Kettering residents' despair at 'dangerous' abandoned home

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"This is a prime example of where the residents are powerless to take any further action than they have already done"

Neighbours of an abandoned house in a quiet Kettering residential street have voiced their despair at living next door to a crumbling neglected house.

The semi-detached home in a side street off Milldale Road had been owned by a woman who died in 2002 and inherited by her daughter, who occasionally travelled up from London to keep an eye on the property.

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But the visits stopped at the end of 2003, and since then neighbours Tony Glynn and wife Jane-Amanda have been trying to prevent damage to adjacent properties from broken water pipes, falling tiles and overgrown trees and shrubs.

Tony Glynn outside the abandoned houseTony Glynn outside the abandoned house
Tony Glynn outside the abandoned house

Mr Glynn said: "During all these years we have had to watch a once-lovely house fall into neglectful disrepair with broken rooftiles, broken windows, a TV aerial dangling on the roof and a tall chimney stack at the back of the roof badly weathered and in danger of collapsing and possibly damaging my roof."

Previously immaculate - the lawns and borders 'manicured' by a professional gardener - the grounds have become a 'jungle' and residents fear that squatters could move into the house.

Mr Glynn said: "At the end of 2003 the daughter ceased her visits leaving me with the house key for emergencies. Some months into 2004 the gardener, not having been paid for some months, ceased work on the gardens.

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"It took till the end of 2004 for me to begin to realise she was not coming back and I tried to trace her through people who knew her. It was at this point that I began to tidy up the front garden and trim the hedges, a job that has continued to date. "

Tony Glynn outside the house that has been left empty for nearly 20 yearsTony Glynn outside the house that has been left empty for nearly 20 years
Tony Glynn outside the house that has been left empty for nearly 20 years

Over the next few years the 25m long back garden, once landscaped, became a jungle of overgrown trees, shrubs and fierce brambles that cascaded over into neighbouring gardens. A broken tap in the garden poured out water - a situation which took more than ten years to put right despite neighbours contacting the water company numerous times.

Unpaid bills brought out gas and electric companies to rip out the meters from the front porch. Contact with the local authority to assist with the dilemma brought only a refusal to 'interfere in a private matter'.

In October 2008, Mr Glynn spoke to his then local councillor MP Philip Hollobone, after which a work party felled trees and shrubs and cleared weeds and brambles. Community payback workers took over the tidy-ups, but by mid-2009 the visits ceased.

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Mr Glynn said: "To this day we have been unable to galvanise the council to do anything, though they have been contacted and they have also contacted me for information about the daughter. They send people round to see why they aren't paying council tax but apart from that, nothing.

The house has been abandoned for nearly 20 years and without proper maintenance has fallen into disrepair with the garden becoming a 'jungle'The house has been abandoned for nearly 20 years and without proper maintenance has fallen into disrepair with the garden becoming a 'jungle'
The house has been abandoned for nearly 20 years and without proper maintenance has fallen into disrepair with the garden becoming a 'jungle'

"The back garden is infinitely worse than in 2008 now, it is a jungle of really vicious brambles over 3m high. Applications of powerful weed killers are to no avail and it takes hours of painful work keeping our gardens clear of the annual invasion.

"Over the years I have had to remove eight enormous leylandii, build an 8ft wall at the house end of my garden and erect a powerful wooden fence for the rest of the garden length - and this border is not my responsibility.

"At the front I have trimmed and tidied the front garden hedges four times yearly and sprayed weed killer regularly to prevent an local eyesore.

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"The jungle at the back has caused problems as a breeding ground for vermin. On a number of occasions we have required the help of pest control officers to deal with a plague of rats. At present the plague is of squirrels which we suspect are living in the roof."

The chimney is becoming unstableThe chimney is becoming unstable
The chimney is becoming unstable

Mr Glynn, a retired headteacher, has now had enough and will not be taking on anymore maintenance but as his house is attached he is very concerned that the crumbling home will affect his own.

He said: "It was probably the best house in the street. Now it is only a matter of time before damp patches come through. It is 20 years since the old lady died.

"An inspector came to look at the chimney and said they wouldn't do anything because the public weren't in danger. If it fell into my garden or my neighbour's we would be in danger.

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"I've gone from frustrated to angry. According to the housing minister it could be bought by the council after two years. It is crazy in this day and age when housing is at a premium.

"It would be worthwhile them making a compulsory purchase order and then selling it on. It seems to me that after 18 years we are not making an unreasonable request. Now at 83 years of age, enough is enough."

In the summer of last year North Northants Council (NNC) ward councillor Anne Lee made representations to council officials. MP Philip Hollobone escalated the issue by seeking the advice of the Housing Minister who wrote advising making a formal complaint to the council. It's understood officers are yet to respond.

The over-grown gardenThe over-grown garden
The over-grown garden

Mr Hollobone said: "This property has been left empty for 20 years and as such has been causing understandable worry and concern to neighbours for all that time. It’s now time for this unacceptable problem to be finally resolved and to bring back the property into permanent occupation.

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"When I was serving as the local borough councillor for the Pipers Hill Ward in 2008, and also as the MP, local residents kindly complained to me about the very bad state of the front and rear gardens and explained to me that the house had been left empty for six years, because the owner had died in 2002 and that it had been difficult to trace the relatives and get them to take action. Kettering Borough Council responded by carrying out the extensive tidying up work required and for several years maintained the situation. Fourteen years on since then I am amazed and very disappointed that this issue is still dragging on unresolved.

"The problem seems to be that the property is still in probate and it has been difficult to establish who exactly owns the property...the successor council to Kettering Borough Council, North Northamptonshire Council, has powers available to it to investigate the lawful ownership and ultimately to acquire or manage the property. I wrote to the Government’s Housing Minister to clarify this in November last year and he wrote back to confirm that requisite powers rest with NNC.

"It would seem to me that the ability to resolve the structural safety, ongoing maintenance and ultimate ownership of this empty property clearly rests with NNC and I would urge the council, encouraged by the three serving local NNC councillors for Windmill division, to take the requisite action to bring the property back into use as a family home, so that residents can finally get back to normality."

Cllr Lee said: "I have some sympathy for the fact that the legal officer has been extremely busy, of course, with one thing and another. The Monks legal case and streamlining employment contracts are just two reasons that I can imagine would take up a lot of time. However, due to staff shortages and the financial pressures, there is an inclination to stick to our statutory requirements and little appetite to engage in anything that the council is not forced to intervene in.

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"This is a prime example of where the residents are powerless to take any further action than they have already done, by trimming the garden as much as they could, from their side of the fence, patiently piling up the mail that has accumulated over the years, and cutting the front hedge. But at some point the council has a moral duty, if not a statutory duty, to intervene and to resolve this hopeless situation in the interest of the neighbours.

"Taking possession of the property and renovating it may require a large initial investment, but it is imperative at this point, in my opinion.

"I realise that it is not an easy situation but the neighbours of that property have had the patience of saints so far and their situation is pretty desperate now."

A spokesman for North Northamptonshire Council said: “The council has investigated this matter and can confirm that the property has been empty for a number of years, as the owner passed away in 2002.

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“The property is now going through probate which has not been awarded yet. This makes it very difficult for the council to intervene at the moment, other than to react to any immediate issues or risks the property is presenting that might impact on others.

“Building control and environmental health have inspected the property to assess both the chimney stack and the gardens and no imminent risk was identified.

“While there is no legal duty to bring empty properties back into use, there are a range of legislative tools and powers to deal with empty properties.

“However, these all come with a significant cost to the council and can take a number of months, even years to resolve, requiring extensive time and resources.

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“Any decisions made to consider such options, need to be costed up and balanced against the current risk and impact the property is having in the community.

“The council will continue to monitor and review this property.”