Sinkhole family told to stay away after drive swallows car

Fears of further subsidence after 30ft hole opens next to house

A family have been told not to sleep in their home after a 30ft-deep sinkhole opened up in the driveway and swallowed a car.

Firefighters were called to the property in Main Road, Walter's Ash, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, at 8.32am yesterday, when they found the 15ft-wide hole.

Phil Conran, who lives in the house with his wife Liz, told BBC News he initially thought the Volkswagen Lupo, which belongs to his 19-year-old stepdaughter Zoe Smith, might have been stolen until he realised it had disappeared into the ground.

"The initial shock was very quickly overtaken by relief because, had she been going out to the car when this happened - had she been in the car just pulling away when this happened - then obviously if you look down the hole you can see the car is completely full of earth," he said.

"It would have been absolutely horrendous. So frankly that overtook any thoughts of shock, really."

Mr Conran said the family have been told not to sleep in the house amid fears of further subsidence.

When the hole first appeared, they did not know what to do, so called the police, who initially told them to contact insurers and the council, but then several officers and a fire engine arrived, he told the BBC.

"They obviously were a bit concerned about potential for further subsidence. They were quite keen for us to get out of the house, but I think people then quickly accepted that actually this was a fairly isolated problem," he said.

"We've still been advised we shouldn't be sleeping here, but we can use it during the day."

He went on: "We had a guy from building control from Wycombe District Council. His feeling is that it's a combination of factors and yes, the wet weather is probably the final straw."

Mr Conran said the area was known for chalk mining which happened "probably 150 years ago" and there were a series of underground tunnels.

"All the houses here are built on concrete rafts, but that doesn't mean that things like drives can't disappear," he added.

His wife Liz added that she was "very worried" about their family home.

Describing the moment her daughter saw the sinkhole, Ms Conran told BBC News: "She was in absolute hysterics. It didn't dawn on us what had happened until after about an hour."

Ms Smith told BBC News that she screamed as she looked out of the house window, thinking her car had been stolen.

"There was just a crater, at which point I screamed the house down," she said.

"I'm quite lucky I've got parents who are good in a crisis and said it's OK, it's just a car and you weren't in it."

Explaining how the sinkhole might have formed, Paul Beetham, a lecturer in civil engineering at Nottingham Trent University, said: "High Wycombe is a chalk area, and chalk has properties quite different to other types of rock. Areas underlain by chalk may contain natural voids or caves, which formed over many thousands of years as groundwater passed through and dissolved the chalk.

"High Wycombe is also an area that has been mined historically for chalk and, occasionally, mining areas can have access shafts which were not capped off correctly, leading to loose material overlaying these voids.

"While such cavities may remain intact below ground for hundreds of years, very rarely the sudden collapse of the material may occur, perhaps when disturbed by extreme rainfall or a recent change in land use."

A Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: "Firefighters were called to a sinkhole (30ft deep, 15ft diameter) which swallowed a parked car in the driveway of a house in Main Road, Walter's Ash.

"Firefighters placed a cordon around it and gave safety advice.

"The incident was handed over to building control at Wycombe District Council. Firefighters were at the scene for about an hour."

PA


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all