Flood clean up continues in Bedford following Christmas devastation

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Engineers Bridge, Credit: Alison Crook

Floods which forced 1,300 people to evacuate their homes over Christmas have left a trail of rubbish which the council is still working to clear up.

Responding to a question from a councillor, Bedford Borough Council’s environment chief said they are carrying out clean-up work as quickly as they can.

Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) asked what was happening to deal with large amounts of plastic left behind after the flood water dropped back following Storm Bella.

Paul Pace, the council’s chief officer for the environment said clean up work started “as soon as the water emergency stopped.”

Employees worked right through the Christmas period, providing sandbags for defences. But with the start of the “recovery period” he said street cleansing and litter teams had begun their task.

“It is a massive task that is going to take some time,” Mr Pace told Thursday’s meeting of the environment and sustainable communities overview and scrutiny committee.

“We are carrying out the work as quickly as we possibly can,” he added.

Bedford Borough Council’s executive found itself with no choice but to take ownership of safety booms protecting sluice gates and weirs at Duckmill and Newnham after a legal wrangle with the Environment Agency.

A report presented to a meeting of the council’s executive on Wednesday (January 6) said the Environment Agency had told the council that the booms would be removed if the borough did not agree.

That left the council with a possible safety issue because the booms stop people and river debris from getting to the dangerous weirs, which the council was also told that it owns.

The report says: “Following a number of meetings with the Environment Agency documents were supplied which showed the ownership of the weir to be that of Bedford Borough Council.

“Currently, the safety boom is in front of the council’s structures and the Environment Agency have asked that Bedford Borough Council takes control of these wire line buoys otherwise the Environment Agency will remove them and leave the weir and sluice gate unguarded which will become a risk to river users.”

Floods over Christmas have left a trail of rubbish which the council and volunteers are still working to clear up.

Floods over Christmas have left a trail of rubbish which the council is still working to clear up.

Cllr Doug McMurdo (Ind, Sharnbrook), the portfolio holder for leisure and culture, said: “It’s with a heavy heart that I go along with this because it seems absurd that the environment agency talked about taking the booms out.”

Cllr Charles Royden (Lib Dem, Brickhill), the deputy mayor and portfolio holder for environment, highways and transport, said he was “trying to be diplomatic.”

He said: “If the council wants to shake a stick at the river we have to get the permission of the Environment Agency so it did come as some surprise to me to find that the weirs themselves are legally our responsibility, and ipso facto the protection of them therefore becomes our responsibility as well

“Everything to do with the river seems to be Environment Agency but the costs are thrown back on the borough council but that’s where we are.”

The executive approved the move.

by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter

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