Why were obvious warning signs blatantly ignored?

IT is only by the grace of God that nobody was injured or killed in Heath Street on the Saturday evening before Christmas when a section of the roadway caved in (Water burst rips giant hole through village, H&H December 28). Had someone been, then their b

IT is only by the grace of God that nobody was injured or killed in Heath Street on the Saturday evening before Christmas when a section of the roadway caved in (Water burst rips giant hole through village, H&H December 28). Had someone been, then their blood would have been on the hands of Thames Water.

At 7.20 that morning Thames Water were contacted by the manageress of Williams and Henry flower shop, who, on arriving at work, had found the basement filling with flood water.

At 9am I was contacted by the owner of the hair salon next door, telling me that she had the same problem. At 9.30am I visited both shops and found water flowing steadily into both buildings, and was told that the restaurant at No. 73 was also flooding.

I was told by Kate, in Williams and Henry, that someone from the water company had inspected the problem within the hour of her reporting it, and had then left.


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I returned to my office and at 10am rang Thames Water to find out what was being done to deal with the leak. I was told that they were satisfied that this was not an escape of clean water (i.e. a burst main), but was thought to be a drainage problem.

I expressed my surprise, because the water flowing into the buildings was running clear and there was no smell of sewer gas that one would expect from a ruptured drain.

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I then told the person I was speaking to that I was concerned about pattern wrinkling of the road surface which I thought indicated that subsidence had started, and warned that there was a danger of the road collapsing. I further told him that somebody needed to 'get off their backside' and deal with the problem as a matter of urgency. I was told that my concern would be noted.

Shortly before 5pm I returned to the flower shop and found water still streaming into the basement. I was told that nobody from Thames Water had revisited the site since early morning. I advised Kate to ring her boss to call Thames Water and to shout at them if necessary to get something done.

Nothing was done, and approximately four hours later a chasm opened up. Had somebody been standing on that spot at the time it is not fanciful to say that they would for certain have been killed.

Surely Thames Water must keep an archive, from which they should be aware that Hampstead is incredibly vulnerable to this type of incident because of the pockets of Bagshot sand sub-soil.

Within my memory there have been similar collapses in East Heath Road, in Squires Mount, in Church Row, in Christchurch Passage and, most tellingly, at least twice before in Heath Street, which is the most at risk because it probably suffers from greater traffic vibration than any other street in Hampstead.

It is sheer incompetence, given this past history, that some form of 'red alert' was not immediately triggered by notice of this incident, and that Heath Street was not at once closed to traffic until the problem had been properly investigated, identified and dealt with.

Robert Balyuzi

Compass Management Services Ltd

Hampstead High Street, NW3

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