Councillor Ray Gooding defends Essex Highways after deluge of complaints about flooding in Newport
A deluge of public complaints directed at Essex Highways over severe flooding in Newport has prompted the village's county councillor to wade in to its defence and hit out at "misinformation" and "political point-scoring".
Cllr Ray Gooding, whose Stansted division includes Newport, has vigorously defended the authority's response to the emergency which has left the B1383 London Road, north of the village heading towards Audley End and Saffron Walden, still closed and under water. Highways engineers moved in on Tuesday (Dec 8) to begin the clear-up operation.
In a statement, he said that he stood by the information he had received from Essex County Council that the River Cam had burst its banks.
"We have seen over the last few days some significant flooding on the London Road in Newport that has caused a great deal of disruption in the area. I am concerned that there has been much misinformation spread for what I can only conclude is spurious political gain," said the Conservative, referring to county council elections next May.
"The first part of the allegations were that the drains and gulleys in the area have never been cleared when in fact the drains were last inspected and jetted in May.
"It was then suggested that drainage was the reason for the flood and that no one from either Essex Highways or the police came to the site of the flooding – that again was inaccurate."
He listed the sequence of events...
Thursday December 3: The River Cam burst its banks. A closure was put in place by police. This was not a drainage issue.
Friday December 4: The river levels continued to rise throughout the day and the road became increasingly flooded with river water as a result. Whilst the police closure was still in place, the visiting Essex Highways gang continually had to replace it because the public were moving it to try and drive through.
Saturday December 5: The river levels began to slowly reduce and the Essex Highways gang rechecked the site (along with our other closed sites) to see if the floodwater could be pumped away so that the road could be reopened. They could not because the River Cam had still not reduced sufficiently to allow the carriageway flooding to be discharged back to the river. Again it was evident that the public were still moving the traffic management to attempt to drive through. They also informed that where water had receded slightly there was a silt build-up on the carriageway from the river.
Sunday December 6: River levels across the county had generally gone down to a normal level, however the Cam was still high at this point and it was still not possible to pump the water away so that the road could be reopened. The public had again been moving traffic management and trying to drive through.
Monday December 7: A gang visited again to reinspect the site again to see if river levels had dropped enough for this flooding to be 'isolated' from the river and pumped away. The traffic management was again reinstated. A plan was put in place to clear the silt that had accumulated from the river water and for the drains and gulleys to be jetted to clear them. This was the first time that the levels in the River Cam were low enough to allow the floodwater to be pumped back into its watercourse.
Cllr Gooding added: "The frustration caused by events of this sort is always to be regretted, but it is unfortunate that people should continue to remove the barriers and worsen the situation by driving through a flood, risking themselves and others in the process.
"It is doubly disappointing that people should try to make political comments about an event such as this when all the possible actions are being taken. This was a really unfortunate event, everybody did what they could – let's get it cleared up."
Angry residents used social media to accuse Essex County Council of failing to maintain and keep drains clear while disputing that the reason for the flood was because the Cam had burst its banks.
Darren Glazer emailed the Indie to say: "This flood has nothing to do with the river bursting its banks. This is purely down to the failure to maintain drainage systems and the constant approval of new-build developments without the bigger impacts upon water flow in and around the village.
"This issue will only get worse without the correct maintenance on the drainage system, which has not taken place over the last two years at least. Most drains around the village and certainly in the area of the flood are full to the brim with debris. The council/the highways agency are doing nothing about it and have no money to do anything about it!"
Another Newport resident emailed: "The Cam did not burst its banks last week. The river got very high, but did not breach. This section of the road is actually some distance from the Cam, with land and a wall in between them.
"The situation on the road is purely down to the drains becoming blocked and not being properly cleared or maintained. This section of road has flooded with surface water three times in the last few weeks, and walking down it you can see the drains have been completely blocked with mud, silt and leaves.
"People living at Sparrows End have reported trying to clear the drains repeatedly and being unable to do so because they were so tightly filled. If you check on the Essex Highways website you can see that there are multiple blocked drains reported on that stretch of road going back weeks.
"It is inaccurate to say the drains were clear and running over the weekend – they just weren't – and the river was pretty much back to its normal level on Sunday."
Newport's representative on Uttlesford District Council, Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) member Neil Hargreaves, said that blocked drains was "without a shadow of a doubt" the cause of the problem.
"Why don't Essex just admit that they haven't kept up with the maintenance? It's utter falsehood that the Cam burst its banks in Newport and that was the cause of the flood. If it had it would have been a catastrophic flood of the area.
"It is entirely Essex County Council and himself [Cllr Gooding] putting out misinformation. We are reporting exactly what we have seen and it's absolutely incredible that they are continuing to defend the indefensible."
Essex Highways issued its own statement late on Tuesday afternoon in which it said: “There is absolutely no question that the cause of the flooding near Newport was the high river level, where water rose over the road. Drains designed to take water from the road surface to the lower-level river obviously do not work in those conditions.
“The River Cam was one of several rivers in the region that flooded, as confirmed by the nearest official monitoring station at Great Chesterford. Any suggestion that the huge volumes of water could have come from rain on the road is simply untrue.
"Highways crews attended the flood at intervals over the weekend and on Monday, but all they can do in such a scenario is monitor and replace police barriers and signs which were ill-advisedly removed by some drivers, presumably those who also abandoned their vehicles in the floodwater.
“Highways drainage crews have been on site today (Tuesday). They are working to remove the remaining floodwater from the road to enable access to the road drains, which are full of silt dumped there by the floodwaters. We expect that work to clear enough water to allow the road to be reopened, but all road users should proceed with caution.
"Investigation and clearing work on the drains and connecting pipes will continue tomorrow, with traffic lights in place to control traffic and enable colleagues to work safely.”