One year on: Is that sinking feeling on the up? Construction work on site of town’s giant sinkhole still ongoing

Filling of the Hemel Hemsptead sinkhole began on Friday, Feb 21, 2014. 'Picture by  Stuart Marsh SKM Studio - Airscape Photography and how the site looks today (inset)
Filling of the Hemel Hemsptead sinkhole began on Friday, Feb 21, 2014. 'Picture by Stuart Marsh SKM Studio - Airscape Photography and how the site looks today (inset)

It was the natural phenomenon which attracted national attention and forced tens of families out of their own homes.

The 35ft-wide, 20ft-deep sinkhole which materialised in Hemel Hempstead’s Oatridge Gardens put the town on the map for all the wrong reasons.

Now – almost a year to the day since the cavernous catastrophe occurred – work is still ongoing to lift the sinking feeling felt by many in the Adeyfield estate.

The housing association behind the development Hightown Praetorian & Churches says it has been working hard, along with Dacorum borough and Herts county councils,to restore normal life for the residents affected by the sinkhole, which first appeared on February 15, 2014.

The sinkhole led to the closure of Wood Lane End for several months, while remedial work was undertaken by the county council, and ground probe surveys were commissioned for the wider estate.

It is believed the hole may have been caused by building homes on the site of a former brickworks, where there were multiple clay pits and chalk mines, and was triggered by the exceptionally wet weather over the previous autumn and winter.

Thankfully, no-one was hurt as a result of the bizarre episode.

Though the sinkhole itself was filled in within a week of its appearance, those affected were found temporary accommodation while safety was assessed and utitilty connection was restored to the site.

Even now, four of the 48 homes on the estate remain unoccupied.

Two of the properties are to be repaired with residents due to move into them by autumn of this year, and the two homes nearest to where the sinkhole appeared are to be totally demolished and re-built, subject to planning permission.

They are likely to look the same but will need to meet current building standards – Hightown says it hopes these will be finished by the summer of 2016.

Hightown spokesperson Linda Middleton said: “Over the last year Hightown staff have been working hard to help affected families return to normal life as soon as possible.

“We know it has been a difficult experience for those affected and we thank residents for their patience while the work is completed.”

Ms Middleton added the company’s priority has always been to ensure the well-being of the affected residents.

Those who were affected were offered a 100% council tax discount covering the day the sinkhole appeared until all utilities are completely restored.

The conciliatory move is estimated to have cost the borough council in the region of £17,700, with most of the homes in tax band C and some in band E.

Today, there are new residents who have bought or rented homes at Oatridge Gardens since the sinkhole incident.

Some outstanding works to strengthen the ground and re-establish services are expected to be completed over the next month and the second pedestrian access to the estate will be reopened soon.

Since last February, there has been no further evidence of ground movement, beyond normal settlement. A geotechnical survey on Oatridge Gardens carried out in July found no evidence that a similar event might occur elsewhere on the estate.

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning said: “Work has been done, and there is still a lot more to be done.

“I had to step up and defend the residents of Oatridge Gardens but, at the end of the day, the work has been done and we must remember we can’t predict these things.

“When you have terrible things like this, it’s how you react to it that’s important. The residents were very frightened – not only safety-wise but economically as well – but the way particularly the councils have dealt with it has been good, and we now have new residents in the area as well.”