Floods Special: We will be sunk

PUBLISHED: 17:47 03 August 2006 | UPDATED: 11:56 04 May 2010

Last woeek's freak downpours

Last woeek's freak downpours

Freak weather exposes shocking weaknesses in drainage system VICTIMS of a disastrous second wave of flash-floods – many whose homes were awash with raw sewage – fear the district will be under water in five years if plans to build 8,600 new homes go ahead

Freak weather exposes shocking weaknesses in drainage system

VICTIMS of a disastrous second wave of flash-floods - many whose homes were awash with raw sewage - fear the district will be under water in five years if plans to build 8,600 new homes go ahead.

Residents say freak weather has exposed shocking weaknesses in the drainage infrastructure that are a direct result of new housing developments making demands on an already overstretched system.

The heavy cost of rapid development in East Cambridgeshire was evident when the area's highest level of rainfall for nearly 30 years wreaked havoc on dozens of businesses and homes on Thursday.

Thousands of pounds worth of damage have prompted concerns that the drainage infrastructure faces meltdown when proposals to build 8,600 new homes in the area by 2021 under John Prescott's controversial East of England plan become a reality.

But council planners and the highways authority have dismissed their fears, passing off the floods as purely a result of the extreme weather conditions.

"No drainage system would have been able to deal with what were record levels of rainfall," a county council highways spokesman said.

Steve Foulger, a representative of the residents of Abbots Way in Ely, which was flooded with sewage from overworked drains last week, believes the damage to his property is a result of too much housing; he said the district has reached a tipping point and may never recover.

"With each house that goes up the problem will get worse, because the water has to go somewhere," he said.

"It will get much worse in the future unless something is done."

Mr Foulger said continued construction has meant Ely's natural drainage has been lost, and that householders are being forced to deal with the consequences of "unsustainable" development on the part of the district council.

"We have disabled people and elderly people here and they're having to walk through raw sewage - the new estates are all on the same system and it is not being upgraded to cope."

Mr Foulger said he has been writing to the district council since the last serious floods in 1992 to resolve the issue but nothing has been done.

Many residents have said they will not make insurance claims for the damage to their property because of the effect it would have on their premiums. One such householder is Susan Hawkins of California, Little Downham, who cancelled her payments to Anglian Water after her street was covered with sewage.

"Next door they have what looks like a swimming pool of raw sewage and they have two young girls," she said.

"I have lived here for 30 years and it is only recently that we have had this problem - what is this going to do to the value of my home?," she said, adding that she is consulting a solicitor about how to proceed.

Anglian Water held an emergency meeting with Cambridgeshire County Council, the local highways authority, last Friday to look for solutions to the flooding and sewage problems.

A spokesman for the water company said it would be "the first of many meetings", as the two organisations look into ways of protecting homes in the future.

"The level of water we've had seems to suggest that it's a one in 100 year storm," she said.

She apologised to customers who were left waiting for engineers, as Anglian Water's staff were pushed to the limit, and stressed that there is an on-going investigation into the floods.

East Cambridgeshire District Council planning director, David Archer, said Anglian Water and The Environment Agency are always consulted with every new development.

"They both give detailed advice on drainage schemes," he said, "and new developments are built to strict criteria."

Mr Archer reiterated Anglian Water's point that the flooding was a result of exceptional weather conditions rather than developments in the district, and said continued building under the East of England Plan will not exacerbate the effects of future flash-floods.

"It will not be a problem if it is properly planned, away from flood plains and with a proper infrastructure included."

He added that the council is looking into more eco-friendly methods of dealing with water, such as sustainable drainage and the recycling of run-off water.

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