Calls for urgent investigation into “avoidable” flooding in St Neots

Floods hit St Neots as fire crews had 78 call outs across Cambs. Picture: Susan A Sangster

Floods hit St Neots as fire crews had 78 call outs across Cambs. Picture: Susan A Sangster - Credit: Archant

St Neots mayor, Cllr Stephen Ferguson, has published an open letter on social media in which he says much of the devastating flooding in the town on Sunday afternoon could have been avoided.

Cllr Ferguson believes the “poorly maintained” drains could not cope with the torrential rain and led to “severe damage and dismay” for businesses and residents.

“My view is that much of this flooding was avoidable,” he said.

“It was exacerbated, and perhaps even caused, by poorly maintained drains in the town centre, many of which are blocked with silt and vegetation that suggests that they have not been cleaned for months or in some cases years.

“Although Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC), the local authority responsible for their maintenance, will claim that this is a “freak weather occurrence”, it should be obvious that no drainage system can function properly if the majority of drains are blocked.

“Even a small number of blocked drains will lead to functioning parts of the drainage system, becoming quickly overwhelmed during a torrential rainstorm.”

The Hunts Post contacted Anglian Water and CCC for comment.

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An Anglian Water spokesperson said the issue was complex.

“Flooding is often an extremely complex issue with many different owners for the drainage network such as Highways, local councils and even private owners, as well as ourselves. We work closely with all authorities who have responsibility for drainage.

“A large amount of rain fell in a short period of time onto what was already saturated ground due to rainfall over the last few days. Intense rainfall can cause standing water to build up, especially on hard surfaces because there’s nowhere for it to go, this causes surface water flooding. It’s a bit like a bath plughole, and it takes time for the water to drain away.”

Cllr Ferguson pointed out that in 2012,CCC commissioned a report which concluded that a heavy downpour could fill up drainage systems and the flood banks of the River Great Ouse, leaving residents in potential jeopardy of flooding.

He noted that the report singled out the town centre, Eynesbury Manor, Meadowsweet, and the Riverside as the areas most at risk of flooding and that CCC suggested a £429k project to improve the drainage system, and predicted significant economic damage if those measures were not implemented.

He said: “Not only have CCC failed to improve the drainage system, but they have also failed to maintain it to the most basic levels, intentionally playing a game of “cost-cutting Russian Roulette” in which they hoped that the predicted flooding might never happen.

“Unfortunately, this gamble has backfired and left residents and businesses facing immediate distress and a lifetime of increased insurance premiums.

“I urge my county council colleagues to launch an urgent investigation into the drains in St Neots and demand that blocked drains are cleared immediately.

“I am happy to join any of them on a walking tour of St Neots drains to demonstrate the extent of this problem.

Huntingdon District Council received calls to its out-of-hours emergency phoneline over the weekend regarding concern for vulnerable residents and the risk heavy localised rainfall posed to their properties.

A spokesman for HDC said: “Whilst the provision of sandbags is not a district council service, we do have the capability to respond to an emergency and support the vulnerable.

“Our operations team distributed 15 pallets of sandbags to approximately 40 properties in the St Neots and Buckden areas which saw extreme rainfall in a short period of time.

“We urge residents and businesses to make arrangements in case of further extreme localised rainfall.”

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said: “Our highways team have a planned maintenance programme and regularly clean drains, as well as adhoc cleaning when issues are identified through our inspections and reports from customers.

“The Met Office issued the County with a yellow weather warning over the weekend with a prediction of 28 hours of solid rainfall across Cambridgeshire. The torrential downpours in such a short period of time meant the drains, even when cleaned, struggled to cope.”