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Sinking feeling living next door to Merewether’s big hole

WORRIED: Merewether Bowling club president Kevin Bourke and secretary manager Warwick Bourne with Merewether resident, Judy Preston at the development site where the landslip occurred. Picture: MARINA NEIL The Big Hole of Merewether has claimed a bowling green and a palm tree, has closed a dental surgery, is under water, and is stopping a 91-year-old woman from returning home.
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But developer John Smith insists:“It’s fine. It’s all good. Nothing to worry about.”

Ten days after part of Merewether Bowling Club’s back bowling green slipped away into an adjoining development site, Margaret Hall, 91, of Merewether Street, remains with family until an engineer’s report says it’s safe for her to return home, and a dental surgery remains closed until further notice.

Sinking feeling living next door to Merewether’s big hole The landslip at Merewether on December 23. Picture: Simone De Peak

The landslip at Merewether on December 23. Picture: Simone De Peak

Merewether Bowling club president Kevin Bourke and secretary manager Warwick Bourne with Merewether resident, Judy Preston at the development site where the landslip occurred. Pictures: MARINA NEIL

The landslip at Merewether on December 23. Picture: Simone De Peak

The landslip at Merewether on December 23. Picture: Simone De Peak

The landslip at Merewether on December 23. Picture: Simone De Peak

The landslip at Merewether on December 23. Picture: Simone De Peak

TweetFacebook Merewether hole“The Fire and Rescue people said they don’t want anyone in there until this is sorted out,” Mrs Hall’snephew Gary Robinson said of his aunt’s house.

Mrs Hall’snext door neighbour Judy Preston, who only returned home three weeks ago after her house lost its roof and was severely damaged in April’s storms, said worrying about Mr Smith’s development site, where 37 units, a child care centre and commercial premises have been approved, had “knocked me about a bit”.

“The hole is right up close to the boundaries on all sides. I look out each morning to see if Margaret’s fence is still there,” Ms Preston said.

“I’m trying not to worry about it, but I basically lost a house in the storms, I’ve lived in six places sinceApril and all I want right now is peace and quiet.”

Ms Preston, who grew up in the area and remembers when a train line ran through it, said she became increasingly concerned about the height of the excavation, five metres at its highest point, particularly after recent heavy rain.

Merewether Bowling Club secretary Warwick Bourne raised concerns about the excavation with the development company in November, as Mr Smith complained to Newcastle City Council, which owns the bowling club site, about water problems from a stormwater pipe beneath the bowling green.

“I said to them, if you keep cutting in like that you’re going to have trouble, because they just kept going deeper and deeper,” Mr Bourne said.

“We’ve got bowlers here who are retired engineers and builders. They all just shook their heads in disbelief because the hole was so deep, without support.”

On December 16 the bowling club board wrote to Newcastle Council requesting an urgent inspection of the development site because of the “method of excavation” used.

“This excavation has caused significant subsidence to an area adjoining our bowling green,” the club said.

The council did not respond, and one week later apalm tree close to the excavation, and part of the bowling green, slid into the Big Hole.

Club president Kevin Bourke said the club was in limbo until an engineer’s report detailed what work was needed to shore up the excavation on all sides of the property and repair damage.

At a meeting after the December 23 slippage the club was told the developer had responsibility for rectifying the problem.

“It should have nothing to do with us at all because we just lease the property from the council, and we didn’t dig the hole,” Mr Bourke said.

“We’re in limbo until the engineer comes back and says what has to be done, and of course it’s difficult over Christmas because people are away and the council is closed.”

Mrs Hall’s late husband, Ben Hall, was a member of Merewether Bowling Club.

“Mrs Hall, she’s 91. At her stage of life, she shouldn’t have to put up with this,” Mr Bourke said.

Mr Smith confirmed an engineer was preparing a report about “how we’re going to stabilise the ground”.

He said the embankment closest to the bowling green had started slipping up to three weeks before the major December 23 slippage.

He said a private certifier and engineer were responsible for the details of any shoring up of the excavation cuts, but changes were made to original plans because of water problems from the stormwater pipe.

He did not rule out legal action over the excavation problems.

“Someone’s insurer will end up paying,” Mr Smith.

Although he had to rectify the problem, Mr Smith said it was “not our fault it caved in”.

But he insisted the project would go ahead and “It’s all good.”

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