Cambridgeshire County Council pledges action after third wettest spell ‘since records began’
- Credit: Reader
Gully cleaning across Cambridgeshire is to be “substantially increased” by the county council as an early response to more than 700 people who wrote in to report flood issues.
And they will be working with those who filed complaints to identify “poorly maintained watercourses”.
The scale of the problem was discussed during a virtual meeting on February 3 that brought together many of the agencies involved in flood management.
The council says a spell of unusually heavy and sustained rain over Christmas and the first weeks of January was “thought to be the third wettest since records began”.
It resulted, says the council, in considerable localised flooding across Cambridgeshire - with a range of agencies including the county council working 24/7 to limit the disruption and devastating impact on residents.
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Cllr Graham Wilson has told the council that he believes “much of the flooding was exacerbated due to the lack of maintenance of ‘ordinary watercourses’ by riparian owners and blocked road gullies and drains”.
In questions to committee chairmen, he says the issues affected his own part of the county – Godmanchester and Huntingdon South – but concerned the council’s maintenance of watercourses across Cambridgeshire.
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He said the council is the lead local flood authority and reminded them that they have powers (outside of internal drainage districts) to maintain a proper flow by enforcing obligations to maintain flow in a watercourse and repair watercourses, bridges, and other structures in a watercourse.
“In Godmanchester many ditches, streams and connecting culverts were partially or completely blocked with debris and silt before the December 2020 floods,” he said.
He called for assurance that the council regularly inspects and takes enforcement action where necessary to keep watercourses and ditches clear of debris and silt in order to maintain flow and reduce flood risk.
And he reminded the council that “the Conservative administration made a decision some years ago to stop the annual cleaning of all gullies within the county, and instead set up a targeted planned maintenance programme”.
He wanted to know how many gullies and road drains have been cleared in his area in the last five years to December 2020 and assurances about future maintenance.
In written responses councillors Josh Schumann, chairman of environment and sustainability committee and highways committee chairman Ian Bates, admitted no formal enforcement has been undertaken.
However, they said numerous meetings had been held with landowners to point out where maintenance is required.
The councillors told him: “There is no team specifically dedicated to watercourse enforcement, however appropriate action is taken when the team becomes aware of maintenance issues on watercourses.”
The council was not in a position to regularly inspect watercourses.
“We do however commit to working with communities more closely to raise awareness of riparian roles and responsibilities and we encourage residents and councillors to report issues of blocked or poorly maintained watercourses to us,” they said.
In response to how many gullies and road drains have been cleared the two chairmen said it was not possible to identify that figures “as it would take many hours and may not be complete”.
They pointed out that Cambridgeshire has two in house gully machines managed by their contractor Skanska that deliver gulley cleaning across the county.
Other third-party drainage contractors carry out cleaning, jetting, route cutting and investigations of drainage systems.
"We are looking closely at how cleaning of gullies can be improved and we already have some additional resource for February and March to address the worst affected areas,” they added.
After last week’s ‘summit’ council leader Steve Count said they had listened to the 700 or more responses.
He said: “We will do what is in our power to reduce the future impacts of flooding, particularly focusing on the hotspots that have been identified from residents’ feedback.”
Cllr Schumann added: “The county council has agreed an immediate action regarding roadside drains - one part of the drainage solutions which have some impact on reducing surface water flooding.
“We will be working with our contractor to significantly increase gully clearing, with work already underway and more prioritised.”
But he added that “I recognise that often the gullies only play a small part in flood management, we need to take action where we can”.