FAMILIES in Chester are urging council officers to use their powers to end a nine year nightmare.

Sue and Barry Chaloner of Brentwood Close and Dave Rodgers, of Stamford Road, both Blacon, have put up with vandalism, drug deals and nuisance behaviour since their next door neighbour abandoned his house in July 1998.

On top of this, a row of conifers at the now vacant corner plot in Blacon are thought to be responsible for subsidence which has damaged both neighbouring homes.

Mrs Chaloner, 52, a well-known Macmillan Cancer Support fundraiser in the area, said: 'It's been a living nightmare for so long now.

'We've not had a decent night's sleep in years.'

Husband Mr Chaloner added: 'We've had the fire brigade out here more often than I can remember.'

Last summer the couple heard a loud crack which tore through the wall on their landing and recently-decorated front room.

Surveyors blame conifers on the vacant lot which have dried out foundations. The Chaloners want to remove the trees but cannot get permission from the absent owner.

Mrs Chaloner said: 'If we wanted to sell up now, we wouldn't have a chance.'

Tim Hobson, Chester's empty property officer, said a new team of officers had been set up in November to tackle precisely this sort of problem.

He said: 'This, by quite a league, is the worst in the district. We've got the Enforced Sale Procedure but we're disinclined to use it because we like to work with people.

'However, if a property is empty for seven years, we can take over and do it up and charge it to the owner under new powers.'

The owner, now living in Northwich, is now thought to be willing to sell.

Blacon City Cllr Ethel Price said: 'Chester and District Housing Trust said they wished to buy it and do it up as a show house as a flagship project for apprentice training. The owner will be held responsible for the costs.'

Mr Rodgers, who lives with his family on the other side of the vacant building, is eager to see action.

He said: 'Anything would be good and the sooner something is done here, the better for us.'