STATEMENT ON FLOODING – PREPARED FOR WRAYSBURY VILLAGE HALL – PUBLISHED ONLINE – FROM EWAN LARCOMBE 29`-1-2024
Draft version 5 – full – for publication complete with links – 29-01-2024
Good evening. In some ways we are lucky. The water is receding now but ten years ago we flooded twice and when we flood this hall is inaccessible.
This is a personal statement that will be published shortly – complete with some web links direct to supporting documents. I am reading this in the hope of avoiding ‘Code of Conduct’ complaints and threats of legal proceedings.
This statement briefly covers the history of Thames flooding, the Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton Flood Alleviation Scheme, the River Thames Scheme and the Datchet to Hythe End Flood Improvement Measures. This statement refers to ‘partnership funding’ and political issues and finishes with ‘Where do we go from here?’
I am a Parish and a Borough Councillor with my own political party. I am also appointed to the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee that looks after the Thames Catchment budget of well in excess of £100m per year. The purpose of the RFCC is to oversee, to scrutinise and if necessary challenge flood defence spending.
I have 23 relatives in this village, 17 in Datchet and 4 others in RBWM – a total of 44.
A BIT OF RECENT HISTORY
In 1926 the Thames Conservancy knew they had a flooding problem. Their solution consisted of widening the river in places, raising the banks and in providing 17 cuts or relief channels. Sixteen main bridges and over one hundred minor bridges would have to be demolished and rebuilt. Estimated total cost in 1926 = £9m. It did not happen.
I assisted with the rising ground water problem here in Wraysbury in the early 1980’s and provided evidence on the Wraysbury Railway Station Bridge collapse (caused by flood water) in 1988. I joined Wraysbury Parish Council in 2015.
I have now been involved with four flood events here this century. I would label this event as ‘ordinary’ i.e. I think a 5% or 1:20 year return probability is about right.
In my opinion the probability of flooding here is ever-increasing. As a distant and remote outpost of RBWM – when it comes to land drainage infrastructure maintenance and improvement – we have been abandoned and repeatedly failed by the authorities for decades. If we had a flood event similar in circumstances to 1947 I expect that The George car park and almost the entire length of Windsor Road would be totally inundated. Just ask the Environment Agency for the modelled maximum flood level here in Wraysbury in the case of a 1947 style event.
MAIDENHEAD, WINDSOR AND ETON FLOOD ALLEVIATION SCHEME
Please remember that Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton have already benefitted from MWEFAS since 2002 at little or no cost to RBWM. It should be noted that any downstream consultation on MWEFAS prior to the 1992 Planning Inquiry at Reading was limited and verging on non-existent. Datchet was only included because the channel was pushed across the Parish boundary. Mr Perret and Mr Thompson recognised the possible risks and Datchet Parish Council then took appropriate action.
THE 1992 PLANNING INQUIRY REPORT
The 1992 MWEFAS Planning Inquiry Inspector’s Report to the Minister noted that ‘It would be very embarrassing to all concerned if the intended discharge capacity of the FRC was not achieved.’ ‘Thus the hydraulic computations are particularly important and are dominant issues’.
This is the largest fluvial flood alleviation scheme ever to be carried out in the Thames region, and any deficiency in capacity would bring wide-spread – and justified – criticism.
It would be the largest man-made river to be created in the UK with full regard to the latest policies regarding environmental enhancements.
The question of the flow capacity likely to be obtained is not an issue that can be clouded over in the hope that design tolerances could later explain away any deficiency. It is my firm view that there is no room for retaining optimistic assumptions in the hydraulic design: in view of the novelty and scale of environmental enhancements proposed, some conservatism, some consideration of tolerances on assumptions is necessary.
Assessor: P Ackers – M Sc(Eng) FCGI FICE MIWEM MASCE
On first use in January 2003, operation of the world-class, award winning Jubilee River dumped flood water onto undefended villages downstream. At only 2/3rds capacity – many channel structures suffered significant damage and generated very large repair bills. The project designers shut up shop immediately and a £2.75m out-of-court settlement for sub-standard design and construction was agreed in 2006.
Even today new issues are appearing (for example – the footbridge problems).
AS FOR JUBILEE RIVER CAPACITY AND STRUCTURAL ISSUES?
My understanding is that the Jubilee River designed capacity was 215 cumecs. Actual capacity = 180 cumecs max. The Environment Agency never explained or apologised for the many structural problems or the failure to achieve the capacity design standards.
Even the EA Board was involved in the cover-up! The question was ‘Do we really want to highlight these in public’?
Professor Donald Knight submitted evidence to the House of Commons EFRA Committee as follows:
Extract from memorandum submitted by Professor Donald Knight (FL 85)
Comments on the recent floods (Summer, 2007)
(vii) My last comment on the EA is one that possibly illustrates the lack of hydraulics knowledge. In my last letter to Reg Purnell (27/07/05), I set out 5 issues that I thought were important concerning the new R&D arrangements.
Regarding one issue I said “As you are aware, I am still somewhat concerned about the capability of some of the senior management within the Environment Agency in this respect, particularly when dealing with technical fluid flow issues. You have to look no further than the Jubilee channel as a monument to the “skills shortage” within the EA. A new £90 million channel takes only 2/3 of its design flow—how basic can you get? Especially when the EA has a new “Conveyance Estimation System”, developed through a £0.5million R&D managed programme, and then “launched” in June 2004. But it gets even worse, as, in another criticism of the EA, I have to say that the CES software is still not available to anybody within the Agency or by consultants who want it, due to EA “procedures’”.
Then came multiple denials of culpability accompanied by local promises of action. The Minister at that time – Elliot Morley – told the House of Commons that it was not the Jubilee River that caused the flooding, that we could not have an inquiry and finally he demanded that we stop playing ‘the blame game’. It is interesting to note that while the EA attempted to regain public trust and confidence – the disgraced Elliot Morley ended up in prison some years later for fiddling his expenses.
This country and the legislation moved on. We had the 2004 Mechanisms of Flooding Report – then extraordinary flooding in July 2007 followed by the Pitt Review, the Flood Risk Regulations, the Floods and Water Management Act 2010 and the introduction of the ‘Partnership Funding’ policy in 2011.
THE PARTNERSHIP FUNDING POLICY PROBLEM
After nine years and all the promises – the ‘partnership funding’ policy (2011) was used in July 2020 by RBWM, the EA and Surrey County Council to remove Channel One (our channel) from the River Thames Scheme without consultation or notice. The partnership funding problem was recognised in mid-2017.
My assertion is that the requirement for a £53m partnership funding contribution from RBWM was never revealed by SCC, RBWM or the EA. Furthermore the topic (the £53m partnership funding contribution) was never properly considered or determined by RBWM.
Wraysbury quickly achieved the 1,500 petition names required to have the RTS issue debated by RBWM Council – but the issue was fudged by the administration at the meeting.
Then the official RBWM response to a ‘Letter Before Action’ was simply ‘six months have passed, you are out of time for a Judicial Review.’
My view is that the ‘partnership funding’ policy was incorrectly applied in order to remove a significant segment of an advanced project where the development costs had already been incurred. These are sunk costs totalling many £millions that cannot be recovered. Furthermore you may be interested (maybe even horrified and appalled) to know that the EA has spent over £70m to date on the RTS project over the last 15 years.
You have paid the wages of and supported people who do not keep their promises and who hide the truth. You are not getting value for money. Yet here we go again. In my opinion the new Datchet to Hythe End Flood Improvement Measures project proposal is sub-standard (in terms of both quality and timing) and consequently an unacceptable replacement for the original River Thames Scheme Channel One.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Flooding is a complex, worldwide, geopolitical, environmental and economic problem that can only get worse here while the authorities have responsibility and power without any corresponding duty to act and/or accountability.
The authorities rely on flood events to be sporadic in timing, in location and magnitude. They rely on us – the flood victims – giving a disjointed, informal, parochial response that they can easily repel with their sophisticated propaganda and disinformation machines.
Here are some YouTube reminders of our 2014 flood events
Philip Hammond and Sue Burrows – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgW6-x8SDvQ
Newsnight from The George – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZEYzBxKRds&t=14s
On the political front line over twenty years ago (just after the 2003 flood event) the Thames Awash campaign resulted in the two Conservative RBWM Ward Councillors failing to retain their seats at the local elections. More recently Conservative Borough Councillors are an increasingly rare breed in this area – as witnessed by last year’s election results.
What has not changed is the reluctance of authorities to even hear negative feedback let alone consider it. This stifles the opportunity for reflection and is a permanent and self-inflicted barrier to improvement. I can assure you that both the ‘fade factor’ and ‘corporate amnesia’ are alive and well.
Today we live in a new digital world where knowledge and power has shifted. The Horizon Post Office Scandal is a good example. Mr Bates has done well and set new standards. He identified and exposed a long-term conspiracy between the authorities – the purpose being to avoid reputational harm. Mr Bates has shown us just what ‘the little people’ are capable of when they get organised, are focussed and persistent. Now we have to wait a little longer. The corporate accountability for the Horizon Scandal will be shared around the responsible individuals.
While we wait for the Horizon Report – may I be so bold as to suggest that these ‘cultural shortcomings’ are systemic and may be apparent elsewhere?
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The three Parish Councils have already confirmed that they will object to the NSIP DCO on the River Thames Scheme. The mandatory pre-application consultation opened on 22/1/2024 for six weeks but Datchet, Horton and Wraysbury have been omitted from this consultation. We received a letter recently but there are no arrangements for the provision of consultation literature in the libraries and no local events being held in the village halls. You have to wonder whether the EA really wants our responses to their consultation.
SO WHAT ARE WE OBJECTING TO?
The proposed River Thames Scheme now consists of two new channels (not three), three sets of weir improvements and some channel works. Channel One was removed from the original project in July 2020. The project was supposed to extend the benefits of the Jubilee River further on downstream Teddington but in my opinion the project has now lost its connectivity, continuity and coherence with the upstream FAS. As for the forecast cost of this project – please ask the EA.
In my opinion the grossly underfunded DHEFIM project will be of insufficient capacity and running far behind the RTS project timescales.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP NOW?
I ask all you ‘little people’ to please work together and highlight the decades of injustice and inequality here. You can do that today by adding your names to the RBWM ‘practice flood defence equality’ petition which includes the Wraysbury Drain problem. This petition is for RBWM residents only.
Wraysbury Drain dating back to before 1799 is no longer fit for purpose and needs improved protection. RBWM as designated LLFA is the responsible authority for ordinary watercourses but their lack of action over many years despite repeated requests is a matter of record. My view is that Wraysbury Parish Council should manage (or maybe even facilitate) the creation of a new and formal local group called ‘the Friends of Wraysbury Drain’. The group would maintain a map of the watercourse, a register of the riparian owner locations and contact details. The group would monitor channel condition, flows, levels and water quality, identify/raise issues as required and report to WPC at agreed intervals.
Please also make the time to respond to the River Thames Scheme consultation. You only have this one opportunity available until 4th March 2024 to submit your views.
The EA scrapped Channel One from the RTS project and blamed RBWM. The EA then chose to request NSIP designation and a DCO. In fact the Planning Inspectorate is an authority that may take a very different view when they evaluate the RTS project. Finally – my personal view is – we have been unrepresented and quiet for too long – we should scrap RTS and reinstate Main River dredging now.