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Action is taken to stop floods returning to Croscombe

By Shepton Mallet Journal  |  Posted: October 26, 2012

  • The flooding at Croscombe in July

  • Harvey Siggs, Dick Ackworth, Peter Graham, Clive Mitchell, Nick Edwards and Steven Chinnock

  • Steven Chinnock at work with The Whale

  • The team – Adam Atkins, Steven Chinnock and Nick Edwards

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When floods ravaged the village of Croscombe earlier this year, desperate and fed-up residents deluged authorities with their own torrent of despair pleading for action once and for all.

The flash flooding on July 11 was the latest in a string of severe flooding episodes which have ravaged the village for years.

Who could forget scenes that day of villager Dick Acworth and George Inn landlord Peter Graham wielding sledgehammers to bash holes in the river wall to give an escape route for the tons of water cascading along the main road.

But residents are now breathing a huge sigh of relief as they see on the ground action being taken regularly by the highways teams to ensure drains and gullies are kept clear of debris.

And this month also sees the publication of the long-awaited Flood Investigation Report into the village's problems.

Diverting run-offs, installing cross drains, and new gullies, and keeping the opening smashed in the river wall – but installing in the hole a removable barrier that could be opened up in emergencies – are just some of the options under consideration,

The report has been compiled by Somerset County Council as the lead local authority under its duty to investigate, with advice from the Environment Agency, and Wessex Water plus input from Croscombe parish councillors and residents with their own on-the-spot local knowledge.

Croscombe has suffered numerous flooding incidents over the years. Some villagers claim the problems are caused by the gradual raising of the road surface by resurfacing work over the years, the eradication of raised walls round properties which stemmed flow and also the building of new homes.

The most notable flooding problems occurred in February 1990, March 1996, August 1996, December 2008 and November 2011 and of course July 11 this year which saw eight properties flooded out.

A total of 29.2mm of rain fell in the space of five-and-a-half hours. Torrents of water poured down the steep sided valley and the huge amount of water falling in such a short space of time was too much for the gullies to take.

The result saw people stranded in homes, rescuers wading waist-high through the torrent and thousands of pounds worth of damage left in the floodwater's wake.

Determined residents took sledgehammers to knock holes in the river walls so the torrent could be directed off the road and back into the river.

And last week saw grateful parish councillors and residents turn out to say thanks to one of the teams from the county council's Glastonbury-based highways depot who are among those doing their best to ensure that they never face such a nightmare scenario again.

"These teams have a really hard task ensuring the gullies and drains are clear. It is the devil's own job," said Andrew Turner, Somerset's highways services manager.

"The drains and gullies get blocked so easily, especially at this time of year with so many fallen leaves."

He said that Croscombe's latest flooding nightmare in July was sparked by very intense localised heavy rain.

"I was sat in my office in Glastonbury with the sun shining in when people burst in and said Croscombe needs help. The heavy rainfall poured down the valley and the river and gullies and water courses just could not cope." said Mr Turner.

Nick Edwards, Steven Chinnock and Adam Atkins are just one of the teams of unsung heroes out on the roads in all weathers checking and cleaning out the 132,000 gullies around Somerset to prevent flooding occurring.

And when the winter hits they switch from their mighty Whale machine to snow ploughs and gritters to keep the roads clear of snow and ice.

The Whale vehicle weighs 18 tons fully loaded and can cart away five tons of waste from the gullies and drains.

It also carries five tons of water to flush them out.

Cleaning out the gullies presents its own hazards. Concrete and rubble dumped illegally by builders and householders are just some of the problems to be sorted along with discarded hypodermic needles, oil, petrol and paint cans.

"But we've never found any hidden treasure or gold – yet," joked Nick.

"Many people just don't appreciate what we have to deal with – they just moan because we hold the traffic up."

Mendip District Council leader Harvey Siggs, who is also Somerset's cabinet member for highways, and Croscombe parish councillor Clive Mitchell met up with Steve and Adam to personally thank them for their hard work.

Councillor Siggs said the work of Nick, Steve and Adam and their colleagues was absolutely vital.

"We have 132,000 gullies and it costs us the best part of a £12.2 million a year to keep them clear – and it is absolutely imperative that we do.

"While we are proactive at clearing gullies we ask householders to be proactive too.

"And go and have a look yourselves. If you see a gully blocked you can clear it yourself.

"It could take you 30 seconds to help divert an absolute disaster – and we don't prosecute you.

"The parish councils and the people are our eyes and ears in preventing problems happening.

"Croscombe's attitude of self-help and co-operation is one that should be heartily applauded."

And Mr Mitchell told Mr Turner and the team: "Thanks to you on behalf of all the villagers here in Croscombe for all the work you do – it is absolutely invaluable."

JULY FLOODING IN CROSCOMBE

Photos: Damage and debris after Croscombe flash flooding

Photos: A week of Somerset flood and storm damage in pictures

Mendip feels full force of flash floods after torrential rain

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