View from the villages: The importance of local knowledge

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Bromham Mill. Credit: Steve Simpkins

2020 really did keep on giving until the end. After a year of Covid 19 and restrictions relating to the virus, not only was the Borough placed in Tier 4 for Christmas, but we in Bedfordshire then suffered from the Christmas Eve/Day/Boxing Day floods.

After a long hard year for residents, councillor officers and volunteers dealing with all the issues that Covid 19 raised, it seemed cruel to have to deal with flooding rather than to have a bit of Christmas break.

For those residents whose houses were flooded it was both scary and very upsetting to have to deal with flooding in their homes and my sympathies are with them.

I would like to thank those Council officers who were involved in helping with the flooding and I’m sure residents, like me, agree with my colleague, Councillor Moon who also represents Great Barford ward, that the ‘directly involved Council officers were first class and the Floodline worked well at all hours’.

However, what made the situation frustrating, was that the data from the Environment Agency was not accurate as we expected and needed; contrary to their warnings the levels in the town centre and in Great Barford did not exceed level of the floods of Easter 1998.

Great Barford was actually lower by 6 inches or more, while measurements at villages on the west of Bedford showed it to be higher. It is important that we have an explanation from the Environment Agency why this happened and also why they got the estimate of the peak so badly wrong. Quicker and more accurate forecasting is needed!

Also needed is more respect for local knowledge.

In Great Barford residents a long way up and away from the river were unnecessarily alarmed at being told, late on Christmas Eve, by Police Officers with no local knowledge, to evacuate immediately; yet residents on the road adjacent to the river were not warned at all – they were, of course, the only residents who were affected.

There was confusion in some areas as to whether the issue was river-generated flooding or localised rain-generated problems as brooks were overwhelmed by the runoff from higher fields.

They are distinct issues and are known to the many residents of the villages who experienced the 1998 floods as well as other events.

 

I remember the 1998 floods well, mainly as my school on the banks of the River Great Ouse was flooded, due to the Kings Ditch and the drains.

One of our sports teachers kayaked in the drama studio and our science teachers used it as an opportunity to teach us about Pascal’s vases – things that stick in the mind!

I know a number of local geography teachers are planning on using the 2020 floods as a teaching tool in their classrooms.

It is important that it is not only school children who learn from the recent floods, but all the various agencies which are involved in flood management.

Flooding is an issue which has been raised recently at Full Council and the hard work of the Drainage Board has been reported on to councillors.

It is essential for further work to take place by council officers to compile a report to learn from these floods.

We need to know what went well, what could have gone better and what went badly, and undertake a survey into areas that need more flood protection with associated costs and which agency, organisation or landowner is responsible.

This report should then lead to work being done with the relevant organisations and volunteer groups.

For example, the Riseley Parish Council and flood volunteer group is extremely proactive and their approach could no doubt be very helpful adopted in other villages and in areas of Bedford town which were also affected.

We know that it is vital that this issue is dealt with and climate change makes the issue more pressing as long dry periods, followed by heavy storms makes flooding events more likely.

There needs to be a careful consideration of the needs of nature and creating capacity within our waterways to ensure that we aren’t simply relying on flood plains or risking flooding homes.

As part of this review, we do also need to question the Environment Agency on how it is spending the money which the Borough pays to it, and we need to ensure that local residents are getting value for money.

Finally an essential part of any review will be asking local residents in the affected areas, Parish and Town councils and the many individuals who helped the for their views of how the situation was handled and what lessons should be learned for the future.

by Cllr Phillippa Martin-Moran-Bryant
Great Barford Ward (comprising Cardington, Cople, Great Barford, Ravensden, Renhold -including Cranbourne Gardens, Willington and Woodlands Park -part of Brickhill Parish)

Email: Phillippa.MartinMoranBryant@Bedford.gov.uk
Tel: 07934 853 907

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