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Cornwall flood ignites defences row

Severe flooding in Cornwall this week reignited the row over “very short sighted” government spending cuts to flood defences.

The issue was revived at Prime Minister’s Questions when MP Ben Bradshaw implied that the Cornish floods, which caused bridge, road and railway closures, illustrated the “false economy” of the Comprehensive Spending Review’s “slash” in flood defences.

Prime minister David Cameron rebutted the comment and said the flood defence budget “is roughly the same as what was spent over the past four years” and that flood defences had been “protected […] because that is important”.

Budget cuts

The budget is now £2.1bn over the next four years, compared to £2.36bn spent over the last four years.

However, an internal Environment Agency National Capital Programme Management Services (NCPMS) communiqué sent following the spending review and seen by NCE said the cuts will translate to “a 27% reduction in the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management capital budget from 1 April 2011”.

Regarding staff numbers, the document said: “The reduction will need to take place more rapidly than we had anticipated.”

The £2.1bn budget “is likely to mean any significant new flood defence schemes will be shelved,” Hydro International stormwater director Alex Stephenson told NCE.

“Spending could be one fifth lower next year than this year”

Alex Stephenson

“Spending could be one fifth lower next year than this year,” he said.

Former ICE President Jean Venables also pointed out that the cuts were “a very short sighted way of not spending money”.

She said that although it is hard from the numbers released so far to anticipate the real impact on spending, “we are all agreed that it is a reduction”.

Flood defences have to be seen “as an investment and not as merely a spend,” she said.

Her comments echoed the ICE’s earlier statement that “for every pound spent on flood defences we save eight in the future in terms of reduced damage”.

Last week Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith told delegates at NCE’s Flood Management conference that “there will be schemes that are urgently needed that won’t happen”.

Flood defences have to be seen “as an investment and not as merely a spend”

Jean Venables

The Environment Agency told NCE that it is waiting to find out whether there will be funding for a planned £5.5M flood defence extension in Keswick, which was badly hit by last year’s Cumbrian floods (News last week).

Following the floods in Cornwall last week, Cornwall Council said a landslide has blocked a section of railway and a number of roads and bridges remain closed for clearing and inspection by engineers.

The current estimate of costs for flood recovery is £40,000.

Some bridges suffered aesthetic damage such as wing wall collapses and displaced masonry, but there is “no major structural damage that we know of at this time,” said Cornwall Council structures group manager Rob Causton.

Some 100 minor bridges have been inspected, and two remain closed for further inspection.


Four major bridges have been kept closed as a precautionary measure while diving inspections are carried out this week. High waters have kept the structures submerged.

“We couldn’t get to them or inspect them from the river bank,” said Causton.

One of these is the 12th Century Lostwithiel Bridge, which requires special attention due to its Scheduled Ancient Monument status. “That’s going to be closed for a while,” said Causton. The others may be reopened more quickly if they are deemed structurally sound.

A landslip on the 17 November meant the First Great Western railway between Par and Newquay had to be closed.

Work to clear the line is ongoing and, although it was hoped that services would be restored by next Monday, the date for reopening was postponed by a week.

All other rail and road access through Cornwall is fully recovered after more than 50 workers were involved in clearing roads, drains and gullies of debris.

The Environment Agency said more than 250 properties were damaged, with Losthwithiel the worst hit area.

It said the majority of its 30 flood defences across Cornwall performed well, but a screen on the flood defence at Pentewan became blocked causing 15 properties to be flooded.

The Agency said the flooding was caused by a combination of surface water and small streams overtopping their banks.

Cumbria floods

Cumbria County Council this week appointed Morgan Sindall to rebuild the Navvies footbridge, and invited tenders to rebuild the Northside bridge, after last year’s floods destroyed the originals.

The new £1.7M Navvies Bridge will be a 68m long span steel bow-arch bridge over the River Derwent.

Its lack of supporting piers will make it more flood resilient than the old structure, and at 3m it will be 1.8m wider to better accommodate cyclists.

Capita Symonds has undertaken design and planning work for the council.

Morgan Sindall will now complete the design and start on site in January 2011, by demolishing the old bridge remains.

The new crossing will be finished by May 2011.The Northside Bridge replacement is the largest of all Cumbria’s bridge recovery projects.

The council said it plans to replace the bridge with a 152m long, three span composite steel/concrete highway bridge.

“The bridge is to be constructed on a similar line to the previous structure, and is to be opened as early as possible and by May 2012 [at the latest],” said the council, which is looking to award a contract in May 2011.

The remains of the collapsed Northside Bridge have already been cleared.

Detailed design work is still ongoing (News last week). Meanwhile, the repair of Workington (Calva) Bridge has been ongoing all summer, with completion expected early in the New Year.

  • Jo Stimpson

Readers' comments (1)

  • Interesting that your article relates the impact of flooding / rainwater to be affecting bridges, which have been blocked or structurally affected; and landslips, again which structurally affect adjacent infrastructure and properties.

    Would any change in flood defence funding (based on the legislative responsibility of those structures) really affect those causes of flooding as the flood defence funding would not have been used to repair/ rebuild those structures.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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