Shocking images show sections of back gardens that collapsed into a river after a landslide.
The substantial piece of land fell into the River Tawe in Ystradgynlais near Powys, in South Wales, in the early hours of Thursday. Resident Kevin Davies said he was woken up at 4.30am when he heard an "almighty bang" and saw the wall had collapsed into the river.
He told BBC News he and other residents had been worried extreme weather could cause river levels to rise quickly and flood their properties."The last few days feels like we're living in a nightmare," he said.
Photos and videos taken by resident Catrin Phillips revealed a large part of the gardens, debris, and a crumbling boundary wall in the river. Phillips said it was lucky to have collapsed when it did - as if it would have been during the day, more than just the garden could have been affected.
They added: "It's just fortunate that it happened at 4:30am and not during the day time. Residents are often in their gardens and local people are often down by the river with their children and dogs.
"The outcome could have been very different had it been during daytime".
Phillips said the river wall has been undercutting for years and the residents have been seeking help from a number of authorities. They added: "I know they have had a number of sinkholes appearing in their gardens too.
"It was inevitable that it was going to fall, it was just a matter of time unfortunately for the homeowners - it's heartbreaking for them."
‘10-year battle for new wall’
Davies said he first reported the wall to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Powys council when a sinkhole opened up in his garden but none of them have taken responsibility. The incident was shared on a community group online, where one local added: "Thinking of the residents who have been fighting with Powys and Welsh Water for over 10 years to build a new wall.
"Maybe now one of them will take responsibility! It’s just too bad this had to happen to them."
Another wrote: "It was actually 4.30 that's my house and half the garden went with it, perhaps we'll get some help now, the authorities were informed it was moving about 4 weeks ago & they didn't even get back to us!".
Powys County Council said: "Powys County Council was made aware of a wall collapse on a section of the River Tawe in Ystradgynlais this morning and local officers attended to assess the situation. The River Tawe is designated as a main river and therefore the lead authority in this instance would be Natural Resources Wales. We have passed details on to them and they should be contacted for further information."
NRW operations manager for land and assets, Neil Stoddart added: "We are aware that a part of a retaining wall has collapsed into the river at Ystradgynlais and we sympathise with the effected landowner. Our engineers will visit the area to investigate and to assess any added flood risk caused by the incident.
"After considering the matter in great detail and taking legal advice over recent years, we do not consider that the retaining wall is the responsibility of Natural Resources Wales."
200,000 properties at risk
Some 203,000 properties are at increased risk of inundation, with MPs criticising the government for failing to fund the Environment Agency (EA) adequately. The agency has been unable to meet its target of maintaining 98% of “high consequence” flood defences – the most common type – and has had to downgrade the number of properties it aims to protect by 2027 from 336,000 to 200,000.
A lack of resources also means that new developments are being built in flood plains without the EA or Local Planning Authorities ensuring there are flood risk mitigation measures, which the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) described as “unforgivable”. The PAC found that 203,000 properties are at risk of deteriorating defences, higher than the amount the government is aiming to protect with new infrastructure.
Around 5.7 million properties were at risk of flooding in England across 2022-23 and this number is set to increase as climate change brings more intense downpours more often. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it has invested £1.5 billion of its flood defence programme which has improved protection for over 67,000 properties.