St Albans sinkhole evacuee exclusively speaks to Herts Ad as road re-opens

PUBLISHED: 15:29 30 November 2016

Ben Bagshaw (left) shakes hands with neighbour David Walker after waking him at 1am to alert him to the sinkhole opening up on Fontmell Close.

Ben Bagshaw (left) shakes hands with neighbour David Walker after waking him at 1am to alert him to the sinkhole opening up on Fontmell Close.

Danny Loo Photography 2016

A St Albans sinkhole evacuee hailed a ‘hero’ by his neighbours for alerting them to the massive cavity is ‘excited’ about finally moving back to the family home after nearly 14 months.

Resurfacing work taking place on Fontmell Close after the sinkhole repair.Resurfacing work taking place on Fontmell Close after the sinkhole repair.

This Saturday sees the official reopening of Fontmell Close, which has been closed to traffic since a 40ft-wide, 33ft-deep sinkhole developed on October 1 last year.

After electricity, water, sewerage and telephone services were temporarily restored to the majority of over 50 homes affected in Fontmell and Bridle Closes in the aftermath, most residents were able to return to their homes within weeks.

But, Ben Bagshaw and his then pregnant wife Gemma had to remain in alternative accommodation.

Their household was one of four closest to the cavity, all of which have remained evacuated since October 1 last year, to allow for multiple - and lengthy - underground survey work, along with consultants’ analysis, followed by the gradual, permanent restoration of utility services, and restoration of the road.

Resurfacing work taking place on Fontmell Close after the sinkhole repair.Resurfacing work taking place on Fontmell Close after the sinkhole repair.

An important milestone will be reached at a ceremony on Saturday when residents gather at the fully repaired cul de sac to celebrate its official reopening. St Albans’ ‘sinkhole road’ was opened to traffic on Wednesday (30).

Ben said: “I’m excited, as it has been frustrating at times.”

He recalled hearing a loud noise from the street while in bed, when the massive cavity appeared suddenly during the early hours of October 1.

Ben said: “I was on edge, because my wife was overdue, and I didn’t know what the noise was.”

Aware that a postman had injured his leg when he tripped over a much smaller cavity which appeared prior to the road collapse, Ben assumed that safety fencing around the original hole had simply fallen over.

But, upon investigating the noise, he soon realised the gravity of the situation and phoned the police.

Ben said: “I could smell gas and I could hear water running. I could also hear the sides crumbling, but I didn’t really know what was going on. I could see the size of it, so I realised the hole was collapsing.”

After dashing back inside his house to ask Gemma to collect her overnight bag for hospital, he then alerted neighbours on the other side of the sinkhole, banging on their doors in the dark.

Among them was a grateful David Walker, who has hailed his heroism and now calls him “Brave Ben. He put himself at risk by skirting around the crater to warn us”.

Ben said: “I did knock on neighbours’ doors, but I didn’t get a response from one, as they thought I was a burglar!”

He and Gemma evacuated to her parents’ home in Potters Bar. Then, on October 10, their baby boy, Finley was born.

Ben, a carpenter, joked: “We did almost call him Phil or Doug.”

Asked how the family has coped over the last 13 months, a down-to-earth Ben replied: “I’m not a dramatic person. It’s just one of those things, and the insurance company organised a rental property in St Albans. Our house in Fontmell Close is still there – everything is fine, and signed off. It’s not the ideal way to start your first year with a new baby, but it could have been worse.

“We have kept hold of all of our stuff, and nothing has been damaged. We had massive support from family. We are moving back home and we are very confident with the work that has been done, and appreciative of the councils and insurance companies, for what they have done.

“Life has been on hold, but the silver lining is that we know all our neighbours more now – the sinkhole has brought the street closer together.”

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