Almost as one final insult to residents who had suffered during the major flooding of July 2014, the Castle Point Council flood scrutiny committee identified one further cause of the flooding, Canvey Island residents themselves!
It appears that members consider residents pour too much cooking oil into the drainage system, thus adding to the reasons why so many houses were flooded during the heavy rainfall!
Previously residents had heard the Essex Highways representative admit the gulley cleaning scheduling had fallen short of the necessary standards, that Anglian Water had found damage to the drainage pipework had been caused by developers and utility companies. The Environment Agency had found their pumps had failed for short spells due to design flaws and that dykes were in need of more regular maintenance and that some areas of dykes / watercourses had been filled in, adding to the restricted flow of surface water to the pumps.
Last evening’s Flood Scrutiny meeting was felt necessary as the Lead Flood Authority, Essex County Council, the Government Office for Science (GOfS), and DEFRA had each, in their Reports, identified serious shortcomings directly attributable to the local authority, Castle Point Borough Council.
The Canvey Green Belt Campaign group had assembled these identified shortcomings and suggested to the Scrutiny Committee that residents should hear the local authority’s response to them.
The Castle Point Council officer assigned to respond to the individual Peer criticisms denied any flaws in either current or historical policy and decision making.
In the light of the level of criticisms of Castle Point Council, contained in both the Essex Lead Flood Authority, the GOfS and DEFRA Reports, and the officer’s refuting of all, the only explanation appears that the blame rests with local decision makers themselves, our local councillors!
There can be no denying that the flooding suffered by residents caused serious damage to property, major inconvenience and distressing fears that the level of flooding may happen again once the immediate maintenance schedules revert back to normal.
This should have been an opportunity for committee members to have questioned the officer on the policy and implications of continuing to develop housing in a Critical Drainage Area and Flood Zone 3A whilst new builds will not be covered by the Insurance industry and Government’s Flood Re scheme. This may well leave home owners with difficulty in obtaining House insurance against flooding.
During the New Local Plan Task and Finish group meetings this same officer plus, Brandon Lewis the housing Minister, ex head of the planning Inspectorate Lord Pitt and the Planning Inspector invited by our MP to address a councillors training session, Keith Holland have made clear that Flood Risk is a Policy Constraint on Housing. There appears a relutance to apply this constraint.
Whilst the meeting was not publicised as well as the previous scrutiny meetings, no Press were in attendance and just 17 Residents were in the public gallery. Whilst no organisation enjoys criticism, the level of flood damage and distress deserved being openly and transparently, publically addressed.
The officer made clear that the currently and previously employed, civil servants had worked within Planning Policy and Guidance in their recommendations.
So we are left with a dilemna of whether the Government Office for Science, the lead Flood Authority Essex County Council and the Environment Agency were wrong to criticise Castle Point Council, whether these were not actual criticisms, whether councillors rather than officers were being criticised, or indeed these comments were not in fact actual criticisms!
The points “suggested” that CPBC may like to address during the scrutiny meeting are reproduced below. The speech marks identify some areas of concern of our local authority made by either the Lead Flood Authority Essex County Council, the Government Office for Science, the Environment Agency or DEFRA:
Reliance on Inadequate Capacity of the Drainage System.
“Canvey Island is an area that has historical susceptibility to flooding and following the severe 1953 coastal surge, has considerable sea wall defences. As a very low lying area, over thick layers of clay surrounded by sea defence walls the importance of the drainage and associated systems is fundamental to managing the rainfall that the area receives.”
“The flat topography of the Island, combined with the densely developed urban areas and covering of open watercourses has created an exceptional reliance on the designed drainage system. In addition, a large amount of Canvey’s drainage system was designed prior to the introduction of national design standards and is therefore likely to be of lesser capacity than new infrastructure.”
Level of Past and Proposed future Development.
“Older drainage systems may have been sufficient at the time of construction, but increased development and subsequent pressure on the already strained drainage system has meant that in some locations the capacity is not sufficient to provide effective drainage and mitigate flood risk. As a result of this, some areas of the Island have suffered from a history of surface water flooding in more moderate events than those of 20th July 2014”
“Due to its location, topography and urban design, Canvey Island as a whole exhibits a significant level of underlying flood risk, with large areas of the island particularly vulnerable to flooding.”
“Poor historical recognition of flood risk in the planning process and increases in areas of impermeable surfaces have led to further difficulties in draining a very low lying area which has historically been very susceptible to all sources of flooding.”
3. Building Control
Lack of enforcement of Planning Conditions
“It is also possible that drainage systems have been misconnected, or not built or maintained as proposed, which are causing local issues. Compliance with planning conditions and enforcement is a matter for Local Councils rather than ourselves.”
4. Surface Water Management Plan
Flawed and irrelevant document.
“We (EA) do consider the outputs of the South Essex Surface Water Management Plan, produced by Essex County Council as the LLFA and within which Canvey Island falls, when commenting upon the adequacy of surface water management proposals.”
“The (Surface Water Management Plan) methodology is applicable for those areas of south Essex where there are significant variations in the land level to generate surface water flow paths during rain fall events, but therefore is not applicable to the flat topography and subsequent reliance upon piped infrastructure and pumping stations found on Canvey Island. As a result it does not provide an accurate reflection of known surface water flood risk on the Island,”
5. Following of Environment Agency Advice through the CPBC
“We (EA) comment on the adequacy of surface water management proposals for any site greater than 1 hectare. This statutory power was set out in revisions to the General Development Procedure Order (GDPO) published on 1 October 2006. Since this date we have advised Local Councils on the adequacy of Flood Risk Assessments which includes ensuring that flood risk will not be increased as a result of the proposed development. This advice is primarily based on managing any surface water run-off leaving the site. It is however only possible to advise Castle Point Borough Council on flood risk and how it may affect a site based on the best available information at
the time. We are currently working in partnership with Anglian Water, Castle Point Borough Council and Essex County Council to model the urban drainage system on Canvey Island.
It is the responsibility for Local Councils to assess the drainage proposals for
developments less than 1 hectare. Since 1 October 2008 planning permission has been required for converting front gardens into impermeable driveways, prior to that date this could be done under permitted development rights.”
6. Sequential and Exception Test
“Concerns about the Sequential Test should also be directed to Castle Point Borough Council. We (the EA) will highlight the need for Local Councils to apply this Test, and the Exception Test, in our planning responses but it is not within our remit to advise on its application as we do not have a detailed understanding of the availability, suitability and viability of alternative sites.”
“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 … does not increase overall flood risk.” “Our remit is to advise Local Councils whether Flood Risk Assessments supporting planning applications comply with flood risk policy set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). If there is a local need to consider applications differently then this should be set out in the Local Plan for the area.”
“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.”
The officer suggested that flooding from surface water and that from the sea should be addressed separately, despite the statement above having been attributed to his own Chief Executive!
Disconnection with Residents, leading to lack of meaningful communication of information.
“The local authority has a role as a category one responder to warn and inform their residents of risks and respond during such flood events. Castle Point Borough Council receive the same weather forecasts and advice as other category one responders”
“At least 250 from 20th July – 12th August. Potentially greater number as enquiries received through various sources (Elected Members, Officers etc.), although some repeat enquiries were possible.“
Criticism within the Report and Review documents of the July flood incident suggest that communication between the public and the Responsible Agencies has been limited or confusing.
It appeared that local residents suffering from being flooded first turned to the local authority. Castle Point Council use an outside agency, Southend Careline, to handle out of hours emergency calls. This outside agency were unable to handle the number of calls.
“16:12 Request from the Southend Careline for Sandbags to CPBC CCC. Careline was informed that CPBC does not hold stocks of emergency sandbags.”
Not only do Canvey Island residents appear unaware that Castle Point Council do not have a “sand- bag” policy, but also the appointed helpline agency were equally unaware.
There appears very limited awareness of the CPBC “Be aware, Be prepared and Be Resiliant” programme.
Castle Point Council issued a number of messages during the flood event via social media. CPBC should be in full knowledge that of their 2,054 Twitter followers, given the population distribution, just 883 are likely to be residing in Canvey Island.
Likewise the CPBC Facebook page has received just 106 “Likes.”
This indicates a lack of social media communication achieved !
The dis-engagement between the local authority and it’s residents was particularly apparent during the August 2013 and July 2014 times of crises.