MJB hotel owner to close off all access to Norwich’s Plantation Garden

Feature on Plantation Gardens, Earlham Road, Norwich for EDP Sunday.

Feature on Plantation Gardens, Earlham Road, Norwich for EDP Sunday. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY COPY:steve snelling FOR:EDP sunday © ARCHANT NORFOLK 2010 (01603 772434) - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

The owner of a controversial hotel chain is to close off access to the city's Plantation Garden later this month.

Tony Burlingham who runs the MJB Hotels. Photo: EDP library

Tony Burlingham who runs the MJB Hotels. Photo: EDP library - Credit: Archant � 2007

Tony Burlingham, who runs MJB Hotels, plans to board up the entrances to the gardens on January 27 due to health and safety concerns.

It comes after a 20ft sinkhole opened up at the side of the Plantation Hotel last April.

He said his decision to ban access to the gardens was due to his insurance company withdrawing its cover at the end of the month.

'The insurance company has withdrawn my subsidence cover and has made me aware, as a director, of the issue,' Mr Burlingham explained.

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'I now have to do something to mitigate the risk, because if a sinkhole opened up and someone injured themselves, I would be done for negligence.

It is a matter of health and safety.' While Mr Burlingham does not own the gardens, which are located off Earlham Road, he owns all of the access routes leading to it.

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The decision means the Plantation Garden Preservation Trust, which maintains the site, will have just two weeks to move out its equipment.

Mr Burlingham said a geotechinical survey needed to be carried out on the garden to understand how safe the ground was.

But he added that this would be the responsibility of either the trust or Norwich City Council.

Roger Connah, chairman of the Plantation Garden Preservation Trust, said the decision to close the access could result in legal action.

'We have a permanent legal right of access and we expect that to continue,' he said.

'If he closes access to the gardens, he is contravening the terms in his contractual deeds and that becomes a matter for lawyers.

'We have not taken legal action yet, but no doubt we will have to.'

Mr Connah said the access closures could lead to people finding

alternative routes into the gardens, which could then result in illegal activity.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Norwich City Council said it was a 'very complex' issue, which would likely take time to resolve.

The subsidence issue resulted in Mr Burlingham having to close his nearby MJB Plantation Hotel back in April.

It later transpired that a mine shaft, some 17m underneath the property, had opened up.

Because of the risk of further subsidence issues, he is now in the process of closing two other MJB hotels on Earlham Road.

Both The Beeches and The Governor are to shut at the end of the month, Mr Burlingham said.

Green Party councillor, Denise Carlo, whose Nelson ward covers the gardens, said: 'Earlham Road at the city centre end is renowned for chalk tunnels opening up without warning.

'On the occasions they do, recent history of collapses in the area shows that affected ground and buildings can be stabilised.'

She said the one 'silver lining' to the issue was that the three MJB hotels, which have previously received a string of complaints, were to close.

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: 'Mr Burlingham owns four properties in the Earlham Road area, including Plantation House.

'This is obviously a very complex issue involving a number of parties which is likely to take time to resolve.'

Is a popular location near you under threat of closure? Call Luke Powell on 01603 772684

History of the Plantation Garden

The gardens were created on the site of a former chalk quarry located just outside the old city walls.

Henry Trevor, a prosperous upholsterer and cabinet maker from Norwich, took out a long lease on the site in 1856.

And he spent the next 40 years transforming the land into a Victorian garden, complete with a fountain, rustic bridge and terraces.

But after the Second World War, the garden was abandoned. It was only until the Planation Garden Preservation Trust took on the site, that it was restored after years of work.

The land is owned by the Preacher's Money Charity, which is leased to Norwich City Council and sublet to the Planation Garden Preservation Trust, which manages the garden.

Previous sinkholes in the area

A network of mining tunnels under the city have been responsible for numerous sinkholes in years gone by.

The most famous of these was back in 1988 when a bus was almost swallowed up by a large hole on Earlham Road.

As the bus driver had attempted to pull away, a section of the road surface collapsed beneath the rear wheels of the vehicle.

The passengers managed to scramble off before the vehicle slipped further into the pit, which was caused by an 11th century chalk mine giving way.

But the drama did not end there, as many homes and businesses, including a hotel and a language school, had to be evacuated.

A gas main had ruptured below the vehicle and was leaking large volumes of

gas into the surrounding area.

More recently, in April last year, a hole opened up to the side of the MJB Plantation Hotel, resulting in the closure of the building and garden.

It was understood to have been the result of an underground tunnel collapse.

And speaking back in April, Roger Connah of the Plantation Garden Preservation Trust, said a sinkhole had opened up in the gardens around five years ago when a water pipe burst.

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