Subsidence and sinkholes
Produced in partnership with Kate Goodall of Groundsure

The following Environment practice note produced in partnership with Kate Goodall of Groundsure provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Subsidence and sinkholes
  • Introduction to subsidence
  • What are sinkholes?
  • When is a subsidence search needed?
  • Types of subsidence searches
  • Residential and commercial environmental screening reports
  • Ground stability report
  • Property insurance
  • Finance transactions
  • Redevelopment

Subsidence and sinkholes

Introduction to subsidence

Subsidence occurs when the ground underneath a structure is unable to support it effectively.

Many factors can trigger subsidence issues. These include:

  1. man-made disturbance (eg mines, mine shafts, old wells, soakaways, former ice-houses, former storage or refuse pits)

  2. change in drainage patterns

  3. heavy rain

  4. groundwater abstraction

The former Department of Energy and Climate Change consulted on underground drilling access—Consultation on Proposal for Underground Access for the Extraction of Gas, Oil or Geothermal Energy—discussed the alleged risks from shale gas production. The paper stated that 'there are no documented cases of shale gas operations, whether exploration or production, causing subsidence large enough to cause damage at the surface. Shale gas production does not remove large quantities of rock from underground (by comparison with coal mining where subsidence does occur).

On 14 July 2016, DECC was merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to form the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

What are sinkholes?

Sinkholes are a type of land subsidence involving a vertical downward movement of the land surface.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) identifies several different types of sinkhole:

  1. Solution sinkholes

    These result from soluble rock in the soil profile (including limestone, carbonate rock and salt beds) dissolving when attacked by rainfall or groundwater that is acidic

  2. Suffosion sinkholes

    Sinkholes also occur where a thin covering of loose material such as sand,

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