Were blocked drains to blame for dozens of Wellingborough properties being submerged?

Thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused by the rainstorm that hit the town

By Alison Bagley
Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 7:00 am

More than three weeks after torrential rain hit Wellingborough owners of homes and businesses are still waiting for answers from Northamptonshire County Council.

Town centre streets looked more like rivers on August 16 and people were left counting the cost as the deluge pushed dirty water through their properties, wrecking floors and contaminating valuable contents thought to add up to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In the aftermath of the storm that dumped one month's worth of rain in one hour, swamping businesses, shops, All Saint's Primary School and Wellingborough Museum, the Northants Telegraph asked council chiefs if and when the drains had last been cleared.

Data shared by Highways showed that, as of July 2020, of the 174 drains and gullies in the roads that were flooded, or lead to the flooded streets, only four had been cleared in 2019 - two in Cambridge Street and two Castle Road.

All the 174 gullies were due to have their annual inspections between July 2020 to September 2020 and none were complete as of the end of July 2020. Emergency inspections were carried out in the wake of the floods.

Despite repeated attempts to find out whether the gullies were cleaned before the catastrophic events unfolded and the dates of the work, the county council has failed to respond to requests for clarification about the spreadsheet they shared, despite saying they were cleansed on August 1.

Cllr Jason Smithers, cabinet member for highways for Northamptonshire County Council, had said: "The gullies have all been cleared but [because of] the deluge of water that came down even if the drain was two or three times the size they wouldn't have had the capacity.

Cambridge Street looking towards Church Street, Park Road and Market Street

"The drains are cleared on a rota basis and they are checked regularly. They were functioning perfectly well. All the water was competing for space.

"I feel for the business owners. I don't think we could have done any more. It was down to the deluge of water."

Residents shared videos of water pouring down from Broad Green into High Street and cascading through the road system, forcing off manhole covers.

A follow up response from Northamptonshire Highways said: "We maintain approximately 150,000 gullies on the publicly maintained highway.

One of the blocked drains in Castle Street, Wellingborough

"Our programme is updated on the first day of every month so the information will always be up to date so you can see where we are planning on visiting next.

"The programme may be subject to change dependent upon weather conditions or other circumstances. It can be affected if we have severe weather and our crews are called away from their normal duties to attend emergencies.

"These locations [Cannon Street, Cambridge Street, Great Park Street, Park Road, Church Street, Herriots Lane, Market Street] are on an annual cleanse [they were] visited in July 2020 - parked cars stopped us being able to work on some gullies. [They were] revisited August 1 and completed [the] cleanse."

But the document sent to the paper showed that only two of the drains out of 14 had been cleared - the last time was in October 2019.

Castle Street Wellingborough

Northamptonshire Highways has not responded to repeated requests for clarification.

In early April this year, the gully clearing programme had been suspended by NCC because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last October, an email from a senior county council officer to a resident revealed that only a quarter of the county’s gullies had been cleaned in the 2018/19 financial year when the plan and set aside resources had been for a full clean of all 148,718 gullies.

A report by the council’s scrutiny committee published in January 2020 highlighted significant concerns with how the authority has monitored the long standing £50m annual contract with KierWSP over the past few years.

In a statement issued on August 18, two days after the floods, Cllr Smithers said: "The water that created the issue on High Street/Silver Street was due to the torrential rain that ran down hill and was cleared by the gullies quickly once the storm passed.

"Gullies on Wellingborough Silver Street and Sheep Street (between junction of Commercial Way and Oxford Street) were cleansed in September 2019 under a full road closure and the highway crews have been inspecting all of the reported sites today to check everything is functioning and that debris has not been washed into any gullies."

Wayne Brooks, Val Wilson and Tim Nolan outside their business

Val Wilson, co-director of Rutherfords Locksmiths in Market Street said: "It's a nightmare. We're still finding things with water in them. We're going to have to claim about £20,000 to £25,000 on our insurance.

"The drains are no good and they never have been. We've never had any support about the floods.

"They said that to replace the drains would cause too much disruption. How come Taiwan can build a whole runway in a week and get up and working again, and in 35 years they [NCC] couldn't find one weekend to replace the drain?"

Sylvester Jewellers, also on Market Street, was also affected by the floods.

A spokesman for the company said: "It's terrible. We had to close for two to three days.

"They haven't cleared the drains. It's made a mess of things NCC."

Tony Wojdylewicz, who volunteers at the Salvation Army charity shop in Market Street that lost £300 worth of stock, said: "I've never seen them clear the drains. Something needs to be done and clearing them out would help."

Rasigaran Sivasamboo, owner of Kaka Supermarket and Off Licence in Church Street, was left with a bill for £700 to £800 after ankle-deep water flooded into both entrances of his grocery store.

He said: "The drainage is rubbish. We had already told the council [NCC] six months ago that it was blocked."

Mr Sivasamboo's son Vikram added: "Normally the drain in front of the shop doesn't drain. We called the council. We were going to buy the shop over the road but now it's all damp because of the floods. It's put our plans back at least a month."

Julian Franks, owner of Wellingborough Trains and Models Shop, had four inches of water in his shop that he rents from Wellingborough Council, who will be paying for the floor to be replaced, but he has lost £3,000 of stock and earnings.

Mr Franks said: "Once every so often the road sweeper comes along. The road is a terrible design. There's no kerb stone which is nice to make it a walking area but they need to put in suitable drains.

"NCC have not pulled their weight in the long term for whatever reason."

Niru Bajaria, owner of MJ News in Cambridge Street, said: "The drain people came on the Wednesday after to clean the drains. The drains couldn't take it. It rained so hard.

"We've been here for 30 years and it's never happened before."

Harish Tailor, owner of Seoni Clothing in Cambridge Street, said: "We have lost thousands. I think that highways should clear out the drains, raining or not, every three months.

"I've never seen anyone clear the drains. The damage is done. The insurance companies should go after highways. This rain has caused a lot of hassle because of the drains."

Businesses that suffered internal flooding were sent an email on August 28 informing them that a flood investigation had been launched.

It said: "Thank you for submitting a flood report form, which I can confirm we have received. We are sorry to hear about the flooding you have experienced.

"Under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, Northamptonshire County Council is a Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA). We have a responsibility to investigate flooding incidents in order to understand their cause and ensure that appropriate agencies play their role in the effective management of flood risk.

"Please note that this service only extends to properties that have been affected by flooding internally.

"The information we have received in relation to this particular incident does meet the threshold for formal investigation.

"Therefore, our contractors David Smith Associates (DSA) will be contacting you shortly to discuss the flooding you have experienced, if they have not already been in touch.

"Please note that the Flood Investigation will:

* Identify and explain the likely cause/s of flooding;

* Identify which authorities, communities and individuals have relevant flood risk management powers and responsibilities;

* Provide recommendations for each of those authorities, communities and individuals;

* Outline whether those authorities, communities or individuals have or will exercise their powers or responsibilities in response to the flooding incident; and

* Endeavour to be published online within six months of receipt of a flood incident report form. This may not be possible following extensive flooding when significant numbers of reports of flooding are received.

"The Investigation will not:

* Resolve the flooding issues or provide designed solutions;

* Force Risk Management Authorities to undertake any of the recommended actions;

* Investigate incidents of structural dampness or where basements are affected by groundwater entering through cracks in the basement walls or floors;

* Investigate an incident if it is reported after nine months of the flood event occurring;

* Be carried out in the event that the cause of, and the responsibility for addressing the flooding is well understood."

Cllr Smithers said: “Northamptonshire County Council has been working closely with flood risk partners to understand and respond to the impact of the significant flooding experienced across parts of the county on August 16.

“It is estimated that around 80 properties were flooded internally, including businesses, homes, schools and other community buildings. The majority of impacts were felt in the north and east of the county, covering areas such as Wellingborough, Kettering, Raunds and Corby. These were very localised severe flooding events, similar in nature to those experienced by Northampton over the bank holiday of May 2018.

"Initial estimates from a rain gauge in Wellingborough indicates around 51.8mm of rain fell over a 24 hour period, with the majority falling over a few hours on Sunday. This would be near the average monthly rainfall expected for the whole of August.

"As per the council’s duty as Lead Local Flood Authority, there is a requirement to investigate flooding incidents that meet local thresholds. These are provided below, with a full explanation provided on the Northamptonshire County Council Flood Toolkit website.

· Flooding has affected critical infrastructure for a period in excess of three hours from the onset of flooding;

· Internal flooding of a building has been experienced on more than one occasion in the last five years; or

· Internal flooding of five buildings in close proximity has been experienced during one single flood incident.

“Having assessed the flood reports that have been received by the council, at present seven areas will be covered by Flood Investigations, these include four locations across Wellingborough, one in Corby, one in Kettering and one in Titchmarsh.

"The council will be working with those affected and flood risk partners to undertake these Investigations, which will aim to be published on the Flood Toolkit website within six months.

“Those areas that aren’t covered by an investigation but were reported to the council, will still be provided a bespoke response and advice. Flood risk partners are also currently working at a number of locations that flooded to help support and reduce flood risk to properties.

“It is too early to talk of the main causes for each of these areas but similarly to May 2018 in Northampton, this was a significant amount of rainfall in a very short space of time which overwhelmed local drainage capacity.”

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Harish Tailor outside his flooded Cambridge Street menswear shop
Emma Johnson, headteacher of All Saints Primary School in the destroyed Year 1 classroom
Julian Franks has lost thousands of pounds in stock and loss of earnings
Vikram and Rasigaran Sivasamboo of Kaka Supermarket and Off Licence in Church Street
The drainage channels in Market Street are unclogged by Julian Franks