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Saturday, January 12, 2013
Standing at the bar chatting to one of his regulars, Welney publican Dennis Birch raised a glass to toast the end of a tricky couple of months.
There was an overwhelming sense of relief from the landlord of the Elgood’s-owned Lamb and Flag as for the first time in two months traffic flowed freely past his pub along the A1101 heading towards Littleport, Ely and Cambridge.
The route through Welney was shut on November 28 after heavy rainfall caused the River Ouse level at Welney Causeway to rise and spill over on to the flood plains, built to store excess water.
It was the third time in 2012 that the A1101 at Welney was shut, but while the two previous closures lasted around a fortnight, the route from the Hundred Foot Bridge to Suspension Bridge remained closed for 46 days and reopened on Thursday evening this week.
In the 13 years Mr Birch has run the pub, he has only known one occasion when the road shut for longer, when water depth levels reached 30 inches and flooded the commuter route from October 2006 to March 2007.
The closure of the road transforms the village into a cul-de-sac and leaves motorists having to turn around and endure a 30-mile detour.
“After the last couple of months we’ve had with the wet weather keeping the road closed for so long, I am hoping it won’t happen again this year,” Mr Birch said.
“We lost nearly half our trade, especially over Christmas when we had bookings cancelled because people couldn’t get here. We did have a number of years where it didn’t flood after it was closed for so long and we had a really good summer but all the momentum we had went, thanks to the road being closed for 46 days.”
Mr Birch said Sunday sittings, which usually attract more than 100 people, have struggled to reach 50 customers and says the pub has lost £60,000 in takings.
The Welney Washes were built in the 18th century to take floodwater in the Fens and beyond as the wetlands were reclaimed for farming.
Over the centuries, the area between the Delph and tidal Ouse has become a haven for wildlife. Since the mid-1970s, however, a combination of factors has led to more regular summer floods and longer, deeper winter flooding.
When the road is closed, villagers often report seeing motorists driving through the flooded stretch to avoid the long detour and many have to be rescued after being stuck.
“Apart from the fall in trade, the next big problem we have is lorries turning around in our car park after realising they won’t go much further,” Mr Birch continued.
“They just churn the car park up and leave pot holes everywhere. They go on the verges too and I think highways [authority] should contribute to the repair work.
“I wonder if people see the state it is in and think ‘if the car park is in this state, what state will the pub be in?’ All of this is down to the road being shut. I was considering putting fencing up to stop the lorries turning around but then they would back up the road past the school.”
Giles Landscapes, another Welney business, was also affected by the road closure and had to cope with increased fuel costs for their 11 vehicles.
Owner Roger Giles, 74, has estimated the company paid £500 a day extra for petrol during the road closure. He added: “This is a beautiful place but I have to admit all this bad weather is starting to wear a bit thin.”
A spokesman for Norfolk County Council, the highways authority, has said the road is opened and closed on advice given to officers from the Environment Agency.
“We are often asked why we don’t re-open it when the water is shallow but you can’t see what’s happened to the surface since the road was closed,” he said.
“There is a risk people could drive off the edge of the road without noticing – especially if it’s foggy.”
He added: “We did once look into the possibility of raising the road but the cost was just prohibitive and the road is likely to remain as it is for the foreseeable future.”