Flood damage bill to businesses in St Ives hits £3m

Floods inflicted £3.8m worth of damage in less than a day to 20 businesses in St Ives on December 23/24.

Floods inflicted £3.8m worth of damage in less than a day to 20 businesses in St Ives on December 23/24. - Credit: John Hesp

Floods inflicted £3.8m worth of damage in less than a day to 20 businesses in St Ives when storms hit at the end of last year, a report has revealed.  

The St Ives Industrial Estate and Abbey Retail Park was left underwater when intense rainfall in excess of 50mm in 18 hours fell onto the already saturated catchment of Parsons Drove Drain during December 23/24.  

It meant that – coupled with a blockage of a fallen tree downstream – the catchment of Parsons Drove Drain flooded Costa, McDonalds, Subway and other independent businesses – some to the value of £700,000.  

Harrison Way blockage. This was later removed by the EA in January.

Harrison Way blockage. This was later removed by the EA in January. - Credit: John Hesp

Former Flood Risk Manager with the Environment Agency and their predecessors and local resident, John Hesp, published a report after investigating the true cost of flooding to businesses.  

He is asking the Environment Agency’s Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, the membership of which includes three councillors from Cambridgeshire County Council, to take “urgent essential maintenance works” after some premises were flooded up to 500mm in depth and to carry out a feasibility study on Parsons Drove Drain.  

Mr Hesp’s report states: “Despite considerable local development which has been allowed since 1996 there has been no capital improvement works undertaken on Parsons Drove Drain and maintenance has been less in real terms than the preceding 25 years.   

“Given the impact on people and property together with commercial premises flood damages/losses estimated to be in the order of £3.8 million, the Environment Agency is urged to carry out a feasibility study on the Parsons Drove Drain.

Floods inflicted £3.8m worth of damage in less than a day to 20 businesses in St Ives 

Floods inflicted £3.8m worth of damage in less than a day to 20 businesses in St Ives. - Credit: John Hesp

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"This is to determine the viability of undertaking a Flood Risk Management Scheme and restore routine maintenance to ensure the conveyance capacity remains in good condition.”  

Mr Hesp also writes that although the floods at Christmas were the worst on record since the Easter 1998 floods, in fact, levels were generally about 150mm higher than the flood levels on Parsons Drove Drain in April that year.  

The report says that there were also concerns within the farming community that minimum tillage, which is a soil conservation system for successful crop production, could also be “potentially a contributory factor in increased rapid run-off of rainwater”.  

The St Ives Industrial Estate has been flooded from Parsons Drove Drain and Houghton Field Drain on six occasions over the past 52 years.  

The report continues: “The current conveyance capacity condition of Parsons Drove Drain is poor with self-set trees growing within the channel side slopes and bed.   

“Over the last 25 years the channel has reverted to the condition it was in prior to being en-mained by the former Great Ouse River Authority in 1968.   

“The most appropriate interim essential works solution would be to carry out a ‘Pioneer Clearance Scheme’ and maintenance dredging similar to the scheme which was carried out in 1969 from Holywell to the upstream limit of main river.   

“The primary cause for flooding on the St Ives Industrial Estate is thought to be due to high flood levels in Parsons Drove Drain backing up under the Marley Road Bridge into the Houghton Field Drain.  

“This prevents gravity drainage thus allowing levels to build up in the Houghton Field Drain and flood the industrial estate.  

Floods inflicted £3.8m worth of damage in less than a day to 20 businesses in St Ives

Floods inflicted £3.8m worth of damage in less than a day to 20 businesses in St Ives. - Credit: John Hesp

“Possible solution might be to install a large flap valve or automatically controlled penstock to prevent back flow together with a pumping station either on the downstream or upstream side of Marley Road Bridge.  

“This would be to discharge the residual flow from the Houghton Field Drain into Parsons Drove Drain until levels have fallen and gravity drainage can continue.   

“This would significantly reduce the flood risk within the industrial estate and areas upstream.”  

Vic Skinner, from Hi Sell Direct, was one of the business owners left devastated when the floods hit.  

Mr Skinner is even considering undertaking his own interim flood protection works – that could cost up to a staggering £100,000.  

There may also be a chance that his insurance would not cover any future flooding.  

He added: “We have suffered three severe floods to our store in 40 years, this latest one being by far the worst and we have been partially closed since Christmas.” 

The Environment Agency said they were "very grateful" to Mr Hesp for submitting his report.

"It has been used alongside many other pieces of information to inform our plans for recovering from the devastating flooding last winter," a spokesperson said.

“A project looking at flood risk along Parson’s Drove Drain is being considered for our programme of proposed flood schemes.

"We will use new flood modelling that will be developed as part of this to review how we maintain the drain in future.”

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