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RAIN BRINGS COUNTY TO ITS KNEES ONCE AGAIN


09:00 - 14 January 2008

How could it happen again?  After Gloucestershire was brought to its knees again on Friday by a day of severe rainfall, is this what the future holds for us all?

Commuters stuck in their vehicles for hours, homes flooded in Lydney and city victims of the July 2007 floods terrified in their own homes as they watched the waters creep closer again.

Experts are predicting heavy rains will hit Gloucestershire again to-morrow with the ground al-ready sodden from Friday.
 

Homeowners at Lakeside, Lydney, spent the weekend clearing up floodwaters.

The River Severn is still on flood warning and the authorities are working flat out to keep roads and gullies clear of any debris.

But Gloucestershire County Council says there just isn't enough money to repair the ancient drains which simply can't cope.

And the only suggested answer is a hike in council taxes to bridge the spending gap.

Gloucestershire county councillor Julie Girling, cabinet member for environment said: "Following last year's floods, a multi agency task force is looking at more than 400 sites in the county that are regarded as flooding hotspots but it will take time to resolve the problem.

"Finding the right solution will cost a great deal of money that the county council doesn't have.

"With this in mind we continue to lobby government ministers who seem content that they have provided funds to pay some of the costs involved last July but seem unwilling or unable to accept that there is a huge job to do to make sure that Gloucestershire has the funds to improve our infrastructure, particularly on drainage.

"At the moment the only place we have to turn to for funding is the people of Gloucestershire via the council tax."

Leader of Gloucestershire County Council Barry Dare said: "This is a national problem not a Gloucestershire problem. Her Majesty's Government ought to cough up and improve infrastructure."

There was travel chaos after the rain and snow on Friday brought disruption to the county again.

Roads were closed, trains were cancelled, children rushed home from school and council workers ran out of sandbags to protect the county from rising water.

More than 45mm of rain fell in 12 hours, as well as snow over the Cotswolds and The Forest of Dean cutting off Cinderford and Mitcheldean.

A jack-knifed lorry brought traffic to a standstill for hours on the A417 near Nettleton Bottom and many drivers abandoned their cars at the Air Balloon roundabout and walked home.

Some were stuck in their vehicles for eight hours.

So was the county ready to deal with the chaos Friday's weather brought?

Coun Girling said: "We are always ready to respond to emergencies and our experience last summer has only served to strengthen our capability.

"This time, Gloucestershire was hit by about a month's rainfall in less than a day followed by snow and ice but our emergency planning arrangements were quickly put into action and emergency teams were scrambled immediately.

"Keeping Gloucestershire moving was our first priority but we also sent teams to areas we know are most vulnerable to flash floods.

"As a result, working closely with our partners in the districts and the police, we were able to keep nearly all of Gloucestershire's roads open while the majority of side roads remained passable with care."

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: "Following the 2007 floods the Environment Agency has cleared flood debris from our rivers and water courses and has done an extensive maintenance programme on flood defences.

"The Environment Agency monitors the rainfall and river flow in-formation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We use this information to forecast floods and issue flood warnings." They worked with the Fire Service and council to assess whether the flood defences on the River Lyd in Lydney could be raised to stop them being overwhelmed on Friday and say they are now looking at whether the footbridge across Horsbere Brook in Cypress Gardens can be removed so flood water can flow more freely down the brook.

But MP for Tewkesbury, Laurence Robertson said not enough had been done since the summer.

"In my experience we have a lot of talk and not the action that we need.

"I do accept that some work has been done since the summer but we need to keep pressurising to make sure things happen."

He said he had seen first-hand how Prestbury in Cheltenham had turned into a river on Friday and said that repair work on culverts would have solved many of the issues.

He also said the plans to build the amount of new homes wanted under the recently released draft spatial strategy was "mad-ness" in the light of flooding problems.

Gloucester MP Parmjit Dhanda said: "We need really practical local measures and not more reports."

Having met 130 people at a public meeting in Tuffley on Friday regarding flooding, he added: "You don't get that many people unless they are really scared for their livelihoods and homes. "We need to look at areas brook by brook and stream by stream to solve the problems and also ask where is the money we have already had being spent.

"There will be a lot more money to come, I'm sure of that but we have to demonstrate we are using the money in a way that is making a real difference."

And the new infrastructure will be needed more than ever again this week as more heavy rain is forecast.

A spokesman for the Met Office said: "There will be a new area of low pressure during the hours of Tuesday morning. There is a risk of more problems for the Gloucester area."

Homeowners in Longlevens were warned they are only 40mm of rain away from evacuation should the Horsbere brook rise again.

City councillor Kathy Williams said: "If we have more than 40mm of rain again like we did on Friday we will be in trouble.

"We have come to an agreement with the authorities that water can be pumped from the brook into the nearby field as long as it is done in a controlled manner and we are doing all we can to help people."

Complaints were heard from Cypress Gardens that no flood warnings had been issued and many people arrived home to see the brook at a very high level.

Neighbours Laura Hallas and Louise Byrne, who only moved back into their homes again last week, said something had to be done.

Laura said: "We had no idea this was coming and there was no flood warning. We need a permanent long-term solution to prevent the brook from flooding over."

Resident Jesse Smith said a real community spirit kicked in on Friday night as families pulled together to sandbag doors.

Diego Sprekelson, 33, of Cypress Gardens has just bought his third car, the last two having fallen victim to the floods.

Mr Sprekelson has been rehoused in an apartment in Cheltenham since the July floods, and recently went on a holiday with his wife, Louise, and their newborn child, before returning to Cypress Gardens.

"I came back to my house to find sandbags everywhere, it was very scary.

"We're very worried about the predicted rain on Tuesday. My family and I are heading back to Cheltenham after we've moved everything upstairs."

Anne Hurley, 52 has spent 2,000 on a new three-piece suite and has had new carpets fitted.

She said: "I'm frightened to go anywhere, or do anything. We can't go on living like this, it's a shambles.

"We can't live a normal life, we're all sitting on properties which were worth 180,000 in 2002, now they're worth nothing and we're living in fear."

Mrs Hurley moved back to her home on January 7, after living in an apartment in Cheltenham since July.

"On Friday I sat and watched the brook rise and rise every hour. I thought 'here we go again', it was terrifying," she said.

Horsbere Brook, which runs through Cypress Gardens, has become a notorious spot for flooding and preventative measures, such as raising the banks, just held out on Friday.

However, locals are concerned it may not be enough.

Mrs Hurley said: "We're living in a concrete swimming pool. The water has nowhere else to go."

Claire Grainger, who lives on Weston Road in Gloucester city centre, said she was terrified.

She said: "To watch the road fill up with water again was frightening.

"We are just all trying to get our houses back to normal. We need our drains unblocked. As far as I'm aware, they have not been done at all. It's worrying."

Flooding also devastated the Forest of Dean on Friday after the long spell of heavy rain.

Lakeside Avenue in Lydney was said to be "like a river" at its peak around 3pm.

Ivor Sterry, 87, lives directly next to the culvert which failed to channel the water. He said: "It was very bad, one of the worst times I've seen.

Dave and June Nicholas, both 58, have lived on Lakeside Avenue for 37 years.

Mrs Nicholas said: "This is the fourth time it has flooded since we've been here."

The land to the rear of Mr and Mrs Nicholas' property used to be allotments, which previously soaked up any heavy rain, but there is now a housing estate on the land, Faller Fields.

"The water came flowing down from the estate, we had to open our gates and let it through," said Mr Nicholas. "There was about two feet of water trapped there."

Simon Johnson said: "The water was running down the road like a river."

Mr Johnson believes another new housing estate, Potters Field, behind Lakeside Avenue, caused the water to funnel into the adjoining Culvert.

Those living on Lakeside Avenue are concerned that not enough precautions are being made before building work starts.

Mike Tingle, 70, of Lakeside Avenue said: "They need to do more with the sewage and the drainage before they build more houses. It's horrendous."

Newent was also badly affected, particularly on Watery Lane and surrounding areas.

Doreen Thomas, 77, of Johnstone Road, which adjoins Watery Lane, was stranded in her home as water came into her porch.

She said: "I was very worried. It upset me a lot."

Mrs Thomas was heavily affected by the flooding in June and July, and was disappointed at the support she received from her local council on Friday.

"We rang the council but no one came," she said. "The drain outside my house was blocked and the water swept through my garden."

The foot high water only receded when a neighbour unblocked the drain at 10pm.

Residents across the Forest have also complained at the availability of sandbags.

Local councils are believed to have told people to collect sandbags themselves from Cannop Ponds, despite a large majority of residents being trapped in their homes.

Mrs Thomas said: "I couldn't believe it, how do they expect us to get all the way to Cannop?"

When Lydney councillor Alan Preest went to Cannop he was left disappointed.

He said: "We went in a vehicle capable of carrying 60 sandbags.

"When we arrived at the depot, we were told that we could have six. It's not acceptable, we need sandbags in the towns."

An elderly couple in Stroud have been bed ridden for two days in the aftermath of Friday's floods.

Isle and James Rushdon, of Eastcombe in Stroud, have been without electricity in their home since 6:30pm on Friday.

The couple have been forced to remain in their bed in order to keep warm.

Mrs Rushdon, 78, said: "We've been in bed since all this started.

"We've got a camping stove which we are using to cook with, but this isn't good enough."

Elsewhere in Stroud people took advantage of Friday's snow, building igloos and going sledding. down slopes.

Gloucestershire County Council Highways Crews worked throughout the weekend to keep the county's roads open.

Spokesman Chris Rogan said: "It was again apparent that many of the problems were caused because of blocked water courses and drains unable to cope with the excessive amount of rain falling in such a short space of time."

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service dealt with 50 flood-related calls over-night on Friday and rescued 10 motorists who became stuck after trying to drive through flood waters. Police dealt with 365 flood-related incidents and the county council took more than 180 calls.

Meanwhile in Tewkesbury, hightide at 2.30pm yesterday passed without incident.