Flooding in the Winchester District
Press Release: 21/02/2014
Statement by Cllr Keith Wood, Leader of Winchester City Council
The Winchester District has faced a major challenge in dealing with bad weather and flooding across our communities in the past fortnight.
Following the wettest January on record, we were always likely to see high river and groundwater levels.
Indeed, Hambledon had been managing groundwater flooding at a level unseen since 2001 for more than four weeks. The Itchen was high, as was the Meon and other rivers. The ground was saturated and aquifers rising.
The first call for an emergency response outside Hambledon came at midnight on Wednesday 5 February, when flooding was reported in Park Avenue, by the Winchester School of Art. Officers visited the scene and on Friday afternoon the Chief Executive took the decision to open our Emergency Control Centre in the Boardroom of the West Wing. That was open over the entire weekend.
The first 100 sandbags were deployed in Water Lane that Friday evening. The weekend saw concerns about rising water in Bishop’s Waltham, Wickham, Littleton, Kings Worthy, Owslebury, Twyford, Hursley and Cheriton, and the Control Centre dispatched sandbags to many of those communities. Sluices in the town were opened to let the Itchen flow more freely, taking care not to swamp Water Lane.
The Emergency Control Centre has been open from 6am until midnight since Monday 10 February. It has been staffed by our officers – and over 100 staff have helped in the past ten days: dealing with incoming requests for help, visiting and assessing problem areas, and filling sandbags down at Bar End. In the past 12 days we have used 400 tons of sand and provided over 21,000 sandbags across the district, to add to the 20,000 already in Hambledon.
The City Council has not tackled this alone. Colleagues from Hampshire County Council, the Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service, the Police, the Environment Agency and the Military have all been part of our response, working from the Council Control Centre. The Forces have been fantastic, with 50 Naval ratings reinforcing the sandbag wall in Water Lane, and Army and Navy personnel helping out in Kings Worthy and many other locations, as well as filling endless sandbags.
It’s been the imaginative ideas that have really made a difference. The Environment Agency came up with the idea of building barriers across the Itchen at Easton and Martyr Worthy to help control the flow of water into Winchester Town. These major engineering projects were completed in a matter of days, with vital help from divers of the Royal Engineers, who spent hours in cold river waters placing nearly 400 one-ton bags of gravel to ease the river flow. And it’s no exaggeration to say they have helped save properties in Winchester from flooding.
Similarly, a barrier at Park Avenue built early last week by the Fire Service, Army and Navy has helped prevent water flowing into the town centre. Two Fire Service high-volume pumps stopped that barrier being breached. All these initiatives have attracted the attention of the national media who have praised the City for its response to the crisis.
We should also recognise the hard work of a number of parishes. Hambledon is very well prepared to respond to flooding, and others with less experience have stepped up to the mark. In many cases local Members have also helped in co-ordinating local efforts. Local volunteers have made a significant contribution.
The City Council can be justly proud of the way it has faced this challenge. Officers have worked closely with a range of agencies to help protect people, properties and businesses. We have not always been successful, and it is sad to see that 42 properties and 18 businesses have suffered flooding – I have no doubt there are others. Most flooding has been due to groundwater rising in cellars rather than filling the living areas of houses, but it is no less distressing for that and we offer them every sympathy.
We hope that the worst may be over, but we cannot be sure. We will continue to offer co-ordinated support and the Council will try to help wherever it can. King Canute, whose remains are in the Cathedral, could not hold back the waters, and we should not delude ourselves that we can. But the efforts of the past fortnight have shown that a well-organised and timely response can help alleviate the risks of flooding and, we hope, prevent the disasters others have faced.