…but you can’t come in…
A few months ago I talked about the fantastic once-lost Plantation Garden in Norwich, a piece first featured in the Telegraph. It’s a wonderful, mysterious corner, once hacked out of an old quarry by an eccentric Victorian tycoon, then lost, then hacked out of jungle by an army of volunteers who still care passionately for the project.
A month or so ago, however, a strange thing happened. The garden, managed by Norwich’s Plantation Garden Trust, was denied access by the man who owns the only way in, using ‘health and safety’ as an excuse. Tony Burlington, of MJB Hotels, owns Plantation Hotel, once the house that went with the garden.He does not own the garden, but does own all the access roads to it and has denied public access since January 27, 2017.
The problem? Sadly it goes back to the very thing that gave life to the garden in the first place.
Basically, the Earlham Road part of Norwich was once a giant mine. Tunnels were dug all over the area over many years and, frankly, anywhere – houses, shops, streets – in that part of the city might collapse at any moment. The most notorious incident was in 1988 when a bus disappeared into a giant sinkhole in a street nearby.
The Plantation Garden itself was made from a disused quarry, but has no more reason to tumble into the centre of the earth than any other part of the Earlham Road district.
There was another collapse in April last year, after which Mr Burlington says he can no longer get insurance in case the small access road to the garden should disappear.
The Plantation Trust disagrees with the decision, pointing out they have permanent right of access. Roger Connah, from the Trust says:
“We have a lease from the City Council which includes a right of way over the entrance drive to the Plantation Hotel. This right is legally binding as it was reserved in the original sale of the hotel years ago. It is the only access to the Garden and if we are locked out this is a legal breach which will have to be challenged.”
They say they have been shown no evidence that the Garden is under any specific threat:
“Despite asking we have no information from MJB Hotels about their investigations into a sinkhole under Plantation Hotel and the suggestion that there may be a problem under our Garden is not based on any professional advice shown to us. We all know that this part of Norwich has many old mines and shafts ranging from 150 years old to over 500 years. Large areas of the City are affected but the collapses are rare and advice we have received indicates that nearly all such events are caused by water leakage and indeed that was what happened in the 1988 sinkage under the bus.”
The Trust had the garden checked, by Norwich City Council, for any subsidence issues and found to be clear of problems. MJB Hotels is dragging its heels about making any similar tests of the small path leading down to the garden.
The Plantation Garden has now been closed for five weeks. Roger Connah points out that
“although the Garden has been tested and the public are allowed to visit us the access that was the issue has not been proved safe. Of course this is silly as we all use the adjoining public highway and that is just as likely to have voids under it.”
A petition has been signed by 11,000 people, including myself. It seems crazy that a beautiful, perfectly safe garden loved by locals and visitors alike, is being denied to all-comers with no foreseeable end.