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Defra dam test delay

Dam experts accuse Defra of stalling over inspection timetable.

Ulley Dam

Breaking point: Engineers fear a repeat of the 2007 Ulley Dam collapse

The government has rejected calls by reservoir experts to implement a timetable for inspections of dams, heightening fears of a major structural failure.

The British Dam Society (BDS) had written to the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) demanding it produce a timetable for the registration, inspection and risk assessment of reservoirs between 10,000m3 and 25,000m3, warning that failure to do so could result in collapse (NCE 1 November). Production of the timetable was a key recommendation of the Pitt Review into the 2007 floods.

But environment minister Richard Benyon has written back to the BDS rejecting the urgency for a new timetable.

The Pitt Review recommended reservoirs between 10,000m3 and 25,000m3 be assessed and categorised to see whether they require 10-yearly inspections. Currently only reservoirs above 25,000m3 are registered with the Environment Agency and subject to 10-yearly inspections laid out in the 1975 Reservoirs Act.

The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 - developed to implement the Pitt Review findings - calls for a two phase approach to revamping the risk assessment regime.

Phase one will see reservoirs above 25,000m3 that are deemed to pose little risk to the public drop out of ten yearly statutory inspections. This is due to begin on 1 April 2013. But there is no timetable for the planned phase two, which would see more reservoirs added in to the 10-yearly inspection cycle.

Benyon said a date for phase two was “rather less certain”.

“We will need to consider the evidence of the general hazards created by smaller raised reservoirs, as well as the costs and benefits of reducing the threshold, including that of the burden on small business in particular will not significantly increase,” said Benyon in the letter.

Reservoir Panel engineer Andy Hughes said he was “very disappointed” with Benyon’s response, blaming Defra’s lack of action on money.

“The policy of the government is for the regulation to be cost neutral,” said Hughes.

“But what we seem to be heading for is an Act that will see people’s [dams] drop out but not [people] bringing [in] the other ones,” said Hughes.

He added that there were numerous small dams under 25,000m3 capacity that would pose a great risk to the public if they collapsed during heavy rain.

“It’s [a collapse] that has not happened yet,” said Hughes.

He added that he has had anumber of phone calls from dam owners in the past week as a result of the heavy rain where there has been risk of overtopping.

BDS vice chairman Ian Hope shared Hughes’ disappointment.

“These are manmade structures,” said Hope. “They need the oversight of qualified engineers.”

Hope and Hughes said Defra’s likely stalling over the implementation of the phase two amendments to the Act was down to lobbying from farmers and other reservoir owners wanting to avoid extra costs.


Government increases spending on flood defences

The government has announced that it will spend an extra £120M to boost flood defences over the next three years.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said that half the funding will be earmarked for schemes that are linked to economic growth, with the money allocated through the Partnership Funding framework, a scheme introduced in 2011 that relies on co-funding from businesses, developers, local authorities and other sources.

The remaining £60M will be spent speeding up the delivery of up to 50 flood defence schemes that have already been approved.

The announcement of extra cash is being viewed as a U-turn by the government, as it cut flood defence spending when it came into office from £665M in 2010-11 to £540M for each year until 2014-15.

Alexander’s announcement came after two weeks of torrential rain caused widespread flooding across the UK. Latest figures show that approximately 1,800 properties have flooded in the last two weeks, while flood defences have protected more than 54,000 homes. Over 106,000 properties have been sent a flood warning.

North Wales was worst hit, with emergency services forced to evacuate homes in St Asaph after the River Elwy over-topped flood defences.

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