House collapsed during poorly planned renovations

A building firm ignored warnings and dug a trench at a residential property, which caused the partial collapse of the house next door.

Astbury Design and Build Ltd was contracted to build an extension at a house in Blackburn Avenue, in Wolverhampton. On 22 February last year, the firm’s owner Paul Astbury dug a foundation trench to the left of the house. It was too close and the same depth as the foundations of the neighboring semi-detached house.

The following evening, the upstairs bedroom and integral garage of the neighbouring property collapsed. The occupants were not home and nobody was injured. Between a third to half of the property had to be demolished and the house has since been rebuilt.

The HSE’s investigation found Astbury had failed to notify the owner of the next-door property of his intentions to dig the trench, or how he planned to undertake it, which is required under Party Wall Notification laws.

The neighbour had appointed a party-wall consultant regarding the work to negotiate shared guttering and an issue about the party wall blocking windows in the garage. The consultant warned Astbury not to undermine the foundations.

An HSE inspector said: “This was a serious incident, which could have easily been prevented had Astbury followed the recognised procedure relating to party walls and detailed the work to the neighbour’s consultant.

“The consultant would have realised the implications and stopped him. Even so, Mr Astbury is an experienced builder and should have known better in the first place.

“The trench should have been dug in metre-long sections, pouring in concrete and waiting until it had set before digging the next section. This would have underpinned and supported the wall of the neighbouring house.”

Astbury Design and Build Ltd appeared at Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court on 4 June and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £7500 and ordered to pay £4500 in costs.

In mitigation, Astbury said he had no previous convictions and the company completed the work safely and free of charge. He also offered to rebuild the neighbouring house, but this offer was declined by the homeowner. He cooperated with the investigation and entered an early guilty plea