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St. Asaph and Ruthin flood events - who was responsible?

On 27 November 2012 rising flood water in the Elwy overtopped flood defences at St Asaph.

St. Asaph lies on the North Wales coast.  The town stands at about 10m AOD and is located some 5 miles from the sea.

Ruthin (about 11 miles further inland) was also flooded

27/11/2012 - The river Elwy at St Asaph in North Wales

2/12/2012 - Why were these houses built on flood plain?

14/12/12 - EA Report - Flooding at Glasdir Estate in Ruthin

19/12/2012 - EA Report finds cause of Ruthin estate flooding

13/12/2012 - Image of blocked culvert

27/12/12 - Ruthin report blames blocked drains

14/1/13 - Ruthin flood victims consider legal actio

The Environment Agency chart indicating river Elwy timings and water levels is reproduced below. 

Note the 'off-scale' condition between about 5.00am and 5.00pm on 27 November.

Other aspects of the chart are incorrect and have been queried with the EA.

Source document http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/riverlevels/120768.aspx?stationId=4188

There were similar problems with the River Clwyd in Ruthin about 11 miles away.

Why were these houses built on a flood plain?

As the countryside comes under more pressure from developers, we meet the victims of a failed flood system in Ruthin, North Wales

Thousands of homes planned for flood plains
The flooded streets of St Asaph, near Ruthin, North Wales. 'Everyone blames everyone else, and it’s the ordinary people in the middle who suffer' Photo: GETTY
To the young families buying their first homes on a smart new Denbighshire housing estate, the attractions seemed irresistible. The prices were reasonable, and a dreamily worded brochure assured them that as residents there, beside the ancient town of Ruthin, they would be “well placed to enjoy all that North Wales has to offer”, with “delightful days out amid the majestic beauty of Snowdonia and a coastline renowned for its natural beauty”.
Then there was the clincher – a written assurance that Ruthin’s occasional flood problems were in the past, and their homes would be secure behind a new, multi-million pound defence system.
So the buyers confidently moved in. And last week three feet of flood water moved in, too. Some people had been in their houses – listed at up to £250,000 – only for a few months.
In the aftermath of the disaster, they wandered the freezing, slime-coated streets past piles of sodden debris, dazed by the realisation that their ''dream’’ homes were now effectively worthless.
Many wanted compensation. A few wanted lynchings. Everybody wanted answers. How had a supposedly fail-safe system, designed to counter exactly the type of heavy weather conditions that hit North Wales last week, failed so utterly? And beyond this lay the core question of whether the land the Glasdir estate stands on – a known flood plain – should have been developed at all.
Britain’s hunger for building land is putting ever more pressure on the countryside, with Nick Boles, the planning minister, saying last week that more open spaces must be developed to meet demand. To those who say that the benefits outweigh the risks, the story of Glasdir provides a chastening rebuke.

“This was actually the show home,” says Tracy Miller, squelching through the wreckage of her living room. A thick stench of damp fills the air, and ruined furniture is piled in heaps. “When we saw it, we thought, 'That’s the house for us.’ It was a nice development, handy for the town. It was just what we wanted.”

Mrs Miller, 40, owner of a local hair salon, and her policeman husband, Glenn, paid £152,000 for the three-bedroom house on the estate’s main entrance road. “We’d heard about floods in the past, but we were assured that it was no longer a problem. What they actually said was there was only a 'once-in-a-thousand-years’ possibility of us being flooded. Well, we moved in nine months ago, and it’s already happened.”

The land Glasdir now sits on has been flooding gently for years. Some locals say they’ve never known a time when it was completely dry. Sited to the north of the town, close to the River Clwyd, it was popularly known as the “wet field”, and people used to pick wild watercress here. Given Ruthin’s past flooding problems, few could have imagined it would one day be an estate of 150 houses.

Yet in 2005 the now-defunct Welsh Development Agency put it on the market as prime housing land, and shortly afterwards, Denbighshire County Council gave outline planning permission for 230 homes, a school and small businesses. The following year the site was sold to Taylor Wimpey, one of Britain’s biggest house-building companies, which set about creating its alluringly advertised estate.

Ian Smith, Taylor Wimpey’s regional managing director, says the company “accepted in good faith” the local authority’s assurance that the flood risk had been minimised. “When we bought the land the flood defence scheme was already in place,” he told The Sunday Telegraph at the Ruthin site office. “We were given to understand that it would work. What we don’t know is why it didn’t.”

Alarmingly, no one else seems to have much idea, either. David Smith, Denbighshire council’s member with responsibility for flooding, says: “All we know is that it shouldn’t have happened. There will obviously have to be an investigation, but it’s too early to start blaming anyone. Our concern at the moment has to be for the people who are affected.”

There are many of them, and they include people like Darren Williams, a 37-year-old social worker and his partner, Lucinda, who bought their three-bedroom town house for £145,000 and were among the first residents to move to the estate three years ago.

“We’d just got up, it was about 8am, and you could see the water swelling up in the back garden,” Darren said. “There was no way you could keep it out. It was absolutely heartbreaking, just standing there up to your waist in dirty water, seeing your house being wrecked. We’ve lost everything, basically. No one in their right mind would want to buy a property here now. It’s mostly young families and first-time buyers on this estate, and their homes are worthless.

“As far as I’m concerned the property was mis-sold. I grew up in Ruthin. Everyone knew this was a flood plain. I wouldn’t have bought here if I’d believed there was a risk, but we were all given a written assurance from the Environment Agency that the area was now safe from flooding. We should be entitled to our money back.”

Ruthin, an ancient hill town dominated by a 13th-century castle, was identified as a priority for a defence scheme after suffering three separate floods in 2000. When heavy rain falls on the Hiraethog Moors to the west of the town, the surplus water flows into the Clwyd, which, when the volume becomes too much, bursts its banks.

The £3 million defence scheme, which should have protected Glasdir, mainly consisted of re-directing a culvert to carry water away from known flood areas. Some locals were sceptical as to whether it would be sufficient – even for the houses then in place – but the scheme went ahead in 2003. Since then, hundreds more homes have been built around the town.

At about 6am on Tuesday, water began gushing towards Glasdir from the Clwyd, which runs just 150 yards away. As the residents slept, falsely reassured by the assumption that their houses were safe, huge accumulations of water began to swirl around the estate’s perimeter.

The first warnings came not from the emergency services, but from local postmen who saw the flood building up and went from house-to-house alerting residents.

“The postmen were fantastic, they even helped us move the furniture, but where was everyone else?” asked Sarah Davies, who moved in 18 months ago with her husband Mark. “There was no fire brigade, no police. People were screaming for help, it was dark, cold, the water was coming up all around you. In 20 minutes it was right through our house. There were children, pregnant women, terrified, crying for help and there was no one here. We were completely abandoned.”

Most of the local emergency services were on duty in nearby St Asaph, where hundreds of homes were flooded and a 91-year-old woman drowned. More than three inches of rain fell on the area in 24 hours – half the average November rainfall. Again, the town’s flood defences were overwhelmed.

Along with the anger and dismay, confusion reigns in Ruthin. Some Glasdir residents claim they were given the impression that the estate had its own additional defences, and David Edwell, the Environment Agency’s area manager, confirms that the developer would, in most cases, be expected to incorporate such a scheme. Taylor Wimpey insists, however, that its planning consent came on the basis that sufficient flood defences were already in place.

“It’s the usual thing,” says Mrs Miller, a mother of four. “No one wants to take responsibility, everyone blames everyone else, and it’s the ordinary people in the middle who suffer.”

The inquest now underway is likely to lead to some damning – and costly – conclusions. Keith Jones, director of the Welsh Institution of Civil Engineers, called last week for the whole question of building on flood plains to be re-examined.

“There are two worrying effects,” he said. “First, the development itself might flood, but also that the development takes up room where the water would naturally go, and that causes problems elsewhere.” He suggested that expert advice from civil engineers was being ignored by planning authorities, who were under pressure to release land for building.

“There’s a lot that needs explaining,” admits Ruthin’s mayor, Emrys Wynne, trudging the streets of Glasdir. “We just don’t know the answers yet. Perhaps the wrong kind of system was built. Perhaps it was simply overwhelmed by the amount of water. All we know at the moment is that it failed, and it’s a tragedy for these people.”

 

Flooding at Glasdir Estate in Ruthin (Environment Agency Report)

14 December 2012

Full report - link to EA source document (15 pages including maps and images):

http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Research/12_12_14_Report_for_Glasdir_flooding_English.pdf

 

Environment Agency - Home

Report finds cause of Ruthin estate flooding

A report into flooding at the Glasdir Estate in Ruthin has found that a combination of factors caused the flooding of more than 100 homes.

The report, produced by Environment Agency Wales for the Welsh Government, concluded that;

• debris blocking culverts stopped flood water from draining to the floodplain on the other side of the dual carriageway
• gradients on the opposite side of the culvert meant that flood water could not drain to the wider floodplain and flood relief channel
• heavily saturated ground in the lead up to the event as well as the sheer length of time the river Clwyd was in flood were also important factors

The report which is being distributed to the homes that were affected concludes that the earth bund which protects the Glasdir estate was overtopped due to these factors.

The Agency’s flood experts produced a model of the event to replicate the flooding on 27 November. They also investigated the site, used evidence from eye-witnesses, photographic evidence from the site and images taken from the air.

This found that the culverts would need to have been 85% blocked in order to cause the flooding of the estate.

The report will now be shared with relevant bodies and organisations so action can be taken to reduce the risk in the future.

Since the flooding which affected communities across north Wales on 27 November, the Agency has been providing advice on flooding to the local community as they rebuild their homes.

The Agency is also repairing more than 35 sites in the Vale of Clwyd that were damaged during the flood. These sites form parts of important flood defences which provide vital protection for local communities.

Chris Mills, Director, Environment Agency Wales, said:

“I deeply sympathise with those who were flooded having witnessed the devastation that floods cause first hand.

“This is why completing this report has been a priority for us and we hope this will give the people who were affected at least some of the answers to their questions.

“The next step is to work with those who have a responsibility for the systems that protect the estate to put right any problems to greatly reduce the risk of this happening again.”

Environment Minister, John Griffiths said:

“This report is an important part of our work to understand exactly what caused the flooding at the Glasdir housing estate.

“It is now important for those concerned to work together and learn the lessons from these floods. The report will help in assessing what steps are required to reduce the risk of flooding at Glasdir and improve flood risk management for communities across Wales."

Source document http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/news/144924.aspx

 

Extract from WalesOnLine - Darren Devine - 13/12/2012

Resident Eira Davies took a photograph which shows the culvert for the
estate blocked by debris including leaves, grass and weeds after the
flooding.  She said much of the grass and other debris blocking the culvert was
cut around a week before the floods on November 27, and claims it was
left where it lay.

The culvert blocked by debris including leaves, grass and weeds after the flooding

Source document - http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/12/13/residents-of-ruthin-housing-estate-hit-by-floods-claim-defences-were-littered-with-debris-91466-32414306/

 

Extract from Denbighshire Free Press

Official flood report blames blocked drainage ditches in Ruthin

Published date: 27 December 2012 | Published by: Helen Davies

 

DENBIGHSHIRE County Council was responsible for maintaining culverts left 85per cent blocked ahead of flooding at the Glasdir estate in Ruthin.

That was the revelation following an Environment Agency investigation into the causes of severe flooding there on November 27.

But Mohammed Mehmet, chief executive of the council, told the Free Press he disputed the extent of the blockage and would be commissioning an independent inquiry into the flooding.

Flood experts produced a model of the event to replicate the flooding and help them reach their conclusions. They also investigated the site, used evidence from eye-witnesses, photographs from the site and images taken from the air.

This found that the culverts would need to have been 85per cent blocked in order to cause the flooding of the estate.

A spokesman for Environment Agency Wales, who produced the report for the Welsh Government, told the Free Press: “Denbighshire County Council was responsible for the culverts.”

Dr Mehmet said: “What they’re saying is that their model suggests the culvert would have been 85 per cent blocked.

“We’ve got aerial photos which show water was flowing at the other end. The culverts definitely were partially blocked but to what extent is disputed by us.

“In my view the debris there is more likely to have been washed there by the flooding.

“There was grass and growth there but I think that would have been flattened by the flooding.”

Dr Mehmet said the council had questions about the maintenance of the river and also about the lack of warning the authority and residents at Glasdir were given
about the flooding by the Environment Agency.

“If we’d been warned about the flooding people would have been there to clear the culverts, we only got to know about it after it happened,” he said.

“What is clear is there was blockage in front of the culvert. What is far from clear is what caused it.”

He added that the council had checked records and had no complaints recorded about the culvert being blocked for the two weeks before the floods.

The report explains floodwater is directed to the culverts under the link road towards the Mwrog Flood Alleviation Channel and northern floodplain.

The culverts are designed to ensure that floodwater can pass from the floodplain south of the link road to the floodplain north of this road.

“There is evidence that the flooding which occurred on the Glasdir estate was due to an obstruction which impeded the floodplain from functioning, stopping the floodwater draining from the south to the north,” says the report.

“The culverts were blocked to some extent by debris collecting on the safety screens around the upstream entrances and this would have caused water levels to rise upstream of the culverts on the southern floodplain.”

As well as the culverts, the investigation examined an earth bund located to the east of the Glasdir estate, which it says is “owned by a yet to be determined third party”.

The investigation found this did not fail and the bund had no structural damage following the floods.

The report concluded that a combination of factors caused the flooding of more than 100 homes:

-  debris blocking culverts stopped flood water from draining to the floodplain on the other side of the dual carriageway.

-  gradients on the opposite side of the culvert meant that flood water could not drain to the wider floodplain and flood relief channel.

-  heavily saturated ground in the lead up to the event as well as the sheer length of time the River Clwyd was in flood were also important factors.

- Glasdir residents have demanded to know why houses were built on a known flood plain in the first place.

Dr Mehmet said the estate had been through a “rigorous planning process” before permission was granted to developers, Taylor Wimpey.

“It was always known that it was a flood plain,” he said.

“It was the expert view from the Environment Agency that it would be OK to build there providing we had mitigation in place.”

Source document http://www.denbighshirefreepress.co.uk/news/118623/official-flood-report-blames-blocked-drainage-ditches-in-ruthin.aspx

 

 

Extract from BBC News North East Wales - 14 January 2013

Glasdir estate: Ruthin flood victims consider legal action

Residents say they will consider legal action for compensation if anyone is found to blame for a flood which affected more than 100 Denbighshire homes.

The Glasdir estate at Ruthin was flooded after heavy rain in November. An initial report showed the problem was caused by blocked culverts.

Victim Katy Williams said the local residents' association would consider legal action for compensation, but said "a lot of answers" were needed first.

Some residents say it could be six months before they return to their homes at Glasdir, which was branded a "ghost estate" by one householder.

They awoke on 27 November to find several feet of floodwater across much of the estate.

Some home owners claimed they had been assured before buying the properties that flood defences were adequate.

Last week, First Minister Carwyn Jones said there was no need for a public inquiry into the floods, adding that an initial report showed the problem was caused by blocked culverts.

However, Denbighshire council leader Hugh Evans said questions about the flood's cause remain unanswered.

He said the council was commissioning an independent investigation and said the local authority has "a moral duty to provide answers to the residents of Glasdir".

Ms Williams, whose family was flooded out, said that if anyone was found at fault for the flooding, the residents' association would consider legal action for compensation.

She said: "We don't have a definitive plan to say 'okay we're going after so and so for compensation'. There's a lot of answers needed first.

"Obviously we haven't ruled it out, but it's far too early to say at the moment."

She added: "The priority is people getting back into their homes, being made safe in the immediate future and being given re-assurances this won't happen again.

"That's at the forefront of our minds, above any compensation."

Link to source http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-21012834

 

 - Link to HM Government e-petition to establish a Royal Commission on Land Drainage -