Stranded community

PUBLISHED: 17:26 16 March 2007 | UPDATED: 12:18 04 May 2010

Welney villagers have been isolated for three months after water on the Ouse Washes floodplain rose to cover the A1101 in November

Welney villagers have been isolated for three months after water on the Ouse Washes floodplain rose to cover the A1101 in November

SIXTY years on from the flooding that wreaked havoc across the district and brought the rural economy to its knees, a nearby village is in the stranglehold of floodwaters. In an echo of the disastrous floods of 1947, Welney villagers have been isolated fo

SIXTY years on from the flooding that wreaked havoc across the district and brought the rural economy to its knees, a nearby village is in the stranglehold of floodwaters.

In an echo of the disastrous floods of 1947, Welney villagers have been isolated for three months after water on the Ouse Washes floodplain rose to cover the A1101 in November, rendering it impassable for the vast majority of the 2,000 vehicles that normally use the road each day.

The flooding, a result of sediment build-up in the river network, has been a source of misery and frustration for the people of the village and beyond; Littleport residents bound for March and Wisbech are forced to make a 15-mile diversion through Downham Market.

Businesses in Welney have been starved of passing trade and the flooding has already witnessed a drastic slump in profits.

Trade has also been lost from those living on the other side of the wash - residents face diversions of 20 miles in each direction; an inconvenience for them and for others as they try to use increasingly congested alternative routes across the county. Shops, pubs and rural post offices are all reeling from the effects of the flooding, and there is a mood of frustration among the community that nothing is being done about the silt build-up that lies at the root of the problem.

The Lamb and Flag pub has been hit hard since November. Landlord Dennis Birch, pictured, said cancellations had forced him to reorganise staff shifts to make up the shortfall.

"One of our staff has had to look for a new job, simply because she cannot afford to lose hours," he said.

Although there is an historical precedent to the flooding, Environment Agency figures show that the current dire situation is the peak of an upturn in flooding that some attribute to global warming; between 1990 and 1997 the road was flooded for a total of 100 days, whereas the current flooding has already run for more than 100 days.

Welney's MP, Christopher Fraser, says the answer to the village's woes lies in reintroducing the practice of dredging the Bedford rivers. So committed is he to this solution that he secured a parliamentary debate earlier this month to examine funding for a scheme.

"No community has been more deeply affected by the flooding than the residents of Welney," he told the house.

"It seems inevitable that unless the Government steps in, the residents of Welney will be cut off for even longer periods."

Dredging, Mr Fraser said, would remove the silt from the rivers and raise the river bed, reducing the volume of water that can pass through. Mr Fraser told Parliament that the poor state of the rivers and sluices has caused rivers to burst their banks and spill on to Welney Wash - which has been designed to take emergencies, not annual flooding.

Although his efforts are welcomed by the community, it will be years before Mr Fraser's plans would be put into practice, which is scarce comfort for a community in need of immediate help.

The announcement last month that vital repairs to Denver Sluice would be carried out as part of a £19million flood defence package have also met with scepticism from much of the Welney community.

Mr Birch said: "If they can't keep the rivers clear there is no point in spending £19million on repairs," he said.

"Why not spend £19million on raising the road?"

Welney's Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Centre has also suffered from a visitor drop-off. Yet ironically, the centre was the venue for an Environment Agency conference on flood protection recently. Visitor numbers were lower than expected as delegates were forced to take the arduous detour to reach the centre.

Photos: BRIAN PURDY

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