Damning evidence of lack of any real flooding strategy

It is six weeks since flood alerts were issued to residents in the south of the borough. A local primary school remains closed, the A22 Godstone Road has yet to fully re-open, and some people’s back gardens remained under water – and sewage – at the start of the week.

The bourne at Woldingham, pictured yesterday and close to the full level of the culvert

The bourne at Woldingham, pictured yesterday and still close to the full level of the culvert

Despite the warm spring sunshine and dry weather of the past fortnight, Croydon Council continues to ask residents to store their sandbags because the water table remains at high levels.

JOHN O’BRIEN, who has been monitoring river levels at Woldingham, says that expensive emergency works in the past month have done nothing to address the underlying flood problems

I spent yesterday afternoon showing a water engineer around the flood sites in Woldingham and Whyteleafe.

We exchanged a considerable volume of information and reached a number of conclusions.

The map published by the Greater London Authority in their report on flood prevention shows that the likely source of flooding out of Tandridge to Purley comes from the bottom of Station Hill, Caterham, down to Wapses Lodge and on to Purley. There is no flooding risk shown from Woldingham shown, as the bourne from Woldingham allegedly is a 100-year event. The last time that the Woldingham Bourne flooded was 2001.

The level of water in the open gulley at the end of Aspen Vale (by Whyteleafe Station) where the Thames Water  underground surface water  pipe flows into an open gulley was by mid-afternoon yesterday only 8in deep. There is still an open sewer nearby with a pipe sticking out of it.  The smell is not pleasant.

How Peter Brookes saw politicians' interventions in the floods crisis in The Times last month

How The Times’s Peter Brookes saw politicians’ interventions in the floods crisis last month

The surface water pipe from which the water flows is about 5ft in diameter and it is apparent that from years of neglect by Thames Water, the gulley and the undergound pipe have been allowed to silt up and requires dredging. One has to ask why Whyteleafe Parish Council, Tandridge District Council and Surrey County Council have ignored this problem, not just over many years but also in the current crisis, as it is patently obvious a major problem, obstructing the free flow of surface water through to Purley.

Yet now the councillors at all levels are running about holding public meetings and consoling people without even considering what has, and still is,  causing a problem, while they waste time and money on building dams and holding ponds  in Woldingham to hold  back a flow of water which has virtually ceased.

I travel along the Woldingham Road every day. This is the main access route out to the A22 and via the roundabout at Wapses Lodge to all other parts of Tandridge, just across the boundary in Surrey from Croydon and Greater London.

It was on January 18 that I noticed that the bourne, normally an underground stream, had risen by the rail viaduct and was flowing along the gulleys and open ditches alongside the road to the culvert (constructed by Thames Water in 1983) to take surface water when and if the bourne rose above ground.

It is noted in Woldingham Parish Council minutes that shortly after the bourne rose, Parish Councillor Rodney Fuller was asked, remarkably in my view, by Surrey Highways to help them find their highway drains along the Woldingham Road, because the bourne was starting to overflow.

Immediately I saw the bourne rise in Woldingham, as was agreed in 2012, I contacted Tarsem Flora, the chair of Purley Residents’ Assocation, to advise him of what was happening and that Purley was likely to flood in the next 14 days. Flora, a qualified and respected architect, came to Woldingham on January 24 with Tony Farrell, a Purley flood warden, and they reported back.

Croydon Council issued its official flood alert in Kenley and Purley on February 5, 12 days after Flora and Farrell had visited Woldingham. As water levels continued to rise, by the following week Kenley Water Works was under serious threat, Croydon Council declared a local emergency and the Fire Brigade was deployed to pump floodwater along the Godstone Road to Purley, where the underpass was turned into a flood overflow pond.

Further holding ponds were created from Kenley to Purley to hold flood water and to slow down the flow to prevent extensive flooding in Purley.

In the car park next to Whyteleafe Station, and works continue to deal with culverts and what John O'Brien describes as a foul smelling open sewer

In the car park next to Whyteleafe Station, and works continue to deal with culverts and what John O’Brien describes as a foul-smelling open sewer

Throughout this period (from January 19 to February 24), the residents of Woldingham were obliged to use a single lane route under the Woldingham viaduct arranged by Surrey Highways to control traffic through the flood water which was washing across the road and hiding pot holes in the road.

By this time, three lakes were starting to form “naturally” on the golf course in the valley above Bug Hill, as water flowed down the sides of the valley from Warlingham and from Woldingham into what was normally the underground flow of the bourne.

On February 24, more than one month after the floods started, Surrey County Council issued an official 21-day notice of road closure and placed two concrete slabs across the road to prevent traffic gaining access in or out of Woldingham.

In the weeks that have followed, contractors with massive earth-moving equipment constructed an artificial lake on land belonging to Bug Hill Farm, and three more holding ponds along the Woldingham Road to slow the flow of water, supposedly better to protect Kenley and the water works – even though the immediate threat has passed, as there has been no rain in this area for nearly one month.

Alongside Wapses Lodge roundabout, Surrey Highways has constructed a large lake and a dam to control water flowing from the valley into the Thames Water underground pipe. This work has totally disrupted business at Bourne Field Stud, and contractors’ vehicles are parked on the land in front of the stables preventing horses and people going in or out. It is suggested that this has been done with the approval of Tandridge District Council, but not the owner of the property.

One has to wonder how planning regulations allow for this, when the owner is suffering a dramatic loss of income and serious distress.

Over the past 14 days, the contractors have completed their work and departed. Over the same 14 days, the water levels have fallen every day the three lakes on the golf course have gone, as the water on the surface has seeped into the ground.

The water levels in the man-made lakes are also falling and two of them are now just muddy bogs, created by Surrey County Council at our expense to no useful purpose.

I have a suspicion that in the last week of February, after the emergency services had been hard at work for two weeks at Kenley, Croydon Council’s “Gold Command”, the cross-agency committee, will have approached Surrey County Council to build dams to hold back the floodwater, which was already disappearing.

With the ground saturated from the heavy winter rains, soldiers and engineers construct a temporary dam on the downs at Woldingham to back-up some of the water on the Caterham Bourne

With the ground saturated from the heavy winter rains, soldiers and engineers at the start of March constructed a temporary dam on the downs at Woldingham to back-up some of the water on the Caterham Bourne

It is the ultimate irony that the bourne, having flowed through chalk substrata from Woldingham, is then extracted and treated at Kenley to make potable water for sale to us as consumers.

So in the last two months Thames Water has failed to contain surface water in its single surface water pipe, which then flowed into its two foul water pipes, and Surrey Highways has wasted possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds building dams and closing roads for no useful purpose.

A case of too many cooks spoil the broth? A Thames Water official at one of their public meetings in Whyteleafe told me that there were eight public bodies and privately owned companies trying to resolve the problem of flooding and not of them knew what they were doing. He hoped that after this there might be some co-ordinated action.

A Surrey Highways engineer working on the dam creation said that if his authority had acted in 2001 and taken measures to prevent flooding, they would not be wasting money now on the temporary work.

Water does run down hill and some people in Tandridge Council seem to ignore this rule of physics, as there are no proposals to re-direct water from Woldingham to Godstone. Godstone is on the other side of the ridge which divides Surrey in half: ground water from Godstone flows to the River Medway via the River Eden naturally, in the same manner as the bournes flow into the Wandle and to the Thames.

People who sit in council offices and local councillors should get out more and learn their local geography before making major decisions to spend our money and waste it.

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4 Responses to Damning evidence of lack of any real flooding strategy

  1. If you look at Croydon’s website there is a comprehensive document prepared by a specialist consultant on Strategic Flood Risk with a series of recommendations.

  2. And when was the report written, David? And how many of the recommendations have been implemented?

    • It was published in 2009 after the Pitt Review following the 2007 floods and with the knowledge of the 2000/1 rising of the Bourne. It is therefore recent in terms of flood planning. Perhaps Croydon should be invited to detail what they have done in response to this report.

  3. andy780 says:

    The water is still coming down through the hills and will probably still be coming out in a few months, would you rather that they did nothing? You have moaned about everything they seem to have done.
    The stables you mention were vacated before the works started.
    Do you really expect the water to be pumped up over 100 feet and two miles to let it flow to Godstone?
    I Drive past Wapses Lodge many times a day, the levels in the balancing ponds change on a regular basis as that is what they are – ‘balancing ponds’ and seem to be doing what they are supposed to.
    OK, the only hassle I have had is having to go via Warlingham to get to Woldingham but that’s not a big problem. I’m prepared to put up with that if it helps the people of Whyteleafe and elsewhere.

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