The comment contributed by S.Sawkins in our previous Blog post, link HERE, prompted a few seconds of deep consideration as to whether we should share the “Secret” DEFRA Report into the flooding on Canvey Island during July 2014 with residents.
The Defra Report was not intended to be made public, however neither was the content of the secret, sorry “private,” Councillor Training Session on Local Plan making given by Planning Inspector Keith Holland. The dvd of that meeting was leaked by a Castle Point Councillor to the press, and the councillor concerned was thought none the worse of!
As the DEFRA report appears to be in the Public Domain, was commissioned out of public funds and concerns residents of Canvey Island blighted by the actual rain storm event we believe they deserve access to the document.
Should we be overstepping the mark in issuing a private document then we will be happy to delete this post however we are often assured by Castle Point Council that they attempt to be open and transparent whenever possible, or at least where it suits!
So especially for all residents who suffered flood damage, or fear doing so in future, we reproduce the document below.
Having read the contents you may wish to reflect upon Castle Point Council’s motives when they “make their difficult decisions” which will undoubtably include selecting further housing and business development on Canvey Island Flood Zone through the New Local Plan process! The Defra Report clearly identifies dense urban development as being a contributory factor in the under performance of Canvey’s complex drainage system!
62 Years since the dreadful breach in the Canvey sea wall, and “lessons are still being learned!”
“Canvey Island Flooding
Internal Defra report (October 2014)
[Note: Defra is sending this internal report to the people and organisations listed in paragraph 4 below, so they can see the advice given to the Secretary of State by Defra flood officials. Defra does not plan to publish the report].
1. This is an internal Defra report into widespread surface water flooding at Canvey Island on Sunday 20 July 2014. It looks at the effectiveness of the emergency response and the preparedness of Canvey to deal with future flood incidents.
2. This report was requested by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs following her visit to Canvey on 25 July.
3. There are two other reports looking at the 20 July flooding:
Essex County Council (the Lead Local Flood Authority for the area) is producing a report under section 19 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. This is a statutory report looking at what happened during the incident and possible lessons learned. It was published on 8 October
Sir Mark Walport, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, (at the request of the Secretary of State) reviewed the County Council’s draft section 19 report and made recommendations. It was published on 17 October
4. In preparing this report, Defra flooding officials made two visits to the Canvey area to look at flood defences and meet local responders and political representatives. This report is based on what they told us. Summaries of our discussions are at Annex 2. We are grateful to the following for their help:
Cllr Dave Blackwell
Castle Point Borough Council
Essex County Council’s emergency team
Essex Fire and Rescue Service
Rebecca Harris MP and Andrew Sheldon
Cllr Ray Howard
Canvey and the flooding on 20 July
5. Canvey Island is a flat low lying area approximately 1 metre below sea level at high tide. The island has historically been susceptible to flooding and in 1953 it experienced major sea flooding that took 58 lives. Since the mid-1970s it has been protected by a large sea wall which encircles the island. The sea wall now gives a
high degree of protection against coastal flooding, and as a result of development since it was built Canvey now has around 19,000 dwellings and a population of around 38,000.
6. The combination of the low lying topography and the ring of sea defences gives Canvey a “saucer like” shape which makes it vulnerable to surface water flooding.
7. Normally surface water is managed effectively by a complex network of drains and pumps covering all of Canvey. This system drains water to large Environment Agency pumps around the perimeter of Canvey which pump water out over the sea walls, and in normal times this drainage operation is in constant use. However, on Sunday 20 July 2014 the drainage system was overwhelmed when Canvey experienced very intense rainfall, resulting in widespread surface flooding.
8. About 100mm of rain fell between 12:40 and 17:00. About 80mm of this rain fell between 13:30 and 14:30, and it was this intense burst that caused most of the impacts. To put it in context, the expected rainfall for the whole of July in Canvey is around 60-80mm.
9. Statistically this intensity of rainfall is highly unusual, and forecasting models suggest there is a 1 in 316 chance of it happening in any one year. However, Canvey was hit by a broadly similar event in August 2013 and (while it is possible for two unlikely events to occur close together) there are significant local fears that similar events may occur frequently in years to come.
10. The possibility of heavy storms had been forecast and warnings had been issued by the Met Office and the national Flood Forecasting Centre. However, the precise locations of such thunderstorms cannot be predicted by current technology. As a result the warnings covered the whole of Essex and not specifically Canvey Island.
11. DCLG figures suggest that approximately 100 householders reported flood water entering their properties (this figure may rise as more people officially report flooding to the council, and there may be substantial under-reporting of flooding because householders do not want to risk their insurance premiums rising). In addition, 5000 or more properties are thought to have been affected for example by damage from flooded gardens or drives. The Environment Agency reports that over 150 roads were flooded.
Effectiveness of the emergency response
12. The emergency response was coordinated at local level. This is in line with national policy that emergencies should be dealt with locally (it is possible for the Lead Local Flood Authority to ask for national level help, but in this case this did not happen and
we would not have expected national level help to have been needed for this kind of situation).
13. The people and organisations involved in the emergency response were supportive of one another, and seemed to be committed to multi-agency partnership working. We did not encounter significant blaming of other parties.
14. There was a consensus among those we met that operationally the event was well managed in the circumstances. There was widespread agreement that the root problem on 20 July was a combination of:
the suddenness and difficult-to-predict nature of the event
the very unusually large volume of rain dumped on Canvey Island
the failure of the drainage system (discussed below)
15. They also recognised there are lessons to be learned, for example they are looking at improving coordination between agencies in sudden events, and how to ensure that future emergency responses on Canvey are not so inhibited by flooded roads. We are satisfied that this is being actively addressed, for example through a combination of the inter-agency meetings and public meetings taking place on Canvey Island; the County Council’s section 19 report; and Sir Mark Walport’s report.
16. Our discussions highlighted areas where plans to communicate with the public in potential future events should be improved. This is being considered by the Lead Local Flood Authority and others in the Canvey community. In particular there is a need to:
Improve coordination of clear, concise messages to the public. Some of those we spoke to pointed to a lack of clarity over which authority leads on coordinating joint communications
Improve the way these messages are conveyed to the public
Make it easier for the public to contact the authorities during an emergency. Some members of the public were confused over who to seek advice from, and currently there are five or more authorities that could be relevant. In other areas of the country, such as Cornwall, there is one point of contact for the public to call in a flood emergency
17. The 20 July incident (and the similar August 2013 incident) revealed underlying deficiencies in the drainage infrastructure of Canvey. The extreme rainfall overloaded the complex drainage and sewerage system.
18. In particular the smaller road drains and sewers (mainly owned by the County Council, Anglian Water and private owners) were not able to get water to the main drainage channels and big pumps (mainly owned by the Environment Agency) fast enough. There are various reasons for this. For example, the local drains were not designed to handle this volume of water; the flat nature of Canvey means there is little gradient to allow a fast flow; and there are issues over the maintenance of the drains.
19. Our findings on the drainage system, based on the views of those we spoke to are:
The sea defences around Canvey are robust. Therefore the major risk of tidal flooding is well addressed. However, the topography of Canvey and the ring of sea defences make it vulnerable to surface water flooding
The larger drains are built to a high standard (typically a “1:150 year” standard or higher)
Many of the extensive web of smaller drains are built to a lesser standard. Some are built to “1:30 years”, but many are built to lower standards because in the past there were more relaxed planning standards. Also, as Canvey has been developed many older drains may have been permanently blocked (e.g. by house foundations, or builders running pipes through sewers and drains) or redirected (e.g. around buildings) which may affect flow capacity
There is a systemic failure (as pointed out in Sir Mark’s report) because the main drains are considerably more efficient than the smaller drains supplying them. Normally this is not a problem, but in extreme circumstances the small drains simply cannot get enough water to the big drains fast enough
Several of the people we spoke to considered that Canvey Lake is silted up and this diminished its ability to store flood water in an emergency. We understand the local authorities are considering whether to manage it more clearly as a flood alleviation measure rather than a leisure amenity
In recent years there have been large reductions in the budgets allocated to drain maintenance, meaning for example that drains are cleared less often
Some drains were blocked or partially blocked by roots, rubbish and debris, which reduced their flow, particularly in times of very heavy flow when other debris is washed down the system leading to substantial blockages
20. Another important drainage issue is knowing the location and ownership of the drains:
There is a good understanding of the larger drains and conduits (mainly owned by the Environment Agency, Anglian Water and the County Council Highways Department)
However, for many smaller drains there are problems with:
– knowing where they are: many of the smaller drains on Canvey are mapped, but many others are not
– knowing who owns the drains: it is often not clear who owns drains, particularly drains owned privately by individuals (e.g. householders who may not be aware of a drain under their house)
– responsibility for maintaining drains: this is often linked to owners not realising they own drains, and not understanding the rules of riparian ownership
21. There was widespread recognition that no one is currently taking responsibility for a significant proportion of the smaller Canvey drains. Therefore it is likely that most of these drains have not been cleaned or maintained at all for many years or decades.
22. We understand that Essex County Council Highways Department has committed to step up its activity in clearing its road drains on Canvey Island in future. Anglian Water and the Environment Agency advise that they have active maintenance programmes in place. However, all parties recognise that more needs to be done on drain maintenance. We understand the Lead Local Flood Authority and others are developing a cross-agency strategy to ensure more effective maintenance of the drainage system.
23. In the wake of the August 2013 flooding, Essex County Council is working with Castle Point Borough Council, Anglian Water and the Environment Agency to develop an Integrated Urban Drainage (IUD) model for Canvey Island. The aim is to give a detailed representation of the sewer, main river and highway drainage network on the island to support an improved response to flooding. The project aims to map and establish ownership of the whole drainage system on Canvey. The project is expected to be complete by spring/summer 2015.
24. Currently there does not seem to be a sufficient evidence base on the condition of Canvey Island’s drainage system to form the basis of developing robust options on how it might be improved. It is important that the IUD project provides this evidence base and we agree with Sir Mark’s recommendation that the design of the IUD project should be peer reviewed to ensure it provides a firm platform from which to develop options on how the drainage system on Canvey might be improved.
25. The Environment Agency’s main pumps had some issues:
Several pumps were turned off temporarily by a power cut caused by a lightning strike. The Agency reports that this took several pumps offline for around 15 minutes during the hour of most intense rainfall
Later in the event there was overheating of some of the control panels which switch the pumps on and off. When the panels overheated they tripped out and could only be switched on once they had cooled (after a few minutes)
In some cases debris partially blocked the screens (the metal grilles that sieve out larger debris before it reaches the pumps). This restricted the flow of water into some pumping stations, reducing the efficiency of pumping
26. The Environment Agency reports that it is currently working to address these issues.
27. Some of the people we spoke to (in particular the political representatives) said that the effectiveness of the Environment Agency pumps is now a major concern in the local community – both in the context of their capacity to deal with surface water flooding and in the event of a tidal surge. We agree with Sir Mark’s recommendations that an action plan should be developed to ensure continuous pumping during emergencies; and that an independent review of the pumps is carried out to assess their fitness to deal with tidal and surface water flooding, including examining how the pumps can be made more resilient to power cuts.
28. Further development is planned in a number of locations on Canvey Island. This could cause increased surface run off and put further pressure on the drainage systems. It may also increase the number of properties at risk of events such as this in the future. Government planning policy requires that future development on Canvey must be made sufficiently flood resilient, and that development does not increase overall flood risk.
29. Some of those we spoke to (while they recognised that it was too soon after the event to tell definitively) were concerned that early indications suggested some insurance companies are being reluctant to settle claims, particularly for properties previously affected by the August 2013 flooding event. There have been suggestions that some companies are demanding significant increases in premiums for continued cover.
Public confidence and participation
30. All those we spoke to said there is currently a low level of public trust in Canvey’s flood infrastructure, the effectiveness of how drainage systems are maintained, and (to varying degrees) the organisations involved in response and flood preparedness.
31. Some of those we spoke to, in particular Rebecca Harris MP and the councillors, suggested the following:
There is a need for an increased role for local volunteers. For example, a local volunteer flood warden scheme could be introduced on Canvey, similar to those operating in other areas of the country. This would have practical advantages, for example volunteers could help monitor the drainage systems and reassure vulnerable people in the community. Increasing local participation may also help increase confidence if volunteers act as the “eyes and ears” of the community
The authorities should look into how to improve communications with local people, for example by explaining what is being done to guard against flooding, and giving people information on what they can do to protect their properties
32. We note that Sir Mark’s report makes similar recommendations on enhancing the resilience of the local population, which we support.
Flood Emergency Policy and Incident Management Team, Defra
Map of Canvey Island Drainage System
Annex 2 – Meeting Readouts
This annex gives a summary of the discussions Defra officials had with parties involved in the Canvey Island flooding.
Essex County Council, Police, Essex Fire and Rescue Service and the Environment Agency
We met several key players on Canvey Island on 12 September:
– Cllr Ray Howard
– Essex County Council’s emergency manager
– The police commander for Canvey Island
– Essex Fire and Rescue Service
– Environment Agency
The people we met seem to be on the same side and committed to multi-agency partnership working. We didn’t encounter significant blaming of other parties.
There is a consensus among those we met that operationally the event was well managed in the circumstances. They also recognised there are some lessons to be learned.
All agreed the root problem on 20 July was the unprecedented volume of rain dumped on Canvey Island; combined with the fact the land is below sea level so the water needs to be drained and pumped out over the sea walls. ~100mm fell over 5 hours, and ~80mm in just one of those hours (80mm = 1 month of average rain).
The main issue was that the rain overloaded the complex drainage/sewerage system. In particular the smaller road drains and sewers (mainly owned by the County Council, Anglian Water and various private owners) were not able to get water to EA’s main drainage channels and big pumps fast enough. This is partly because the local drains were not designed to handle this volume of water. Also some drains were partially blocked by rubbish and debris.
The EA big pumps had some issues (a short power cut for about 15 minutes and some overheating, which EA is currently addressing). But EA is confident that its pumps are fit for purpose. EA had cleared its debris screens before the event.
There is a question over the effectiveness of public communications in the emergency, and a lack of clarity over which organisation leads on communications.
The County Council is expected to share its draft “section 19 report” (on what happened in the incident and lessons learned) in late September. This will go into more detail on the issues outlined above.
The County Council Highways Department is planning an announcement in early October, likely to say it will step up activity in clearing its road drains on Canvey Island in future.
Castle Point Borough Council CEO (David Marchant)
We met Castle Point Borough Council on 22 September.
Generally DM thought the response was as good as could be expected given the suddenness and huge volume of rain. However, there are lessons to be learned e.g. improved coordination between responders.
DM thought that public communications in the incident were generally good under the circumstances. However the use of a helicopter to make loud-speaker announcements caused some confusion and was probably a well-intentioned mistake in hindsight
The incident revealed underlying deficiencies in the drainage infrastructure of Canvey, including:
o The sea defences around Canvey are very good (so the major hazard of tidal flood is well addressed). However, the topography of Canvey and the ring of sea defences give it a “saucer shape” which makes it vulnerable to surface water flooding
o The resilience of pumps is an issue. DM wants reassurance that the pumps are fit for purpose. He also wants all pumps to have an alternative power source (currently very few do). And they all need sufficient cooling capacity (some of the EA pumps overheated)
o The main drains are built to a 1:150yr flood standard. But many of the older smaller drains were built to 1:30yr or lesser standard. So there is a systemic problem because in extreme circumstances the small drains can’t get water to the big drains fast enough
o The complex ownership of drainage infrastructure causes uncertainty over who is responsible for maintenance, and hinders emergency planning. The County Council, EA and others currently have a project to map the drainage system and ownership
DM said that it was too soon after the event to say for sure, but early indications were that some insurance companies are being reluctant to settle claims. Some companies are apparently demanding significant increases in premiums for continued cover
Consumer confidence in flooding infrastructure is low. A major concern for the public was the perceived ineffectiveness of the drains and pumps – not just for surface water flooding, but an underlying fear they might not work if Canvey ever suffers from a tidal surge
Rebecca Harris MP and her researcher Andrew Sheldon
We met Rebecca Harris and Mr Sheldon on 22 September.
RH was particularly interested to put forward the views of local residents, and underlined the devastating effects of the 20 July flooding on residents
RH largely agreed with the points made by Castle Point Borough Council (so they are not repeated here). Additional points included:
– RH stressed that constituents want to see improvement in flood preparedness to address concerns on insurance costs, property prices and local economic investment
– RH reported that insurance companies may be demanding unmanageable excesses on flood insurance
– RH stressed strong views from the public that there had been a lack of maintenance of drainage systems and pumps by all parties, and this needed to be addressed
– RH sees a major role for increased local participation in flood defence. For example a local volunteer flood warden scheme could be introduced (similar to other areas of the country). They could monitor drainage systems, look out for the elderly and vulnerable, increase public awareness etc. This would be a way to focus public interest in a positive and empowering way
RH supplied us with evidence from local witnesses (e.g. copies of emails and letters she had received from affected Canvey residents)
We met Anglian Water on 23 September.
AW agree the central problem was that the huge volume of water couldn’t drain away fast enough through the smaller drains, to reach the bigger drains and be pumped away
Problems with the drainage infrastructure: there is a good understanding of the larger (mainly EA owned) conduits. However for many smaller drains there are problems with:
– Location of smaller drains: many of the smaller drains on Canvey are mapped, but many others are not.
– Ownership of smaller drains and responsibility for maintaining them: AW and Highways Dept know where most of their drains are (although there are a lot they may not know about too). Many other drains are privately owned or there is no owner, and often the owner does not realise they own or are responsible for the drain. People don’t understand the rules of riparian
ownership (particularly if they don’t even know they have a drain e.g. under their house in the first place)
– Canvey lake is silted up and needs to be turned back into a flood alleviation measure rather than a leisure amenity
AW, EA and County Council Highways Dept are undertaking a project to map and establish ownership of whole drainage system on Canvey. This will allow a much better evidence base from which to consider improving drainage on Canvey. The project is expected to be complete by spring/summer 2015. AW advised that it can’t be accelerated because the project depends on collecting primary scientific data (e.g. from flow monitoring)
AW are keen to be part of a new cross-agency / community solution. They think the County Council (as LLFA) should lead, although recognise there is no statutory duty to make them do this.
AW suggest a branch of the National Flood Forum should be opened (if it hasn’t already been opened)
AW think there should be more clarity on who members of the public should call in an emergency (one point of contact rather than about six as presently)
AW reported that they have set up partnership meetings with the Environment agency, Essex Highways and Castle Point Borough Council to share the findings of AW’s on-going investigations into Canvey
AW reported that they had investigated reports that the AW pump at the Benfleet crossing into Canvey had failed, contributing to flooding of one of only two access roads to Canvey during the flood event. AW reported that the pump had been checked and it was operating normally on the day, and that it was the volume of rainfall that caused the road to flood (not a pump failure)
Councillor Dave Blackwell (Essex County Councillor for Canvey East, Borough and Canvey Island, Town Councillor for Canvey Island)
We held a telephone meeting with Cllr Blackwell on 25 September
DB reported that during the event on 20 July the public felt they did not get enough help which caused frustration. Some residents took matters into their own hands by closing roads themselves to stop cars driving through the water and causing bow-waves. The use of the police helicopter to give loudspeaker messages to residents caused some frustration and confusion
DB felt that Castle Point Borough Council was not represented enough in the decision making process for flood response. He suggested they should be involved in organising and coordinating agencies during flood response.
DB suggested there could be better coordination between all agencies and that there should be one point of contact for the public
The Borough Council were often considered responsible even when they shouldn’t have been. This reflects a lack of understanding around who is responsible for what (too many cooks). This may have been exacerbated by a lack of information given to the public
During the recovery period there was further frustration amongst the public and it was perceived that there was no clear clean-up process. A lack of physical response such as tankers gave people the perception that nothing was happening
In terms of drainage there are some problem areas, particularly in the central and eastern parts of Canvey where the older drainage systems cannot cope. Increasing levels of development has put further pressure on the infrastructure
Canvey Island has a high water table, increasing the time it takes for water to drain
Drains and gullies are cleared once a year rather than monthly due to cuts in maintenance
The bigger drains are more effective but there are problems with the smaller drains. This is partly due to having various owners and people do not always know/understand their responsibilities. The Integrated Urban Drainage work will help address some of these issues
Canvey Lake is silted up and is used as a recreational area rather than a flood alleviation storage facility. A decision would need to be made over the use and purpose of the lake
Communications was highlighted as being key to engaging local people and improving levels of trust e.g. to explain what is happening, what you can do to protect your property etc
DB stressed that he had been trying to set up a flood warden scheme since last August but was struggling to get support to get it up and running, even though there were 30 or so people interested in joining. The use of flood wardens or other volunteers could be utilised to help vulnerable members of the community and fix property level resilience etc
Funding would need to be considered. For example, would costs associated with improved drainage be shared out, and can people afford to invest in property level protection
Though new development requires a flood risk assessment, further development is planned in a number of locations across Canvey Island putting further stress on the drainage infrastructure.“