they can cause problems on the earth’s surface such as subsidence and even dreaded sinkholes. At worst, this could pose a danger to occupiers and in any event it will seriously reduce the value of property.
Accordingly, mortgage lenders will insist that mining searches are carried out in affected areas and the Law Society also recommends them. If a solicitor does not advise buyers to do mining searches in at-risk areas then they could become subject to a negligence claim if a problem later arises.
Coal mining has been prevalent in many parts of the country and the Coal Authority has substantial records which show a host of information about mining that has been or continues to be carried out. Many people are unaware of how widespread historic coal mining has been in the UK so it is always best to follow the advice of your solicitor if a search is recommended.
Coal mining searches also include brine subsidence claim information from the Cheshire Brine Board. Brine pumping is a method used to extract salt from underground deposits that has been used extensively in parts of Cheshire; the underground caverns that are left can cause similar problems to mines.
Parts of the country such as Cornwall and Devon are also affected by specific risks from other mining activities such as tin mining. These may need to be investigated with a separate search.
Solicitors will often recommend to property buyers that a full suite of searches is carried out before purchase. This protects both the buyer and the solicitor from unexpected surprises. If a solicitor fails to recommend appropriate searches and a sinkhole or subsidence later affects the property then the buyer may have a claim for negligence.
For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.