Flashback to 2005: Shock as retaining wall suddenly collapses

A first-time buyer had a lucky escape after narrowly missing being caught up in the falling debris when a 32-ft high retaining wall suddenly collapsed without warning.

Serena Hipkiss with what remained of her garden, following the collapse of a retaining wall
Serena Hipkiss with what remained of her garden, following the collapse of a retaining wall

It caused piles of rubble, bricks, fencing and tarmac to smash through the back of Serena Hipkiss' house and bury neighbouring gardens in Bridgnorth.

The 23-year-old, who had only moved into her new house on Hospital Street around a month earlier, had been standing in her garden just minutes before the wall on Bernards Hill crumbled.

Her property took the brunt of the damage, wrecking the kitchen and bathroom, and making it unsafe to live in the house.

Devastated Serena, who was forced to stay in a hotel while engineers assessed the damage and stabilised the remaining section of wall, described the moment the bricks started to fall.

"Just minutes before the wall collapsed I had been standing in the garden with my boyfriend. Then just as we stepped inside, the wall collapsed, and bricks, fencing and rubble smashed through the extension breaking through the doors and windows.

"It was lucky we were not still outside, otherwise we could have been seriously hurt.”

Serena's kitchen following the collapse of a retaining wall

Serena said residents had been campaigning for the council to repair the wall for some time and just a few days earlier officials went out to investigate the site.

It was believed that heavy rainfall may have triggered the collapse of the wall, which took place on a Saturday evening.

Shropshire Council's principle engineer of bridges, John Williams, said: “On Friday morning the council’s divisional officers reported to me that there was a crack in the road near the wall.

“We decided as a precautionary measure to border off the area behind the wall, which is mainly used for parking, with a view to carrying out a proper inspection this week.

“On Saturday the wall collapsed and on Sunday Transco came out to investigate a possible gas leak. They excavated some holes, found a small leak and carried out a repair. As far as I am concerned the gas leak and the collapse of the wall are in no way connected.”

Residents had been campaigning for the council to repair the wall for some time

Mr Williams added that three homes on Hospital Street had been affected by the collapsing wall.

He said number 34 had been subjected to the brunt of the damage and arrangements to shift the rubble and debris were being made.

"The collapse of the wall seems to have been triggered by the heavy rainfall of last week. The collapsed length of wall is behind numbers 33 and 34 Hospital Street.

“Immediately alongside, behind number 33 the wall is still standing but in dangerous condition and it could collapse tomorrow or be there for weeks.

“We need to take this wall down in a controlled manner so that it does not damage property.”

A mass clean-up to remove bricks, rubble, fencing and debris from the gardens of homes on Hospital Street began a couple of weeks later.

The road on Bernards Hill has been closed to motorists since the wall collapsed and there is a possibility it could be closed longer if other parts of the wall are found to be unstable.

Mr Williams said: “We will be assessing the stability of the walls either side. If we find that they are stable we will be able to open the road up to traffic.”

After all the debris from the collapsed section of wall had been removed and the remaining part of the wall had been taken down, the council began developing the design for reconstruction work.

In order to complete the project some homes were left without power and water while work was carried out.

Mr Williams explained: "An electricity cable on Bernards Hill needs diverting to another location to allow work to continue and Severn Trent has been asked to replace a section of an existing water pipe. We are afraid that working too closely to the current metal pipe will cause it to fracture so it will be replaced with a plastic one.

“Both diversions will mean that provision of services to some homes will be stopped for a short period while work is carried out."

By September, virtually all of the new wall had been constructed and preparations were being made to reopen the road to traffic.

It was also hoped that Serena, who had been living with her father in Alveley, would be able to move back into her home in the coming months.

She said she had got used to the situation but was desperate to move back into her own home.

“The council have rebuilt the wall and work on my extension is due to start at the end of November, beginning of December.

“I’m hoping the work will be finished by January so I can move back for the New Year.”

Serena also said she was grateful for the support she had received from the council since the incident.

Mr Williams said they had asked her to provide a schedule of work and costs of rebuilding the extension.

He said: “The architect has prepared this and will be putting in a planning application. Once planning permission is in place work to rebuild the extension will start.”

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