Local investment in flood protection delivers

Last week locally we had some very rainy days, not quite deluges, but not far short.

Protection against flooding was probably my enduring concern while I served as a councillor on Surrey Heath Borough Council. [Type flooding in the search box to find the many, many posts on the topic].I’ve spoken before about the impact on me in talking Lightwater Streamto householders in Lightwater who’s homes were flooded two years running. The borough council’s drainage engineer put a flood protection plan in place and over eight years has ensured year-on-year improvement in that protection. I believe work is ongoing.

In standing down from the council I didn’t want to become a busybody afterward, and so I’ve kept out of local issues. I couldn’t entirely switch off from flood watch. I visited the Lightwater stream and found it very full, but not over-topping its banks. There are reports that some gardens and garages were flooded – though I don’t have the data.

The point of this blog post is to state, in my experience, that investment and actions in local flood protection has been both beneficial and effective.

Eventually got a meeting with our borough drainage engineer

When visiting the council offices I pass the borough drainage engineer’s desk and hope he’s there. Mostly not. Reason being he’s out supervising contractors or investigating where the water goes. I shouldn’t carp really. It’s my fault for not arranging a meeting.

Yesterday he was at his desk. Brilliant. I thanked him for the work being done in Lightwater Country Park. The weather is naturally inhibiting its completion [some concrete needed, apparently]. I found out from him that there’ll be two paths on the road side of Hammond lower pond. One alongside the road into the park, and a lower one near the pond edge for visitors to walk around the pond. Should look good when finished.

IMG_0638I showed him images on my camera of the surface water run-off from the Bisley and Pirbright ranges into the ditch alongside the Maultway, near its junction with Cumberland Road. The work last year digging out the ditches was to locate two drainage pipes from the ditch which run under the Maultway. These drain the water into – oops, I don’t remember what he said. Anyhow, the overtopping of the ditch onto the road with run off water from the ranges is now solved.

I left as a happy man, knowing that our resilience to flooding has been further improved.

Wonder what these drainage works are?

Road worksI was walking by as this sign was being put up on Red Road [B311] by its junction with Macdonald Road. I’ve driven down the part of Red Road to its junction with Briar Avenue, where the sign on the other carriageway is placed, and haven’t quite worked out what will be done. I think I’ve spotted some pothole filling around a drain cover. But that’s all.

I’ll be curious to see what work they’ll be doing. Though any drainage works is always welcome.

Preparations for winter rains

There’s one councillor who when he greets me often says, “Does it flood in Lightwater?” I’m kind to him by responding with a smile and a chuckle.

I have in mind when smiling the times when you ask someone, “How are you?”, and they then proceed to tell you in fine detail. Ugh, no escape. I therefore resist the temptation to tell my councilor chum about all the actions taken by Borough and County Council to alleviate flooding in Lightwater in similar fine detail.

Clearing road gullies [road drains to you and me] regularly is important to ensure that rain water drains away effectively. While I still peek into gullies as I walk past them, it seems no longer necessary to poke into them with a stick, as I’ve done in the past to check whether they’re blocked.

Today, while most people are at work, the gulley cleaning lorry is visiting the side roads in Lightwater, as the picture shows.

Just thought you might like to know where some of your council tax is spent.

PS: I’m still not sure whether it’s gully or gulley. ‘spose it doesn’t matter as long as they get cleaned.

Flooding Task Group Workshop

Well I never, it came as a complete surprise to get a very late invitation from a County Councillor to attend, today, the Flooding Task Group Workshop of Surrey County Council. It was also my first ‘official’ visit to County Hall in Kingston-on-Thames.

The stated objectives of the Flooding Task Group Workshop were, 1. “to get a better understanding of the future plans and priorities of each organisation and where these will impact upon problems of flooding in the County”, and 2. “to investigate where partnership to address flooding problems working can work to the benfit of Surrey residents”.

Laudable objectives, and a thoroughly worthwhile meeting. Responsibilities for flooding lies with many differing agencies and authorities – so this sort of meeting is highly appropriate. Well done County.

The speakers at the workshop

A variety of qualified speakers, from Surrey County Council Highways Dept, the Environment Agency, Thames Water, Bellway Homes, and a Land Drainage Engineer from Runnymede Borough Council, provided valuable updates on regional and national strategy, actions taken, and planned actions.

Here’s what I learned:

  • The big change in the last few years seems to be a move from clearing flood water away quickly to holding flood water back, I guess the change in weather patterns is partly responsible.
  • Surrey County Council have created a ‘Wetspots’ database, collecting together in one place information on flooding locations in Surrey, their duration, severity, social impact, and quite a bit more.
  • The ‘Wetspots’ database is connected to a geographic mapping system that puts maps and flood information together. Looks good. Data is essential to understanding flooding.
  • Following the collection of data County Council engineers use a Prioritisation Process to assess safety, social impact and commercial considerations [I know there was one  more factor, but my notes have proved ineffective].
  • One recommended action is to take account of flood risk at the outline planning stage, so as not to have to take subsequent remedial action.
  • The Environment Agency has a ‘Managing Flood Risk’ paper out to consultation, but because of insufficient flood defence budget, and clear strategic direction appear not to want to take any sort of lead regarding flooding, and are happy to leave it to local authorities.
  • Interestingly, it’s possible for local authorities to take to themselves the same permissive powers as the Environment Agency to tackle flooding. I must investigate this further.
  • Many actions to mitigate flooding can be taken by local authorities, with swales, bunds, ditches, balancing ponds, boreholes and the like, used to hold back water.
  • Many of the small flood amelioration actions are not costly.
  • Land Drainage Engineers are a vital resource for every local authority, and so if they’ve let them go as a cost-cutting measure, then that action should be reversed. These people are essential.

Added my threepence worth

Yep, I did manage to have a few brief words, and said, “how important it was for Councillors and residents to collect flooding data, including photographic evidence, and pass this to Borough drainage engineers. Knocking on residents doors often captures unrecorded data. Also, one helpful way of including flood risk assessment in the planning process was to use Village Design Statements, which are Supplementary Planning Documents, and can be adopted without waiting for a new Local Development Framework to be prepared.”

Methinks I’ll visit our Borough drainage enginneer to give him an update.