‘We’ve never seen it this bad’: How floods are hitting Broads boat businesses
PUBLISHED: 06:32 07 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:05 10 March 2020
Copyright: Archant 2020
For the last five months George Elliott’s boat yard has been taken over by the river.
For the last five months George Elliott's boat yard has been taken over by the river.
He has put a wooden plank down to act as a walkway over the flooded floor and moved his plug sockets to the ceiling - but there is nothing he can do to stop the rising river.
In his 22 years at Ludham Bridge Boat Yard, the 35-year old has never seen such constant flooding.
'It has been continuous this winter,' Mr Elliott said. 'The river is a foot higher than usual and the water is just not running away.'
He said his yard has been in at least a couple of inches of water all winter and over Christmas he could not get into his workshop.
High river levels around the Broads this winter have not caused the widespread flooding which devastated other parts of England.
But the constant creep of the river has disrupted businesses and sparked fears about the much more serious flooding climate change is expected to bring.
Dykes built either side of the River Ant at Ludham Bridge, as part of a flood alleviation project, take some water during floods, but once full, Mr Elliott says, the water just drains back into the river and into his yard.
'I'm getting so annoyed and I feel we get forgotten,' he said. 'We want some answers.'
He has blamed the rising levels on the lack of dredging on the River Ant and the Bure which it runs in to.
His neighbour at Ludham Bridge, Tony Lumbard, was born in the home he now lives in and remembers dredgers working the Ant when he was a boy in the 1960s.
'You didn't used to be able to touch the bottom of the river, but now there are problems with boats running aground,' the 59-year old businessman said.
He fears his home is also being damaged by the wet ground and called for more dredging.
But the Broads Authority said two areas of the Ant had been dredged in the last five years and it was 'not a high priority'.
They said they had dredged 26,000 cubic metres of sediment from the Bure, which the Ant, feeds into, between 2016 and 2019.
It only dredges rivers to keep them navigable rather than to stop flooding. It is the job of the Environment Agency to look after flood defences.
The Environment Agency gave engineering firm BAM Nuttall a £150m contract in 2001 to strengthen the Broads' flood defences.
Engineers built flood banks and dug new dykes, but that contract ends next year.
It is not clear what will happen after that and the Agency said it was still working on plans.
Four miles away from Ludham Bridge at Potter Heigham the high river levels are also hurting businesses.
Robin Richardson has been working at Phoenix Fleet Ltd for more than 40 years.
They hire, build and pilot boats under the bridge across the River Thurne.
But high river levels have decimated the pilot part of their business as the water is too high to get boats through.
The number of boats they pilot has collapsed from more than 10,000 a year in the 1990s to just 600 last year.
It also stops them working on larger boats as they can't get them under the bridge. The yard itself has been flooded since October.
'It used to come up for two or three days and then go down again but now the river is a foot higher than usual all the time,' said Mr Richardson. 'We have never known such constant high water.
'It is depressing to come to work every day knowing you will spend the day in three to four inches of water.'
He added: 'The water just doesn't seem to be running out, but it can't just be climate change because I've spoken to people on the southern Broads who have had no flooding issues.'
On the opposite bank of the Thurne, flooding also hurt businesses over Christmas when the river burst its banks flooding the Lathams store and the car park around Herbert Woods.
The sandbags are still out around Lathams and assistant manager Brian Prestoe said they were well prepared for flooding.
All stock is raised off the floor and they have water pumps on hand to clean up, he said.
Flood warden Paul Rice, from volunteer group Broads Watch, said the problems were widespread.
'We need to find out what is going on,' he said. 'We had this 20-year flood alleviation scheme, but some people think it is not working. There have been regular floods at Potter Heigham, Horning, Ludham Bridge and Wroxham.'
-Raising the quay
Latest data from the Environment Agency shows the county's biggest river, the Yare, is currently rated 'exceptionally high', the highest ranking.
Reedham on the Yare was home to one of the flood alleviation scheme's first projects in 2002.
The riverbank was reinforced with a concrete wall and steel.
Colin Sanderson, from Sanderson Marine Craft, said the wall had helped but he doubted how long it would protect them from the rising river.
'We've had to raise our quay in front of the yard by two feet,' he said. 'We keep putting it up a bit.
'I have been here my whole life, 70 years, and the river is a lot higher now than it used to be.
'The defences are working, but we have had problems with water getting through the defences and up the drains then flooding us from behind.'
-Is dredging the answer?
Businesses on the Broads called for more dredging of rivers to deal with floods.
They argue it would make the riverbed deeper, meaning it could hold more water and at low tide more water would drain away.
But Dan Hoare, head of construction at the Broads Authority, said they were not dredging to protect communities from flooding, but to keep rivers navigable.
He said the Authority had already dredged the Bure from Stokesby to its mouth.
Mr Hoare said: 'The science behind tidal river flow, dredging, and flood risk is complex, which is why the Environment Agency uses an enormous amount of data to monitor and model river levels.
'The Broads Authority acknowledge that this complexity leads to widespread misconceptions about the role and benefits of dredging in a tidal river system.'
He also said dredging takes up 60pc of the construction team's time.
-Have your say here on flooding on the Broads