Leaked report shows town floods ‘could have been prevented’
- Credit: Archant
Flood chiefs have been accused of failing to act on an alarming report that called for urgent improvements to a town's defences - nine years before tidal surges wreaked havoc.
In 2004, the Environment Agency (EA) report called for action to bolster Lowestoft's defences, but nothing was done before catastrophic flooding in 2013.
The documents leaked by a former EA employee show the organisation admitted in 2004 that the town had "largely been ignored" for its flood risk and added "no maintenance work has been undertaken to what defences do exist".
The former employee who disclosed the documents said: "The 2013 floods could have been prevented if the agency followed the report's recommendations.
"It was a six-month study which outlined essential and serious problems of flooding which were obvious. But serious mistakes were made."
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The report shows the EA did not consider Lowestoft as at a "significant" risk of flooding, despite areas of the town being listed on the agency's own flood risk maps.
It also said flood defences at Lake Lothing and the town's outer harbour only offered protection against minor events and could not protect the town from extreme floods: so-called 'once in 200 year' events.
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Waveney MP Peter Aldous said the report "made clear Lowestoft was in significant risk" and added that he would invite the Environment Agency to answer why its recommendations were not pursued.
He said: "If you read the report there are seven options, one of which is to do nothing, which is clearly what they did even though they rejected the report."
The recommendations include multiple methods for protecting some 961 homes and 435 businesses at risk from tidal flooding - including two which met strict requirements for emergency funding from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
The documents were leaked amid news that work would begin on nearly 1km of flood walls near the town's harbour, while Mr Aldous said a further £40.3m was needed for a tidal surge barrier on the outer harbour.
Mr Aldous added: "The report shows these defences would have achieved grant aid. If we had followed the report we may have needed more defences but nevertheless we would have started from a place with defences in place."
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency denied the report was "suppressed" and added: "We had some reservations about the quality of the report and needed more evidence to support its findings.
"This resulted in a follow up report published in August 2008. The updated report showed that the options proposed in the 2004 study were unlikely to be publicly acceptable or economically viable.
"The Lowestoft Standards of Protection report (2008) refined our understanding of the town's flood risk and we could not justify, in economic terms, constructing flood walls around the harbour.
"However, after the 2013 tidal surge Waveney District Council (now East Suffolk District Council) decided to revisit the viability of improved protection to the town.
"In lieu of a capital scheme, the Environment Agency worked with the council to implement a temporary barrier solution for the harbour."
1) Lowestoft 'ignored':
The report admitted Lowestoft was "ignored operationally and is generally not considered to be at significant risk. However whilst this is generally the case the flood risk area plans show that it will flood in the future."
2) The defences were not up to scratch:
Defences on the outer harbour only protected against between 1:1 year and 1:50 year flooding events, compared to a required standard of 1:200 year events.
3) Roads built 'under flood level':
The Lowestoft southern relief road was built at a lower level than the extreme water level, in some places by more than a metre, which would cause the road to "act as a flood spillway".
4) Salt water was in the broads:
Ocean water was finding a way into the broads and Lake Lothing - a risk for tidal surges.
5) Annual damage cost more than £2m:
The annual average damages were costing approximately £2.3 million per year when adjusted for inflation.