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The Jubilee River story - February 2003 - Letter from Ewan Larcombe

The Jubilee River

My name is Ewan Larcombe.  Born in 1950, I have lived in Datchet since 1977 and always within three miles of here.  I have a degree in engineering, and membership of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and the Institute of Management. I have served on Datchet Parish Council for many years since 1986.

Conceived in the 1980's, and previously known as the Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton Flood Alleviation Scheme, Datchet Parish Council (DPC) were eventually consulted by the NRA (National Rivers Authority) only because archaeological remains on Agars Plough forced the channel route out of Eton and into Datchet Parish at The Myrke.  It should also be noted that a second stage of the scheme (downstream of Datchet) was rejected on the basis of failing to achieve the appropriate cost/benefit ratio.

DPC wrote to all parishioners firstly in both August and October 1991 and then again in May 1992.  Repeated demands led to a Public Enquiry (PE) held was held at Reading in October and November 1992 and lasted about six weeks.  Mr Doug Perret (our hydrological expert) and myself presented evidence on behalf of Datchet Parish at the PE.

An important consideration at the PE was the 'downstream effect' on floodwater levels. 

In his original evidence Roger Tuffley, RBWM Forward Planning Manager quoted the conclusions of Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners (consulting engineers appointed by RBWM) as follows:

            'it can be simply inferred that a small increase is the most probable effect.  The magnitude of the likely increase can fairly be expressed in words as "not more than a few centimetres".  (page 24 section 9.4 paragraph (iv)).

This opinion was reinforced as follows:

            'The figures presented show that at the peak of an extreme flood event it is likely that the river level at Datchet will be higher by up to a few centimetres as a result of the scheme. 

And then goes on to say:

            'At points downstream from Datchet, the effect of the scheme will be of a similar nature but of a diminishing magnitude'. 

(Page 25-section 9.4-paragraph (vi)).

Mr Tuffley concluded by saying:

            'In any event the Council would strongly request that the Inspector and his assessors and subsequently the Secretary of State, if they are minded to recommend the proposals for approval, are entirely satisfied that the flood alleviation scheme will not have any adverse consequences for settlements downstream of it in terms of flood depth or geographical spread.  If the Secretary of State is fully satisfied on this point, then the Council would invite him to find in favour of the scheme, subject to appropriate conditions and legal agreements, and accordingly to allow the proposals'.

On flooding in Datchet, implementation of the scheme was supposed to lead to improved protection in Datchet.  Mr C. Martin representing the NRA stated:

            'The additional protection afforded, up to a 1 in 50 year return period, to some 200 properties in the Castle Avenue will be of great benefit to those householders.  It is a benefit which arises incidentally from the Scheme as a result of the flood banks along the Myrke stream.  It would not be possible to provide these flood banks without constructing the flood relief channel because, in the absence of the channel, they would cause increased flooding upstream'.  (Page 48 section 4.8.2)

It is a fact that the new Defended Area of Datchet (as shown on recent maps) actually suffered severe flooding.

DPC representative Mr Perret gave evidence as follows:

            'Each flood event is unique'.

He went on to say:

            'If, as is most likely, it is caused by heavy rainfall, then without the flood channel, there will be storage of flood waters upstream of Datchet.  With the flood channel, there will be no storage and no relief for Datchet'.  (Page 12 section 6.6)

In conclusion he stated:

            'From the studies which I have carried out and reported above, I conclude that the flood relief scheme should not be allowed to proceed unless an adequate scheme for the protection of Datchet is carried out simultaneously'.

The Flood Relief Channel is effectively a second River Thames that bypasses existing constrictions on the Thames itself.  Construction commenced about 1996.  The channel is approximately 11.5km long, nominally 50m wide and designed to convey over 200 cubic metres of water per second.  It was named The Jubilee River in July 2002.

In January 2003, there was significant flooding in Datchet and many areas downstream.  This flooding was not caused by local precipitation.  Despite strenuous denials by the Environment Agency, this flooding appears to have been caused directly or indirectly by The Jubilee River, and/or the management of the floodwater flow.  The Environment Agency continues to resist requests for an independent public enquiry, but according to recent Press reports, have agreed to the setting up of the Flood Risk Action Group (Express 13/2/2003).

In my opinion there are still many questions to be answered including the following:

a) When will the EA be coming here to explain themselves?

b) Why did land and buildings in Datchet flood when they were promised protection at the 1992 Public Enquiry and are now shown as 'defended' on the current flood plain maps?

c) If the Jubilee River only carried a fraction of its design capacity, what would have been the results of opening the sluices fully.

d) Why have The Jubilee River embankments suffered severe erosion?

e) Who convinced Elliot Morley MP (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) that 'the Jubilee River was not responsible for recent flooding'?  (Hansard 4 Feb 2003: Column 54WH).

f) How many buildings built since 1947 flooded?


Ewan Larcombe