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The Jubilee River story - West Cumbrian floods due to poor dredging?

Times & Star

Lawyers claim west Cumbrian floods were due to poor dredging

Exclusive By Phil Coleman

Last updated at 11:54, Friday, 15 July 2011

Lawyers believe poor river maintenance may have been a key cause of the 2009 flood which brought devastation to Cockermouth.

November floods photo
A rescue in Cockermouth

The Workington law firm KJ Commons & Co has now asked experts to investigate after finding evidence to suggest an accumulation of gravel upstream of Gote Bridge north of the town may have acted as a dam when the river rose.

Aerial photos of the bridge taken in the hours after the deluge clearly show shoals of gravel blocking the bridge’s three smaller arches, and partially blocking a fourth.

Marcus Nickson, a senior litigation expert with the law firm, believes there are grounds for a claim potentially worth millions. Around 180 people have already expressed an interest in a mass claim.

In 2008, the News & Star reported that the Environment Agency planned to remove a large amount of gravel from the area around Gote Bridge to improve the area’s flood protection.

But Mr Nickson said yesterday that the work was never done, potentially increasing the town’s flood risk.

He said: “We have aerial photos of Gote Bridge at the time of the flood which clearly show that large shoals of gravel had developed upstream of Gote Bridge. Apparently, the river’s course was straightened during the 1930s.

“If you don’t maintain a river which has been straightened by dredging it sufficiently it will naturally go back to its original course and this may be what has happened.

“When the deluge came on November 19, 2009, three of the bridge’s arches were blocked by gravel and a fourth partially blocked.

“So the water could not escape under the bridge and backed up, and it then ended up flowing down the town’s Main Street.”

The lawyer said he believes there was no major dredging of the River Derwent in that area for more than a decade before the November 19 flood.

“Dredging certainly wasn’t done for some significant time, and the aerial photos show white water in the area around the shoals, indicating they were at a higher level than the rest of the river,” he said.

A search of the News & Star archives revealed that in November 2008 work was due to start on gravel removal from the river at Gote Bridge.

The work was to be part of general flood improvement work implemented after flooding the previous month which affected Gote Road, Waterloo Street and Croft Flats.

Joe Fagan, 59, landlord of The Bush pub on Main Street, Cockermouth, who was born and bred in the town, said the smaller arches under Gote Bridge were built specifically to carry away excess flood water when the bridge was extended in the 1930s.

He said: “I’m not aware of any work being done on them to remove gravel over the last 10 years.”

He believes that, if the arches had been clear, that may have helped water escape in the early hours of the flood.

“But there was an exceptional amount of water on that day and even if those arches had been clear I don’t think it would have stopped the flood,” he said.

Several weeks after the flood, the Environment Agency began a major programme of gravel removal from the River Derwent. It was described as “essential emergency works,” and involved the removal of between 10,500 and 13,000 cubic yards of gravel, most of it said to have been deposited by the deluge.

The agency said that it routinely maintains gravel levels in Cockermouth and Keswick to protect against floods. United Utilities said the flooding was down to unprecedented rainfall.

The Environment Agency said it had not yet received notification of a claim.

First published at 11:24, Friday, 15 July 2011
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