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‘Too close for comfort’ - Fresh demands for action on town’s flooding problems

PUBLISHED: 11:41 28 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:41 28 October 2020

Cllr Harry Clarke (pictured) is concerned about the Dereham Stream's capacity. Image: Noah Vickers

Cllr Harry Clarke (pictured) is concerned about the Dereham Stream's capacity. Image: Noah Vickers

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Renewed calls for action on flooding have been made after several days of heavy rain left water levels in the Dereham area “too close for comfort”.

Toftwood resident Jan Smith had her garage completely flooded in 2016 and she said she was worried history would repeat itself in the recent rains.

“The water was ready to come over the bank.” said Ms Smith. “The stream desperately needs cleaning - they’ve done a bit, but they don’t maintain it. That’s half the battle.

“The county council needs to get their act together.” she said. “The flooding has been going on for years, and every time there’s a rain we report it, but nobody tends to do anything.

“The residents are paying their council tax for services they’re not getting.”

Another resident, who did not want to be named, said: “We’ve got friends who were flooded out and we really need somebody to sort out the drains.”

“When you see cascading water rushing down the road, you say to yourself: this isn’t right. It needs to have some money spent on it.” he added.

“The amount of water flowing through the Dereham stream is probably tenfold what it was 30 years ago.” said Preston Gilding, who lives near the regularly-flooded A47 underpass. “It just can’t cope with the amount of water that comes into it.”

At a town council meeting last week, councillor Chris Bunting asked Mark Ogden, a Norfolk County Council flood team representative, why Breckland still did not have a Surface Water Management Plan (SWMP) - despite almost every other district having one.

Mr Ogden said the absence of a plan was “a bit of an anomaly”, explaining that when his team devised the SWMP scheme in 2011, they “didn’t get the buy-in” they needed from Breckland District Council.

“I was not happy with that answer,” said Mr Bunting, “as I am sure residents of Dereham wouldn’t be either.

“I was shocked to find that no surface water management plan has been put in place despite Dereham being one of the most vulnerable towns in the county in terms of a number of properties at risk.

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In a statement later confirmed by Breckland District Council, a Norfolk County Council spokesperson said: “We are no longer carrying out district-wide Surface Water Management Plans as we focus our efforts on locations that have experienced flooding or have a high surface water flood risk.

“Following the flooding that affected Dereham in 2016, we are working closely with Breckland District Council on a flood risk study. We will be in a position to share more details on this study by mid-November.”

At last week’s council meeting, councillor Harry Clarke asked that a Zoom conversation between residents and the relevant authorities be organised as soon as possible.

Mr Clarke said: “Whether it’s surface water flooding, or the Dereham Stream bursting its banks, it’s not a new issue. I first raised it in 2011, and since then we’ve had the 2016 deluge, a number of reports, some drainage board action and the recent September problems.

“Many residents are worried every time we get a hard downpour. It’s not good enough.”

Mr Clarke said that the current absence of a plan represented a “lack of leadership” on the issue.

“I’m sure residents would be pleased that Breckland is working on this… but how? Where are they reporting to and how much expertise is there locally at Breckland?”

“What residents want is clear action,” he added, “rather than statements of the obvious. We need proper leadership on this.”

County councillor Phillip Duigan said that he recognised the recent rains had brought water levels “too close for comfort” in some parts of Dereham.

“The overall capacity of the system is so near to 100% that there isn’t any sort of wriggle room if something does go wrong.” said Mr Duigan.

“It’s a bit like a traffic jam,” he added. “You only need one car to break down, in the wrong place, and you can soon have gridlock.”


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