MP says 'sorry' to Wainfleet community for floods

MP Matt Warman has apologised to the community of Wainfleet for the recent floods

It didn't take the blazing sunshine outside the packed public meeting at Coronation Hall on Thursday night to contribute to the heated outcries inside as residents demanded answers.

MP Matt Warman (centre) chaired a public meeting in Wainfleet. Speaking is Norman Robinson,  Senior Environmental Monitoring Officer at the Environment Agency.

MP Matt Warman (centre) chaired a public meeting in Wainfleet. Speaking is Norman Robinson, Senior Environmental Monitoring Officer at the Environment Agency.

But Mr Warman began with a cool 'Sorry' to the residents - many of whom were flooded out of their homes or evacuated in June when two and a half months of rain fell in three days.

According to the Met Office, by mid-June, Wainfleet had had 287% of the average month's rainfall . More than 160 EA staff were involved in the response when the River Steeping burst its banks.

The RAF dropped 342 tonnes of material initially to fill the breach, which the EA has now replaced this with 50 steel piles weighing 40 tonnes – the same as 5 HGVs. Other emergency services, local authority agencies and volunteers have also been praised for their response.

However , Mr Warman said the fact the floods had happened had been a "failure" by the Government to protect them.

A member of the public demands answers at the public meeting into the floods in Wainfleet.

A member of the public demands answers at the public meeting into the floods in Wainfleet.

"Government exists to prevent the the kind of flooding we saw - it exists to try and protect people who are vulnerable -and whatever you might think of any of the agencies who are here tonight, they all get up every morning of every day trying to stop the kind of events we saw happen," he told them.

"I want to admit, first off, that it is a failure we are in this position - largely down to a whole load of factors. But I am not standing saying any of us are proud to be in this position.

"So that is a flat out 'sorry'."

For many members of the community, the solution to the disaster never happening again is simple - 'dredge the river back to design of 10-12 ft,' 'keep the gates working' and 'keep the outflow clear.'

Jean Hart - making the most of life until she can move back home.

Jean Hart - making the most of life until she can move back home.

But the Environment Agency has always maintained the reason the Wainfleet area flooded was the 'unprecedented' volume of rainfall and nothing to do with the river not being dredged , in spite of claims from some members of the public that it had not been done in more than 40 years and was now only 3ft deep.

It was inevitable that Norman Robinson, Senior Environmental Monitoring Officer at the Environment Agency and on the evening's panel - along with representatives of the Drainage Board, ELDC and Lincolnshire Police - bore the brunt of their anger.

He attempted to explain why dredging would not be the solution, warning residents that climate change and more frequent storms such as the ones last month means "it will happen again".

But when asked if the EA was fit for purpose, he replied: "We are fit for purpose. We have to be more resilient in the future but we do the best we can with the envelope we get."

As emotions ran high, another member of the public stood up and demanded from Mr Warman a straight answer: "Are you going the dredge the river. 'yes or no?"

But Mr Warman responded: "My answer..."

"Is 'no'!" chipped in the resident.

There were jeers when Mr Warman replied: "It's not 'no', but it isn't as simple as that."

Reassuring residents that the Secretary of State for Environment Michael Gove had told him he wanted to see flood defences in Wainfleet becoming a 'trailblazer' for future policy, he said: "Let me tell you two things - I could go to Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Environment) and say I want '£X' million to dredge the river and that is all I want.

"I do not think, in talking to the Drainage Board and in talking to the Environment Agency, you might get a very clean system for a very short time.

"I do not think that would be good enough in the face of the future threat.

"We need a system that is not just based of dredging the existing one we've got - it's based on building a fundamentally better one.

"I am not going for a relatively small amount of money to dredge it I am going fort higher than that because I think you deserve better.than the system that was designed in 1971.

"If you look at what they did after the floods in Somerset, dredging is part of the solution it is not the whole solution.

"If you say to me dredging is all you want and we settle for that I am telling you we will be back here in a number of years and that is not good enough."

Steve Hardy was in the audience with his wife Pauline. They live in Brewster Lane, one of the worse affected areas and their home was flooded.

Before the meeting, Mr Hardy, who said he once worked on maintaining the old river bank, told the Standard. "We want some answers. We want to know it doesn't happen again.

"I don't think enough was done when the breach happened. I was on the bridge with the EA and all I got was 'we are going to monitor it'.

"Millions and millions of water were pouring through when there should have been something quicker in my opinion.

"Not enough was done to prevent it. When I worked on the old river it used to be dredged. For so many years there was maintenance. We never cut trees and edges down - we just trimmed them up because we were told the roots of trees bind the bank together,- and we used to kill rabbits because they used to make holes. We did a lot more maintenance in those days.

"Nearly 50 years ago it was 10-12 foot deep. Where I went fishing last year it was so shallow I could walk across it in my wellingtons."

After the meeting, he said he had been disappointed with the outcome. "I'm not filled with confidence enough will be done because they just went round in circles.

"I told the EA last year what they needed to do was dredge the old and new river, put metal piles in the bank to strengthen it and created a second outlet at the sea but I was told it would cost a lot of money and get silted up again - also they can't cut the banks until .the end of the year because of the wildlife.

"We'll have to wait and see."

James Grant, who farms along the River Lymn near Partney had some suggestions how residents and the EA can help prevent the flooding happening again. Following 16 years' experience as chairman off the Witham Forth Drainage Board, he suggested the solution was to "make sure the outfalls are fit for purpose, put the river back to design and for residents to replace dykes they may have filled in or block paving back to gravel so there is somewhere for water to drain away around their homes."

However, Cathryn Whitehead commented: "I thought it was a frank and honest meeting. Just because what we heard wasn’t popular doesn’t mean it’s not relevant. I think Matt did a good job as chair - there was a ton of heckling. We will survive,"

Jean Hart - the owner of Mr T the tortoise who was rescued when their home flooded - also had empathy for the panel. She said: "I've gone through many emotions since it happened, especially over items of sentimental value I've lost such as a wedding photo that is water damaged and a range cooker my mother gave me that has gone.

"I lived at Pollero in Cornwall when it flooded and people died there. No-one died here - we are staying in a static at a friend's who has a cattery because it's better for my cat there while things get sorted. And Mr T is living with 'giants' with a man who shows them until we can bring him home. But we are not moving anywhere."

EA FLOODS RECOVERY FACTFILE

1) Repair work continues on-site, and the EA be putting in some additional, shorter piles across an additional 20m to strengthen an additional stretch of the bank.

2) The EA will be adding some more material including clay to bond and strengthen the bank repairs at the breach site, then over the next few days, we will look to remove some of the bags of ballast dropped in as part of the temporary repair by the RAF.

3) The EA is clearing vegetation so we can complete a full assessment of the entire length of both banks; any further required work will be completed as part of our ongoing recovery programme.

·4) Once the EA is satisfied the breach is repaired, the next few weeks will see us move to the next phase of recovery – finalising a programme of works on the banks based on our investigations, sourcing any needed funding and designing any further repairs needed.