By Valerie Elliott
Under attack: Matthew Jones with the knotweed
It's the scourge of the suburbs, feared by homeowners and gardeners.
Now a couple have been told their newbuild home must be demolished to rid it of an invasion of Japanese knotweed.
Matthew Jones and fiancee Sue Banks have seen the value of their four-bedroom house in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, almost wiped out – dropping from £305,000 to £50,000 – as a result of the damage.
Moving in: The knotweed has pierced floors and skirting boards at Matthew and Sue's home
The weed has spread along the brick walls, forced its way through flooring and sprouted over skirting boards. What was once their dream home is in danger of collapse.
The couple, who had twins Ethan and Ella eight months ago, have been told that unless the detached house is demolished and 10ft of soil removed from beneath the foundations it will be impossible to sell.
There was no sign of the plant when the couple bought the house two years ago, believing it to be the ideal location to bring up a young family.
But it was growing unnoticed on wasteland next to the property. Slowly it crept over the garden fence and took over the lawn before forcing its way into the house.
Upheaval: Matthew and Sue face losing their home because of the weed
Mr Jones, 38, who runs a car-hire firm, says the house has become 'a home from hell'. And the couple fear being sued for damages, leaving them with an even greater bill, if the weed spreads to neighbouring homes in the quiet cul-de-sac.
Mr Jones learnt about the superweed when he called in an expert from Broxbourne Council.
'He took one look and knew what it was straight away. He told us to get a solicitor involved,' said Mr Jones.
The owner of the wasteland it spread from is legally responsible to clear the area of the plant – but officials failed to track down the person responsible. The couple then called in experts who advised them that demolition was the only option.
'The problem is there is no guarantee the pesticides will work. The treatment will take three to five years and will cost £25,000. It will also mean that each time we treat the weeds we will have to dig up the flooring,' said Mr Jones.
'We've got our twins now and we don't want these chemicals in the house. And you can imagine the upheaval we would have to go through every year in the spring and summer. We don't want it.'
Japanese knotweed was introduced to Britain by the Victorians as an ornamental plant but now costs £150million a year to control.
It can grow 4in a day and as its tendrils spread horizontally underground they can bring down walls, erode foundations and break up paving, drains and driveways.
The couple are now suing solicitors Roberts of Macclesfield, who handled the purchase of the house.
The are seeking £400,000 compensation and claim that the solicitors failed to ensure there was a National House-Building Council warranty which provides the insurance cover for ten years in the event of any problems.
The solicitors entirely deny liability and contest the claim.
Invader: Japanese knotweed is sprouting up through the floors