Northern Ireland

Sewer nightmare for Tyrone home-owners

Tyrone estate
Image caption Only a dozen homes out of a planned 100 were completed

A group of residents in County Tyrone have become the latest victims of the recession.

They have discovered that the newly built homes they bought and paid for were never connected to a proper sewer system and never received building approval.

They have now been given 14 days by the local council to sort the matter out or face possible legal action.

The problem began after they purchased the houses.

The builder went bankrupt having just completed a dozen homes. It had been planned to build more than 100 houses and apartments.

What none of the home-owners realised at the time was that a proper sewer system had never been built.

The road to their homes is a no-man's land as it hasn't been finished, with manhole covers sticking far above the surface.

They have no street lighting and the water supply for some homes comes from a neighbour's outside tap.

When the builder went bust, the residents were left with no-one to seek legal redress from. To sort the problem out they also need access to land that is now in the hands of a receiver.

Francie Molloy, Sinn Fein assembly member for the area, said the residents simply could not afford to solve the problem.

"A sewer system and a treatment works are required. It needs a pumping station that costs a lot of money and it's in the ground of the receiver, so it's not actually on the residents' property.

"So they can do absolutely nothing as far as that goes. But the problem is that as the sewage builds up, it backs up towards their houses and it could create a massive problem for them."

At this stage the residents can't see a way forward. For Joe O'Neill and his family, this was their first home.

"For your first house you have an ideal image of what it would be like, that everything would be OK. Obviously it's not and it's been a nightmare," Mr O'Neill said.

"Who does the buck stop with and who is going to solve this problem? That is the big question."

Warning letter

For another resident, Cathy Conlon, this was also her first home.

"As first time buyers we feel we were let down and we weren't given the correct information when purchasing the houses. We could have bought anywhere," she said.

She has also received a warning letter from the council to sort the problem out within 14 days.

"What can we do," she asks. "We can't physically fix the situation ourselves."

Because the homes were bought before the builder went bust, the receiver is not responsible for their problem.

They can't turn to the builder for help. And they have no building control certificate. The occasional visit of a tanker pumping sewage out of the pipe is the only thing stopping it from backing up to their homes.

Dungannon Council said they are to hold an urgent meeting at the site to try to reach some short term solution to the problem.

No-one knows what is under the ground or where the sewage goes to. Recent tests found no seepage or pollution but there is the potential for it to run into the local river if it were to escape.

The only way the residents can solve the problem is to have a substantial sewer system built at considerable cost on land they don't own.

So the residents can only wait and hope that someone comes up with an answer to their dilemma.

Image caption Joe O'Neill said his dream move had become a nightmare

A building control certificate is mandatory for any new home and properties can't be bought or sold without one.

Which raises the question of how these home owners were able to buy their homes and get a mortgage without knowing they had no certificate.

Without sewers they can't get a certificate retrospectively. Without a certificate they can't sell their homes.

"At the moment it's not good", said Joe O'Neill. "Its depressing to be honest with you."

Mr O'Neill, his family and fellow neighbours are just a few of the home owners who have become innocent victims of the collapse of the construction industry in Northern Ireland.

And the signs are they won't be the last.