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Load bearing wall removal suspected in building collapse

Engineers this week said that the collapse of a four-storey retail property in Hertfordshire appeared to have been caused by the removal of part of a load bearing wall.

Early on Sunday morning the front of the period property on Berkhamsted High Street suffered a catastrophic failure.

The building comprised a shop on the basement and ground floors with residential areas on the first, second and attic floors. Developer Sorbon Estates had recently bought it, and it was empty at the time of the collapse.

Structural engineers told NCE that images of the collapse suggested that work must have been done to remove all or part of the load bearing structure.

“It would appear that the removal of walls and/or column/piers led to the failure and that the brick acted as an arch in the short term and hence failed at a later stage,” one engineer said.

Sorbon Estates operations director Tamara Booth confirmed that renovation work was planned for the property, but so far only some “light strip out work had taken place”. “We have since gained planning permission to add a rear extension to the shop and refurbish the upper parts,” said Booth.

Dacorum Borough Council building control officers and Sorbon Estate’s structural engineers are investigating the collapse.

Amateur footage of the immediate aftermath of the collapse

Dacorum Borough Council conservation and building control officers attended the scene with police. Council principal building control officer (Structures) John Keeton said: “We quickly established that no one had been injured and so then our first concern became ensuring the building was stabilised so that any further collapse did not happen.  The owners were called and the building was made safe by Sunday evening with external scaffold bracing.”

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