One year on: How St Neots fought back after summer flash floods

Flash floods left St Neots underwater on August 16 2020.

Flash floods left St Neots underwater on August 16 2020. - Credit: Susan A Sangster

It is one year ago today that St Neots was hit by devastating flash floods that put the town underwater in less than an hour. 

Torrential rain swamped Market Square and High Street on Sunday, August 16 2020, as cars waded through water and shoppers sheltered. 

Businesses and residents were left counting the cost as a mammoth clean-up operation got underway the next day. 

Unblocking drains in St Neots after the flash floods hit. PICTURE: Susan A Sangster

Unblocking drains in St Neots after the flash floods hit. PICTURE: Susan A Sangster - Credit: Archant

Mayor Cllr Stephen Ferguson, who was travelling back from holiday when the storms hit, had messages from locals claiming that the drains were blocked. 

The St Neots FLAG (Flood Liaison Action Group) was set up and an FOI request revealed 150 blocked drains had not been cleaned for up to five years. 

At the time, Cllr Ferguson described it as "blatant neglect". 

Waterbeach, Cottenham and Bluntisham were also left underwater as residents had their houses wrecked - just weeks after the country had left the first national lockdown.

Since then, a community effort and support from Cambridgeshire County Council has led to drains being cleaned in the town centre and preventative measures put in place. 

Speaking on the anniversary of the floods, Cllr Ferguson said: “We forced the county council into action after setting up the group to get the drains cleaned. 

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“It was a community effort to get people to report blocked drains. 

“It was a shock as you don’t expect that to happen in summer, you think of flooding as being a winter thing. 

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

“But the whole process has been really successful.” 

However, in a cruel twist of fate, the summer floods were the tip of the iceberg for what was to come just four months later – when the worst floods in 20 years hit on December 23. 

“Since last August we have had three major floods and I feel that people are more aware of what to do now,” Cllr Ferguson continued. 

“There is always more that needs to be done but by keeping the drains clean – and cleaning them when we did – then hopefully it keeps us out of trouble.” 

Following the flash floods, a yellow weather warning remained in place with the Met Office warning of “further heavy showers and thunderstorms” until midweek.

Little did the town know what was to come in December and the New Year of 2021, but they did perhaps have the knowledge – and strength – from the August flooding to feel slightly better prepared. 

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