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Gorleston wall collapse: probe says 'build up of water' was cause

PUBLISHED: 09:00 20 April 2012

A wall that collapsed in Gorleston at Beach Road.  Picture: James Bass

A wall that collapsed in Gorleston at Beach Road. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

THE collapse of a wall that nearly crushed a schoolboy to death was caused by a build up of water, initial investigations have found.

Bricks and soil cascaded down the White Lion steps between Cliff Hill and Beach Road, Gorleston, just before 6pm on April 11.

And Cliff Park High School pupil Rhys Chaplin, 12, was lucky to escape with his life when the wall thudded to the floor seconds after he had reached the top of the steps.

M and D Developments, which is undertaking building work, said it is “extremely relieving” that nobody was injured.

Officers from the borough council - together with the builder’s structural engineer - have visited the site and ruled the two homes being built are “structurally sound”. Now an “initial investigation” has found the “likely cause of the failure”, and no blame is being apportioned at this stage.

In a written statement, the borough council said: “The initial point of failure appears to be the bottom third of a flint, brick and render wall bordering the southern side of the steps leading to and from Cliff Hill from Beach Road. This wall and most of a taller retaining wall, parallel to it, collapsed.

“The taller retaining wall was constructed of new hollow concrete block, filled with concrete and reinforcing rod, and had been drilled into an older retaining structure.

“The cause of the collapse appears to be the result of a build up of water initially behind the lower - Beach Road end - retaining wall to such a point that the section wall to the bottom steps collapsed which took further sections of wall with it.

“The whole wall appears to have moved approximately one metre before toppling over. There appeared to be a significant build up and accumulation of surface water behind the wall which led to the sudden structural failure.”

The borough council is responsible for the control of “dangerous buildings and structures,” and is keeping a watching brief.

It will take action if “any part of the remaining structures appear to be or become dangerous until such time as clearance or rebuilding work commences.”

The developer and his consulting structural engineer have a duty to ensure any existing and future structural work affecting the wall, bank and surrounding land is sound. And they must ensure any retaining walls are built or altered to the strict specifications laid down by the structural engineer.

A spokesman for M and D Developments, said: “It’s extremely relieving that no-one was hurt and thanks should be given to the emergency services and local residents who were involved with the clean up.

“A structural engineer has been appointed, however the root cause is yet to be established but it’s clear the surface water from flash floods played a major part.

“The newly-built property and structure has been inspected since the collapse and are considered structurally sound. Work is continuing with all parties and it is hoped the steps owned by Norfolk County Council can be re-opened as soon as practical to minimise further disruption to those affected.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is aware of the incident but will not be investigating.

A spokesman said: “In this case, the incident does not fall within HSE’s jurisdiction and no one was injured.”

Outline planning permission was granted by the borough’s development control committee in August 2003 and the approval of reserved matters - outstanding detail - was granted in April 2006.

Under building regulations, the council is the responsible authority for ensuring the new buildings are structurally sound and comply with the regulations.

A “Full Plans” application was made under the building regulations for the construction of the new dwellings in July 2008 and approved in January 2012.

Norfolk County Council is responsible for the highway and maintenance of Beach Road and Cliff Hill as well as steps linking the two. A spokesman for the county council’s highways team said: “The steps will remain closed until they’re safe to be reopened.”

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