Anger as council contractors nearly break into North Walsham cellar

Street lighting contractors who failed to alert shopkeepers about their plans almost dug their way through to underground cellars in North Walsham's ancient centre.

Roger Buck had to race over to the Market Place and stop Norfolk County Council (NCC) contractors Amey who were excavating outside his Express Printing business.

The incident has prompted anger in the town and follows complaints against Amey when the firm last visited Walsham to install lights in 2009.

The council has apologised and work in the town centre has now been temporarily halted.

Mr Buck was alerted by a member of staff in his shop who saw Amey contractors digging outside.

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'I flew over there and just stopped them in time,' he said.

About 10 years ago, council contractors carrying out resurfacing work as part of a regeneration project in the town had breached the cellar under his shop which had then flooded as all the Market Place surface water drained into it, he added.

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Amey had not made any contact with him and, if they had done so, he would have told them that a network of cellars ran underneath the town centre.

'They didn't even put their heads round the door beforehand and say 'we're just about to start digging, is that OK?'' Mr Buck added.

Colin Page, chairman of North Walsham Chamber of Trade, described the lack of consultation as 'ludicrous.'

Amey should have noticed that the current Market Place lights were all fixed to buildings and asked why, he added. The lights were not causing problems and Mr Page questioned why, at a time of public-spending cutbacks, the work was being done.

County councillor Paul Morse, who represents North Walsham, said he had dealt with several complaints when Amey were in the town two years ago.

'I have consistently pointed out to NCC that Amey fail to let residents and businesses know what is happening – they are contractually required to do this – yet it has happened again,' said Mr Morse. 'You'd have thought they would have done some sort of survey before drilling in the Market Place.'

A council spokesman said the Walsham work was part of a county-wide project which began in 2008 to replace about 30,000 of Norfolk's 50,000 lights, bringing them up to modern standards.

It was being funded out of a �38.1m government grant and the upgrading work was due to end in 2013.

Some 12,750 lights had so far been replaced, largely without problems.

'We have an agreed procedure for notifying residents of impending street lighting works; however on this occasion our contractors Amey did not follow the procedure,' said the spokesman.

'We are talking to Amey about what happened and have stressed the need for the agreed system to be followed at all times.

'We apologise for this omission and for any inconvenience caused.'

Amey would redesign the Market Place layout using wall-mounted lighting, and would seek permission to fit them on the buildings, he added.

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