Environment Agency: ‘We got it wrong over River Waring floods’

Changes have already been made to the operation of the sluice gates which allow excess  water to drain into the old course of the River Waring. Photo: John Fieldhouse
Changes have already been made to the operation of the sluice gates which allow excess water to drain into the old course of the River Waring. Photo: John Fieldhouse

A leading official from the Environment Agency has apologised to Horncastle residents whose properties flooded in June after admitting: ‘We got it wrong!’

At least four properties – including a business – were flooded by the River Waring.

Lincolnshire County Council is heading an investigation into the incident, working alongside several other organisations including the Environment Agency (EA).

John Ray, the EA’s senior flood risk manager for the area, spoke at a Horncastle Town Council meeting last Tuesday.

Addressing councillors and some of the residents affected by the flooding, Mr Ray said: “We got it wrong and for that we apologise.”

Mr Ray accepted warnings were issued by the EA two hours AFTER the flooding when they should have been sent two hours BEFORE.

Town councillors Fiona Martin and Brian Burbidge who have regularly warned about developing close to Thunker's Drain. Picture: John Aron.

Town councillors Fiona Martin and Brian Burbidge who have regularly warned about developing close to Thunker's Drain. Picture: John Aron.

He said a ‘number of lessons had been learned’ and several steps had been put in place to prevent a repeat.

He revealed a county wide ‘three tier’ warning system for residents in vulnerable properties had changed to ‘two tiers’ for anyone living near the Waring in the Stanhope Road area.

Mr Ray also confirmed the system for opening sluice gates near to the conflux of the rivers Bain and Waring in Horncastle had been changed.

He told the meeting that would enable water to be released quicker and in greater quantity in times of heavy rain – without flooding communities downstream, notably Kirkby on Bain.

Mr Ray went on to confirm the Section 19 investigation would identify other possible solutions.

However, he warned any scheme would be ‘small scale’ - because of the limited number of properties affected.

Mr Ray said the EA’s own figures showed 161mms of rain (the equivalent to six and a half inches) had fallen in the Horncastle area in three days in June.

He confirmed that was 50mms less than fell during more widespread floods in the town in 2007.

That latter incident led to the EA leading the way in a multi-million pound project to build flood defences on the Bain.

He admitted those defences had saved Horncastle from further flooding in June.

However, he said when the defences were planned, the EA could not justify a similar outlay (around £5m, said Mr Ray) on the Waring.

He admitted funding was still an issue and added: “I appreciate that is probably not want you (residents) want to hear but there just aren’t the resources available.”

Instead, Mr Ray said the EA – and other agencies involved– were looking to come up with a ‘small scale solution’ aimed at keeping water in the channel of the Waring for longer.

He added: “I can promise we will do what we can. There is more funding mechanism now than 10 years ago when there was just one pot but there just isn’t the money for anything like the scheme on the Bain.”

Mr Ray also confirmed the EA was embarking on full surveys of the Bain and Waring which, he added, would produce important information.

He said that included looking into whether the Bain defences had contributed to the flooding from the Waring.

Paul Brooks, the county council’s flood risk manager, also spoke at the meeting and said information was still being gathered regarding the investigation.

He said results would be made public and the county council would do ‘everything it could’ to ensure any improvements went ahead. However, he admitted any recommendations were not ‘legally enforceable.’

Mr Brooks added more than 40 flooding incidents from June were being investigated in Lincolnshire, including Wainfleet where more than 60 houses were left under water.

Mr Brooks said flooding from the Waring affected three properties and one business (Sea View Antiques).

He went on to stress the investigation only covered ‘interior’ flooding and not garages or gardens.

Mr Brooks backed the EA’s decision to improve warnings and changes to the sluice gate.

However, he said residents would be ’better off’ not using the county council’s customer service centre for reporting flooding.

He said the public would get a ‘quicker service’ from other agencies.

Mr Brooks said: “We (the county council) are not an emergency response organisation. If you are concerned your property might flood then dial 999 and ask for the police or fire brigade.”

Town mayor Coun Fiona Martin – and several members of the public – told Mr Brooks and Mr Ray that water from Thunker’s Drain was as big a concern as the Waring.

Thunker’s Drain joins the Waring near to at risk properties, adding to the flow of water.

Coun Martin said the town council had regularly objected to new housing developments in the area of Thunker’s Drain but planners often still gave the go-ahead.

Resident and business owner Richard Ingram-Hill told the meeting that historically, Thunker’s Drain powered a water mill at a ‘long gone’ Brass and Iron Foundry. The site of the foundry also featured a pond which held water back.

He added: “The fact that so many new developments have taken place on the (Thunker’s Drain) flood plain has increased the flow of water and ‘significantly’ added to the flooding risk.

Mr Ingram-Hill claimed the level of the drain had been lowered by developers while Coun Richard Barker said planners allowing developers to utilise the drain for excess surface water was ‘ridiculous.’

Mr Ray pointed out new legislation made it easier for agencies to object to planning applications.

He and Mr Brooks stressed the drain would be included in the investigation.

Another resident questioned the state of a bridge, at the conflux of the drain and the Waring.

Coun Martin welcomed changes to the warnings – and the sluice gate – but acknowledged the EA ‘had to be careful’ because of the risk of flooding downstream.

Resident Lionel Hickman said he had put up ‘flood boards’ which had not worked.

Tracey Collins, owner of Sea View Antiques, said she was not offered flood boards in 2007 and was told grants were no longer available.