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Orchard Field residents react to the latest sinkhole to open in Hermitage Lane, Barming

People who paid close to £400,000 to move into new homes have described feeling scared at seeing yet another sinkhole swallowing the ground close to their estate.

The void was first noticed on Sunday on a grassy patch at the Bovis Homes Orchard Fields development along Hermitage Lane.

Phil Wellbrook from KMTV reports

Hundreds of new houses have been built on the stretch opposite Maidstone Hospital in Barming, an area which has become notorious for sinkholes, with four opening up in the immediate area in two years.

It comes just one month after a collapse nearby at a reservoir managed by South East Water, which is also close to the Orchard Field houses.

The latest appearance has left some residents new to the area worried about more appearing.

Rachel Graham who moved into her home in Keepers Avenue, directly opposite the sinkhole, in March said she reported the hole after spotting it on Sunday.

Mrs Graham, 38, lives in the property with her partner and two children says the latest collapse has been playing on her mind.

The sinkhole in the Orchard Fields development in Hermitage Lane opened on Sunday.
The sinkhole in the Orchard Fields development in Hermitage Lane opened on Sunday.

She added: "Last night I woke up when I heard something and instantly thought 'Oh my God it’s happening again'.

"I looked out the window to see if it was all okay and luckily it was but it does make you nervous.

"I never would have moved here if I knew what it was like before.

"There have been so many around here now, where is it going to happen next?"

Echoing these concerns is Annie Subba whose mother lives in Oaken Wood Drive.

Mrs Graham is concerned more sinkholes could open in the area
Mrs Graham is concerned more sinkholes could open in the area

The 30-year-old nurse and clinical support worker at Maidstone Hospital said it is 'scary' seeing the land collapse so close to her mother's home.

She said: "Now I have to ring the insurance company to see if we would be covered if anything were to happen to the house.

"They should have given us more information before we moved in."

The house cost around £375,000 when Mrs Subba's mother Shanti Rai, 49, moved in two years ago.

She added: "It's a lot of money to spend on a house and to find out it has issues like this is scary."

Annie Subba, 30, who's mother lives in Oaken Wood Drive in Barming is concerned about more sinkholes opening in the area.(42879392)
Annie Subba, 30, who's mother lives in Oaken Wood Drive in Barming is concerned about more sinkholes opening in the area.(42879392)

A spokesperson for Bovis Homes said: "Safety is the priority and we have fenced off the area while we work with our contractors to prepare and develop an action plan to deal with the issue."

Bronwyn Van Blerk a Radiographer at Maidstone Hospital fears the problem will only get worse as the weather changes.

She said: "It's scary because it's so close to our house and in the next couple of months when it becomes rainy and stormy it could make it even worse.

"I chose this location because I work in the hospital but seeing this makes you wonder if they inspected the ground properly to start with."

In response to the concerns a Bovis Homes spokesperson said: “There were extensive ground investigations before construction began at our location and liaison throughout with the local authority and National House Building Council, who provide structural warranties for new-build properties.

"How much more land subsidence do we have to witness before the housebuilding is halted?"

“Those investigations determined the foundation requirements for each property, which were subsequently implemented – again in liaison with the relevant authorities.

“This location has proved to be popular with house buyers – with excellent, positive customer feedback – and we will carry out further monitoring and testing as required."

Less than a month ago another sinkhole opened up on South East Water's drinking water storage reservoir, also in Hermitage Lane, on September 25.

This promptedMPs Tracey Crouch and Helen Grant to appeal to the Secretary of State for Housing for "an urgent moratorium on all future housebuilding" around Hermitage Lane.

Today MP Helen Grant for Maidstone and the Weald said: “How much more land subsidence do we have to witness, in the same part of Maidstone, before the housebuilding is halted and a full geological investigation is undertaken?

Sinkhole off Broomshaw Road in 2018
Sinkhole off Broomshaw Road in 2018

"This has been going on for years now and despite the remonstrations of local people, myself included, nothing seems to be done about it.

"Now, Maidstone Borough Council is discussing a further 187 homes to be built, right at the epicentre of the problem.

"Together with my colleague and neighbour Tracey Crouch MP we took the matter up with the Housing Minister weeks ago, urging him to intervene with a moratorium on housebuilding in this locality.We still await a response and have contacted his office again following this latest event”.

Cllr Fay Gooch, the ward councillor for Barming at Maidstone Borough Council says while she sympathises with residents, the sinkholes are no reason to leave town.

She said: "It would have been a shock I know but all the time the houses are still under guarantee I would expect the builder to give those residents reassurances and to check the ground works.

The A26 Tonbridge Road, outside the Taj Barming restaurant in 2018. Picture: Andy Payton
The A26 Tonbridge Road, outside the Taj Barming restaurant in 2018. Picture: Andy Payton

"It doesn’t take a huge amount of work to sink a few test holes to reassure residents so I would say stay put.

"If a developer is worth its weight in salt people will buy the houses and clearly they have here."

In May 2018, a sinkhole opened up on the A26 Tonbridge Road forcing 10 homes to be evacuated.

In July 2019 a hole appeared in Upper Fant Road, not far from the repaired stretch of Tonbridge Road.

On April 1, 2018, people living in Broomshaw Road in Barming woke up to discover the void which appeared on the edge of a nearby field, causing deep cracks in the road and bringing down a fence.

With so many occurring in the area, Dr Vanessa Banks from the British Geological Survey, said the heavy rainfall over the past few days could have been one of many contributing factors.

She said: "The rain can lead to secondary effects but it may also be linked to the issue of drainage.

"There are also other features associated with Barming such as the Fulling mills which might contribute.

"Immediately to the north of the area in question there is an area that was used to prepare wool for making cloth.

"In the medieval periods they would have had pits there so there may be some archaeological reasons too."

Maidstone Borough Council has been approached for comment.

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