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The Foss Barrier at York - yet another flood defence failure?

(The Foss Barrier is part of the River Foss flood alleviation scheme)

Error of judgement, incompetence or negligence?

The Environment Agency has some serious explaining to do.................

The EA actually opened an expensive (award winning) flood defence asset knowing that they were going to flood many properties that should have been defended.

So here are some preliminary questions..............

Was the design of the River Foss flood alleviation scheme fit for purpose?

Had the asset been properly maintained?

Was the operating procedure up to date?

When was the asset last inspected and tested?

Was the asset in need of maintenance and/or improvement?

What was the actual comparative behaviour of the two adjacent channels in terms of stage and discharge over time?

How accurate and up-to-date was the hydraulic modelling?

What precisely was the problem with the electrical room?

When was the problem first identified and by whom?

Had this problem been identified as a risk?

Was there a flood plan

When was the problem brought to the attention of Silver/Gold Command?

Was there a contingency plan?

What about back-up generators?

Can the Foss flood barrier be raised manually?

Did the gate have to be opened at the time that it was?

Who made the decision to open the gate at that particular time?

Who was consulted prior to the opening?

Which gauges supply the information used to control the Foss Barrier gate operation?

Why did the gauge outputs to the river level hydrographs on the web site fail?

Will the EA identify the responsible individuals?

If negligence is proved, will those responsible be prosecuted?

Now that the Foss Barrier has failed - how many similar flood defence assets contain similar shortcomings?

  ..........How are they going to wriggle out of this one?  The Environment Agency relies on fillibustering and diversion of responsibility (it is always somebody else's fault) while waiting for the problem to disappear over time.

I do not have a complete package of information but the area of interest (on the hydrograph below) includes the 24 hours prior to the gate being opened.

River Ouse at the Foss Barrier - 09.00 on 27/12/2015

Station data


Last updated 09:00 on 27/12/2015


The river level at Foss Barrier is 4.80 metres.

This measurement was recorded at 09:00 on 27/12/2015.

The typical river level range for this location is between 5.05 metres and 7.90 metres.

The highest river level recorded at this location is 10.20 metres and the river level reached 9.95 metres on 27/09/2012.

Level: 4.80m

Below is the updated data from the EA..................

Current river level

Last 48 hours of available data

River levels over the past 48 hours

The source of the Foss Barrier river levels can be found here


Below is a previous report on the Foss Barrier

extracted from The York Press and dated December 2012 ..................

It's York’s biggest “garage door” – and it’s set to save Christmas for thousands of York homes and businesses. It’s the Foss Barrier, on which work started 25 years ago. Mike Laycock reports

AT 9.30pm on Thursday evening, Paul Maw keyed in a password to a computer and a 16.5 tonne barrier slowly slid down like a giant garage door to block the River Foss at its confluence with the River Ouse.

Then a series of mighty pumps began pumping water out of the Foss into the Ouse at the rate of up to 30 tonnes of water per second.

For the sixth time in this wettest of years, the Foss Barrier and pumping station had swung into action, prompted by the Ouse’s rise to more than 2.8 metres above normal summer levels.

With more heavy rain predicted today and in coming days, the Environment Agency’s complex looks set to prevent Christmas being ruined for hundreds – maybe thousands – of households by the misery and devastation of flooding from the River Foss, Tang Hall Beck and Osbaldwick Beck.

Paul, a barrier operator, says that until the barrier was built in the late 1980s, more properties in York used to be flooded by the Foss and the two becks than by the Ouse. The problem was that floodwater from the Ouse used to surge up the already-swollen Foss and becks, causing them to overtop their banks.

The £3.34 million barrier project, which started in 1987, is an engineering marvel which has solved that problem time and again, most dramatically in November 2000 when the Ouse reached its highest levels in centuries and the pumps had to run for ten consecutive days. It was again of vital importance in September this year, when river levels were only half a metre lower and the pumps ran for almost a week. Colin Atkinson, a senior emergency planning advisor for the agency, says the pumping station would still work even if the area was hit by a massive power cut. Two huge diesel-powered generators at the heart of the complex can create enough electricity to power four of the eight pumps.

Paul stresses that while the pumps’ capacity is huge, the extra water pumped into the Ouse is still only a fraction of the total flow of 300 tonnes a second, and therefore cause Ouse floodwaters only to rise by a centimetre or so.

The source document can be found here



Added 10/1/2016

Foss Barrier Design (River Foss flood alleviation scheme)

My thanks to Lisa at York Stories who located and published a link to the EA Grey Literature web site which reveals a further link to the National Rivers Authority River Foss flood alleviation scheme design brochure.

The following two links give direct access to the NRA document (20 pages including maps, drawings and photographs)


Below is an extract from York Press by Victoria Prest, Political reporter dated 16/1 2016

Officials face public wrath at floods meeting on Friday 15th January 2016

A FRACTIOUS public meeting on Friday night saw residents in York try to question public officials over the causes and responses to the Boxing Day floods.

The meeting - which wound up just after 8pm - was organised by the City of York Council to give people chance to speak to their staff, the Environment Agency (EA), BT and others, but it was at times bad tempered and chaotic with people angry they weren’t warned sooner, or were left without any help from the council or emergency services.

The EA’s Mark Scott started his presentation by apologising to people who had had their homes filled with cold and dirty flood water over the Christmas period.

But several people asked why they were not warned sooner, with one woman saying the seven hour gap between the alarm being raised, and her hearing of the risk could have meant she had “more than six cardboard boxes of belongings” left.

Jim Breen, the council’s emergency planning boss, said: “It is true to say there is no specific plan in place for flooding on the Foss. For 30 years we have relied on the Foss Barrier and for 30 years it has worked.”

He went on to say that when the Foss barrier did fail the inundation was so fast that the council did not have time to put any other emergency flood defences in place.

Meanwhile, city police superintendent Phil Cain outlined problems – in York and in West Yorkshire – which at times left the force without the non emergency 101 number, without radio communications, and relying on a back-up system to take 999 calls. The ambulance service also lost radio systems, he added.

Later in the meeting, Mr Scott said with the £10 million pledged by the Government for improvements, and with technological improvements since the pumps were put in 30 years ago, they hoped to up the capacity of the barrier pumping station.

He went on to say they needed to start looking at managing water in the whole catchment area, rather than relying entirely on the Foss barrier. A plan should be ready and published within two months, he added.

At the end of the meeting both York MPs Rachael Maskell and Julian Sturdy pledged to help anyone who was having trouble with insurance companies, or the clean-up.

It closed with council leader Chris Steward saying the situation was undoubtedly “hellish” for people who had lost their homes to flood waters; and setting out plans for a full public inquiry that will take “months not days”.

Source document (and many comments)


Comment via York Press

From Badgers Drift 11:16am Mon 18 Jan 2016

It's not good enough to try and fob people off with PR spin events, insincere offers of sympathy, and endless waffle about how much the authorities did do right - it's patronising and insulting.

People are not stupid. The explanations and excuses from the EA have been conflicting and unconvincing. Engineers have blown holes is the odd looking data, the decisions taken on allegedly sacrificing homes to save more from flooding, and how the power/pump/seals failed?

It smacks of a cover-up for ineptitude and mismanagement, and politicians and public servants need to come clean and not dig themselves into a deepening chasm of dishonesty!



Letter to York Press

LETTER from Matthew Laverack, Lord Mayors Walk, York - January 2015

Environment Agency struggling to convince 600 flood-hit York households

ENVIRONMENT Agency bosses cling to their claim they “saved” 1,000 properties by opening the flood barrier. Their argument is that with the barrier in place and no pumps operating, there would effectively have been a dam across the Foss causing a huge back-up of Foss water. But those 600 who were sacrificed are not convinced this action was warranted or unavoidable. Isn’t it the responsibility of flood control managers to have contingency plans in place to quickly obtain back-up pumps if urgently needed? And is it also not incumbent upon them to periodically test and practice a manual lifting of the flood gate in the event of power failure? All of these prudent actions were seemingly ignored in the ever-changing excuses and statements put out by the EA.Many people are convinced this was not a failure of the installation itself but a failure of people paid to ensure it works correctly at the most critical times.


Letter to York Press - 26 January 2016

SPECULATION about the cause of the Foss barrier failure may be premature, but asserting that the Environment Agency’s management failed – a “people failure” – is different.  The Foss barrier’s design and specifications belonged to the NRA, which pre-dated the EA, but the writing has been on its wall certainly since the greater 2000 flood.  What modifications did the EA consider vital in the intervening 15 years?  If claiming that Treasury-imposed cuts were causal, that accounts for half those years ... but is there evidence that EA’s management protested?  Or merely kept their heads down: complicit in Treasury cutbacks, in the interests of the Chancellor’s austerity politics?  While hypocritically commending increased Treasury funding in the current six-year plan … after 25 per cent to 28 per cent cuts. An informed engineer with significant hydrological experience has developed the engineering failure arguments succinctly, also explained the difficulty in validation, while the EA exclusively controls access to the required data.

This makes the need to hold the EA to account indisputable, but both management and macro-political stories need to be weighed, not ignored.

Nick Blitz, Wilkinsons Court, Easingwold