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'Furious' traders say end of sinkhole saga is nothing to celebrate

PUBLISHED: 16:41 06 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:54 06 September 2019

Health food shop owners Jo Mitchell and Mary Stocks, who want Anglian Water to admit liability for the Sheringham sinkhole.
Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Health food shop owners Jo Mitchell and Mary Stocks, who want Anglian Water to admit liability for the Sheringham sinkhole. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Archant

A group of traders affected by the Sheringham sinkhole are urging Anglian Water to accept liability for the void, and claiming a street party held to celebrate the end of the three-month saga gave a 'rose tinted' view of its impact on the town.

The newly re-opened Sheringham High Street.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLThe newly re-opened Sheringham High Street. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

But the company says it may never know the cause of the sinkhole, and urged business owners to contact their insurance companies for advice.

Jo Mitchell, who runs the All Natural Company health food store with her mother Mary Stocks, has suffered losses amounting to several thousand pounds, but says that without Anglian Water accepting responsibility, her insurance company will not move forward with her claim.

Frustrated at being put in an "impossible position", Ms Mitchell turned out before the start of the street party last weekend to put protest signs in her High Street shop window reading 'Justice for shopkeepers' and 'Admit liability'.

Crofter's Restaurant owner Terry Butler, who says the sinkhole saga has been viewed through 'rose tinted spectacles'.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLCrofter's Restaurant owner Terry Butler, who says the sinkhole saga has been viewed through 'rose tinted spectacles'. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

"Although I quite liked the idea of having a street party, some of the shopkeepers are facing a lot of financial difficulties and I just want to be compensated for my losses, I'm furious at the way we have been treated," she said.

Terry Butler, who owns Crofters Restaurant, was forced to close for four weeks while repairs were carried out to damaged sewage pipes and, even after re-opening, faced a lunchtime drop in trade of 70pc.

"It's appalling what has gone on," he said. "Anglian Water have been presented as heroes and we have had TV crews come in to interview us, but nothing was mentioned about Jo's protest and what we said wasn't used - it's a case of rose tinted spectacles."

Mr Butler, who opened Crofters more than 30 years ago, said many High Street businesses faced a difficult winter.

The scene in High Street during the height of the sinkhole saga.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLThe scene in High Street during the height of the sinkhole saga. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

"I have had a small payout, but my insurers need someone to accept responsibility," he added.

An Anglian Water spokeswoman said the company would be carrying out an internal review.

"We will be having discussions with the teams on site at Sheringham, but that will be from the point of view of what caused the sewer to collapse, rather than what caused the sinkhole," she explained.

"In terms of finding out what the cause was, and whether it was the hole that caused the damage underneath, or vice versa, it may be something that we will never know."

The scene outside Pungleperry's cafe as work on the sinkhole was being carried out.
Photo: KAREN BETHELLThe scene outside Pungleperry's cafe as work on the sinkhole was being carried out. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

'A tough and stressful summer' - businesses count the cost of the sinkhole

Paul Waller, who owns Straits fish and chip shop, which is directly in front of the site of the sinkhole, suffered a 50pc drop in trade during a "tough and stressful" summer.

The protest signs put up in the All Natural Company windows during the sinkhole street party.
Photo: ArchantThe protest signs put up in the All Natural Company windows during the sinkhole street party. Photo: Archant

"I've lost staff, and, although I have put in an insurance claim, I don't expect to get a true reflection of what I'm owed," he said.

Communication from Anglian Water was poor from "day one", Mr Waller added, with further disruption caused on August 22 when he and other High Street traders were forced to close for the day after the company turned the water off to carry out more repairs.

"Sheringham Town Council has hailed them as heroes, but, in my opinion, they have been useless and have shown no regard for how businesses feel."

Mr Waller, who said there had been problems with a smell of sewage in High Street for a number of years prior to the appearance of the sinkhole, now faces a worrying winter.

"Another concern is that there is a lot of competition from other fish and chip shops in the town and I might never see some of my regular customers again," he added.

Businesses struggle to make up for lost trade

Tracey Bailey, who runs High Street cafe Pungleperry's with her parents, Geoff and Carol Long, said she felt traders had been "misrepresented" and had received "grossly unfair" treatment from Anglian Water.

"The town council has very much tried to put a positive spin on the situation, but it has been an incredibly difficult summer for a lot of people, not just financially, but in terms of the disruption, the noise and the smell - we certainly don't have anything to celebrate," she said.

Businesses making insurance claims now faced increased premiums, Mrs Bailey added, as well as an uncertain future trying to make up for lost trade.

She said: "We have put a claim in, but I'm not confident we'll get the full amount and the problem is that, after three months, people change their habits and start using other coffee shops so we aren't sure what the long term effects will be."

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