Memorandum submitted by Gloucestershire
County Council (FL 84)
1. This is an initial response from Gloucestershire
County Council to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select
2. The flooding and associated events experienced
in Gloucestershire this summer and in July in particular were
both exceptional and dramatic. Indeed, the emergency that quickly
unfolded from 20 July was unprecedented in its scale for this
county. Not only was this an event of international significance,
such was its scale that there were two visits by the Prime Minister
and numerous other ministerial visits to see the impact and the
effectiveness of the response. The Army, Navy and Royal Air Force
were all involved, together with the emergency services, local
authorities, Coast Guard and charitable organisations such as
the Red Cross. Additional resources were brought in from across
the United Kingdom and Europe.
3. The scale of the devastation is well
documented. During the height of the flooding a number of communities
were virtually cut off from access, most notably the town of Tewkesbury.
The situation was seriously exacerbated by the flooding of the
Mythe Water Treatment works operated by Severn Trent, leading
to its shutdown and more than 135,000 homes and 7,500 businesses
being without any mains water for up to 12 days. It was only
on Tuesday 7th August that Severn Trent announced that tap water
was safe to drink; some 17 days after the Emergency began.
4. In addition the Castlemeads electricity
sub station was flooded, resulting in the loss of electricity
to 25-48,000 homes for 2 days. The larger sub station at Walham
was within 2 feet of flooding, only saved by the rapid deployment
of temporary flood defences, its loss would have had a catastrophic
impact affecting as many as 500,000 homes.
5. During the crisis 40 million bottles
of drinking water were distributed and 1300 bowsers were deployed
which is believed to be the total number of bowsers in the country.
Around 200,000 litres of drinking water had to be delivered direct
to hundreds of vulnerable people in their homes.
6. Loss of electricity, drinking water and
sanitation facilities created major logistical challenges for
the agencies dealing with the emergency. More than 5000 homes
and other buildings were affected by flood damage. The dislocation
of the road and rail network was extensive. At times major roads
had to be closed creating huge problems for the agencies dealing
with the crisis and people who needed to travel. For example,
people living 3 miles west of Gloucester had to drive 50 miles
to get into the city when the A40 and A417 were closed by floodwater.
7. At the present time the cost of the damage
to the highways infrastructure in Gloucestershire is estimated
to be as much as £25 million. Hundreds of local businesses
have been severely affected by the flooding at one of the most
important trading times of the year. It has also had a serious
impact on tourism for 2007 with many people cancelling trips or
holidays to the county with further major consequences for the
8. The scale of these events raises a number
of serious issues and questions for a wide range of government
bodies and agencies. The county council is going to use its own
scrutiny process to explore some of these issues and seek action
to mitigate the impact of future flooding events, in the expectation
that they may become more frequent. We would also like to see
these issues explored at a national level through the work of
the Select Committee. The following questions are some of the
initial areas we have identified, but we expect others to emerge
during the course of our investigation:
a. The July floods, although unprecedented,
resulted in the catastrophic failure, or near failure, of critical
utilities leaving tens of thousands of homes and businesses without
essential services for a protracted period of time. The Emergency
highlighted the fact that the main electricity and water installations
in Gloucestershire represent single points of failure in the supply
system. It is not clear what, if any, specific risk assessments
and emergency plans were in place to mitigate any disruption of
the supply network. The question is therefore, what steps are
being taken to improve the protection of those facilities against
future flooding or other events?
b. The effectiveness of rivers and critical
watercourses to cope with large increases of water is of serious
concern. Are rivers maintained as effectively as they should
be, for example through dredging, to ensure they can cope with
unexpected levels of water? Can other critical watercourses,
such as the Horesbere Brook that runs through Longlevens near
Gloucester, where properties were flooded in both June and July,
really be left to the responsibility of riparian owners to maintain
c. The effectiveness of large scale, multi-million
pound flood defences eg in Cheltenham, needs to be examined to
ensure that the defences did the job that they were designed to
d. How can an effective system be established
that ensures land owners take responsibility for dealing with
the run off of water from their land, for example through the
provision and maintenance of ditches?
e. Why is house building continuing to take
place in flood plains and how can both the planning system and
the agencies have the knowledge and power to influence such building
be improved to ensure homes don't get built in areas of risk?
f. Why is there a lack of investment in what
is widely acknowledged as a largely inadequate and outdated highway
drainage system? Why does the government have targets and performance
indicators for matters such as road condition, but no such targets
for highway drainage?
g. What is being invested in the resilience
of flood defences in Gloucestershire and how does this compare
with what is actually needed to ensure we have the necessary systems
and infrastructure for the 21st Century?
h. What financial protection is available
for the people whose homes and businesses have been devastated
by flooding, both to help them get back on their feet, but also
with regards to them getting future insurance cover and, indeed,
being able to sell their houses if they so wish?
i. What has been the social and economic
impact of these recent events?
9. In addition to these questions, we will
be also examining the effectiveness of our emergency management
planning and response. We believe the local community and all
the services involved in dealing with the emergency were heroic
in their efforts, but we also want to learn so we can respond
even better in the face of such circumstances in the future.
10. We hope that you find this initial contribution
useful. Many of these questions have national relevance and don't
just apply to Gloucestershire. We would like the opportunity
to provide you with further information as our scrutiny process
progresses and contribute to the evidence sessions that are expected
to take place from 10th October 2007 in order to help ensure that
the views of the people of Gloucestershire are heard.
Chief Executive, Gloucestershire County Council