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Paphos homes in danger of collapse after heavy rain

Although their houses are only a few years old, residents living on an estate at Armou in Paphos have been warned to leave their homes as they are in real danger of collapse if heavy rain continues.

A RECENTLY built six house estate in Armou near Paphos is in imminent danger of collapse after it was constructed on land locals had long been warned was unsafe.

The development looks like an earthquake has struck. All of the houses show serious structural problems, from slanting floors, to the partial collapse of stairs, walls, swimming pools and patio areas. Outside drains are now exposed in one garden and retaining walls have been split apart.

Two of the access roads to the development are currently impassable with giant gaps in both, and huge pieces of tarmac have been dislodged. The third is barely useable, and may also be out of action at any time.

And just one more week of rain could see the homes falling down completely according to the president of Paphos’ architects and civil engineers association, Chrysostomos Italos.

“I have been to see these residents about six times, I feel very sorry for them. If there is rain for a week then everything could collapse,” said Italos who is carrying out a report into the damage.

“If the rain stops, their homes will be safe – for now.”

“Our dream has turned into a living nightmare,” said one worried homeowner Geoff Higgs who contacted the Sunday Mail in desperation after appeals to government authorities went unheard.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the sudden subsidence hasn’t been caused by an earthquake. According to three of the four British homeowners at the site, it’s debatable whether the land was fit to build on at all with all of the homes experiencing structural problems for a number of years.

But the recent spate of bad weather and a regular water leak in the area have compounded the damage leaving residents concerned for the future of their homes, their own safety and the financial impact.

Tragically for the residents, it appears as if the area where their houses were built, just below the church in the picturesque village, was well-known among locals as being unsafe.

“Everyone in the village knows that below the church isn’t a safe place to build. When I was a small boy, I was told to be careful of this area and not to go there in bad weather,” said Armou mukhtar, Panikos Hadjitheoris.

Italos says he was approached by a number of the home owners to prepare a report, which he says will be completed next week.

“The area where the houses have been constructed is at the bottom of the village of Armou and it is of soft clay. I don’t know if the initial design was correct, how it was designed, and if all of the correct investigations were carried out. I presume it was built correctly, but I don’t know,” he said.

“Initial estimations should have taken into account if there was any danger posed by the surrounding area, not just the spot where the houses were constructed.”

He added that he has warned residents to keep an eye on the movement and if it speeds up they should leave their properties for their own safety.

Simon Phillips bought his house in June 2008. Just four years later, his garden, pool area and exterior retaining walls are now covered by a maze of gaping holes and wide cracks. He is fearful for the safety of his wife and two daughters, aged 10 and 12.

“In Feb 2010 there was some movement, but nothing as drastic as this,” he said.

Phillips says that builders have done some cosmetic repairs, but with the recent series of water leaks in the road, combined with heavy rains, the movement over the last couple of weeks has been “ridiculous”.

“I’ve got gaps of more than a foot wide with two metre drops outside; I’ve got open drains and open cesspits. I feel unstable and the stress factor and the disappointment are overwhelming,” he said.

“All of the damage here has happened very quickly and every day we are measuring the gaps which are getting bigger and bigger.”

Higgs said that JNM, the local company, has been uncommunicative and unhelpful.

“The developer came up here and had a look around. He is difficult to get hold of and doesn’t react. He doesn’t do anything.”

Repeated calls to JNM by the Sunday Mail to speak to the company’s director were not returned.

Higgs and his wife took delivery of their ‘dream home’ seven and a half years ago. He says JNM were late completing his house but that was just the start of the problems.

“The road was completed only last year, and the authorities and the developer are now in disagreement as to who has responsibility for the road,” he said.

A water pipe which runs under the road is continuously leaking due to the movement of the land and this is compounding the problem for the development of houses which are built below.

“This water leak first happened a few years ago. The land is moving and pulls the pipe apart and now there is another split further down.”

“The area and our homes look like they’ve been under a mortar attack,” he said.

“My wife is in a real state. This is our retirement destroyed. They’ve taken our home, our money, our kids’ inheritance and they don’t seem to care.”

Hadjitheoris, the mukhtar of Armou for the past five years, said he felt very sorry for the residents and is doing what he can to help. The stricken development was built before he took office.

“These people put their trust in their lawyers and advisers. If they had asked anyone in the village or the local council, they would’ve been told that the area wasn’t safe. I feel very sorry for them.”

According to the mukhtar, there are two or three leaks from the water pipe every day.

“We keep spending village money to repair them. We are looking at solutions to resolve this problem, such as using different pipes.”

He said the estate was giving Armou an unwarranted bad name as it was only the small area below the church which was unstable and the rest of the village was safe to build on.

“I don’t think anything should’ve been built on this area and I believe further studies and investigations should’ve been carried out before any building commenced,” Hadjitheoris said.

The community chief met with the developer in his office in February, following a meeting with the district office which he says are aware of the situation.

“I told him to go to the district office himself and find a solution, which he promised to do.”

Graham Slyper, another resident, who owns a four bedroom house, has seen movement since last year but he says the problem has become far worse in the last couple of months.

“Underneath the pool there is a rear retaining wall with a drop down the other side of about 2.5 metres and the crack is now open by 26 cm. As a consequence, it’s now hollow underneath and the earth is running away every time there is rain.”

The UK-based chartered surveyor said, “We didn’t know at the time, but it seems as if the land should never have been built on. The house is on piles but everything around it isn’t. In particular the front and back retaining walls need to be piled. If that could be done, the development could be stabilised.”

The houses behind the development further up the hillside have also been experiencing problems in recent days.

“They came to see us on Sunday as their gardens are now slipping. If nothing is done, everything above us will come down in this direction.”

Italos said further investigations of the area needed to be carried out.

“There are some ways in which this development can be saved. Specific investigations need to be done, followed by special structures which could be erected, such as supports like piles,” he said. “Who will pay for these I really don’t know.”

A number of the homeowners have issued court proceedings against the developer.

Editor’s comment

GIVEN Cyprus’ long experience of landslides and having to move whole villages to new locations, you would think that the law would prohibit the construction of property on unstable land. Unfortunately, this is not the case!

Problematic villages in Paphos include Agios Photios and Statos, Choletria, Theletra, Episkopi, Marathounda and Armou. Following devastating landslips at Agios Photios and Statos, the Government moved both villages to a new location. Choetria & Theletra villages were also relocated after suffering similar disasters.

In 2006 heavy rains caused major problems in Paphos including the flooding of properties, flash floods, mudslides, traffic chaos and power cuts. A couple died when their car was swept off what appeared to be a badly-constructed bridge.

At that time, one local estate agent said the main problem was caused by developers building on unsuitable sites. “They buy cheap land on ravines, with water running through developments, and many buildings are not properly elevated from the road. Mass constructions also cause excess mud and dust to get onto the roads in large quantities, which cause traffic problems,” he explained.

Readers' comments

Comments on this article are no longer being accepted.

  • Responsibility for this situation rests with the developer.

    He will have employed a suitably qualified and registered construction engineer to carry out the structural design and to draw up the plans to be used by the building contractor.

    Either the structural design was wrong or the building contractor did not follow them.

    (It is also the construction engineer’s responsibility to ensure the structural elements are built according to his/her design).

  • Peter says:

    I am of the opinion that if the government offices issued planning permits and build permits then they shoulder the responsibility.

    As for the Muktar, well, it was his councils decision to issue the relevant building permit for this site.

    It is time these government organs took responsibility for their actions instead of palming people off.
    I would like to ask the developer’s architect and civil engineer who’s signatures are on the plans, what they have to say about this.

    Disgraceful, I feel sorry for these people affected, I hope they can be compensated.

  • AnnDee says:

    Who is this mukhtar trying to kid that anyone in the village will tell you that the land you intend to buy on is bentonite clay and on a landslide? They want to sell their rubbish land, so they will simply lie. Nobody takes responsibility here, they are happy to see your house slip down the hill then purport to be sympathetic. Anyone in that village could have raised an objection to the development when the developer put his plans in. He’s probably a local and knew all the problems anyway. The previous mukhtar could have stopped it, but the village gets money doesn’t it? The present mukhtar knew so much about the problem but didn’t have the bottle, because nobody wants to rock the boat and scare buyers away. You only have to take one look at Armou and there is so much bentonite there it beggars belief the present mukhtar is saying only one small part of the village is a problem.

    The government Geological Survey Dept has issued maps showing dodgy land to Planning Departments and District offices and held seminars for engineers and architects. They are certainly not ignorant about the areas affected. The fact is the government departments simply will not take responsibility either to declare certain areas too unstable to build on. Why? Because there is so much rubbish land out in the Paphos District most of it would be declared unsafe for housing construction. That decision would send shock waves and damage the bank balances of land owners and property developers too much.

    It’s a scandal that the Planning dept, who is the first stage of the official process, should concern itself with such things as the colour of roof tiles, shutters, access and % cover, when the most important thing is if the land is suitable for construction in the first place. That falls to the District Office when the building permit is applied for. And that we know normally happens after the house has been built. Cock-eyed or what?

  • Mike says:

    And the Mukhtar said “These people put their trust in their lawyers and advisers. If they had asked anyone in the village or the local council, they would’ve been told that the area wasn’t safe. I feel very sorry for them.”

    Therein lies the problem – putting trust in Lawyers and advisers. Rule number 1 is ‘Leave common sense and all reasonable and logical thought behind at Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester Airport. Trust no one, believe no one least of all anyone in authority,do not be tempted, try Malta, Mauritius, South of France, Italy, Thailand, Sardinia, Sicily anywhere but Cyprus to buy. Only rent in Cyprus if you want to hang on to your money.

    If you insist on throwing it down the pan throw it my way.

  • out of the frying pan into the fire says:

    So their houses go the same way as their economy. What a surprise.

  • John Swift says:

    The house next door to us in Agious Demetrianous was nicknamed The Titanic as at around 2 years old it was already starting to list according to a structual engineer.

  • UBoat says:

    I feel sorry for the residence of theses places, they would of purchased with some naivety as did I Ayia Napa side. the local authorities and village elders would have known.
    Again it is a case of money moves mountains literally in this case. causes blindness and greed.
    Sorry to say the old Cypriot hospitality and genuine caring attitude to outsiders has long since for the most part gone!
    The law dose not want to know as NO one is held accountable for any action, due to the Inherent corruption and I’ll scratch your back way of doing business.

    Sorry again for the residence and good luck to them in the future they will need it.

    R.I.P. Cyprus as a safe warm friendly place to retire.

    Cheers

    UBoat

  • Martyn says:

    Some of the very first new house developments we saw in Paphos and Pissouri areas showed very obvious signs of subsidence and slippage. We were immediately put on our guard and then viewed all new developments on the Island with great suspicion/care. We saw enough to ‘steer clear’ in the end, of all new Developments on the island.

    Surely Mukhtars and local officials should voice their concerns to both Developers and Planners when any new building is proposed on land previously known to be suspect?

  • Peter says:

    Someone in local planning must have granted building permits. So is the Government not responsible for either hiring poor help or for greed? Either way the Cyprus Government should pay compensation.

    Maybe if all the Brits on the Island stop paying taxes the locals would understand what the expats contribute.

  • Costas Apacket says:

    So when, (and if), the plans were submitted by the developer’s architect for this development, what do the highly paid officials in the planning authorities actually do to ensure the site is suitable for such a development?

    Is the Architect not criminally responsible for proposing a development on an unsuitable site?

    Don’t the local officials have a duty to inform the planning authorites if they suspect, (or more than likely know), that a local site is unsuitable for the construction of properties?

    So many lost opportunities, all put to one side potentially by greed and personal gain?

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