FAMILIES in Baxenden were evacuated when a coal mine tunnel beneath their backyards collapsed.

The gardens of three households are now off limits after a section of the 150-year-old Inch Mine caved in off Manchester Road.

Machine operator Geoffrey Walls said his family were watching television when they were told to evacuate immediately, and were forced to leave behind their pet parrot and fish.

He said: “It was crazy. The yard was floating. The shaft comes out of one of the neighbour’s cellars and forks over under here.

“We moved here 15 years ago and never knew about it.”

Mr Walls, 39, who lives with his wife and four daughters, claimed the three affected households were being kept in the dark by the authorities.

He said: “It’d be nice to be told if it’s safe. I have got cracks all over my yard and they aren’t telling us anything. We had to sleep on my mum’s floor for the night. I don’t want to move but this house was an investment for my children.”

Another resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “The back yard was just suspended. It was a 20-foot drop. The police came and said you could fit about three cars in it.

“A structural engineer came in and just said, ‘evacuate’.”

Workers from the Coal Authority wore harnesses as they pumped more than 120 tonnes of rubble into the hole.

A spokesman said: “We will do all the work necessary to make the buildings safe and to restore the properties. We have done some early in-filling and will be return to complete the work in two to three weeks.

“The hole was caused by slippage in the roof of a roadway, or a gallery. The houses are currently stable and safe.”

Colin Bury, senior valuer at Accrington estate agent, Duckworths, said the collapse could affect the properties’ valuations.

He said: “Manchester Road is a really sought-after and highly regarded location. But when a solicitor does a search, these things will come up, and it makes buyers very nervous.”

The Coal Authority spokesperson declined to comment when asked about the residents’ right to compensation.

Hyndburn MP Graham Jones said he was ready to take up the case with the coal authorities.

The houses are sited in an area classed as being in a ‘development low-risk area’ as part of a system designed to improve safety.

Developments could disturb old mine workings, leading to subsidence or damage to buildings.

In guidance handed to local authorities, the Coal Authority said ‘low-risk areas’ show coal mining took place, but ‘was at such depth not to pose a risk to new development, and therefore contain no known recorded risk’.

The Coal Authority said it had no plans to rethink its labelling of Manchester Road as a ‘low risk’ area following the collapse.

Baxenden councillor Kath Pratt, who lives near Manchester Road, said: “There used to be mines under here, and that’s why people don’t really have cellars – because there’s mining networks underneath the houses.”