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Flood defence? Do it yourself

COVER STORY: FLOOD PROTECTION - Flood victims in Worcestershire are starting to take protection of their homes into their own hands. Nina Lovelace finds out how.

Worcestershire residents left unprotected by future flood defence plans are this week calling for government grants to help them protect their properties.

Residents of Bewdley village on the banks of the River Severn say that grants will help them protect homes that would otherwise be flooded if future winters are as wet as the last one.

The calls follow a flood defence fair held last weekend by Bewdley residents to find out what domestic defences are on offer.

'Environment Agency plans to build a demountable flood wall in the village will only protect a quarter of Bewdley, ' says resident and local flood defence committee member Gill Holland.

This will leave remaining properties that are regularly flooded to be protected by nothing more than emergency sandbags.

Holland claims the grants will cost the government little more than it has spent on emergency protection in the past.

'Wye Forest council spent £25,000 on emergency sandbags here last autumn, ' she says.

Emergency sandbags are only temporary protection, and often fail to hold back water. When the village sewers flooded last year as water levels rose, the sandbags were infiltrated with raw sewage, turning them into a health risk.

'Some of them were carrying e-coli bacteria, ' Holland adds, 'and were then deposited in landfill after use.'

This approach was panic-driven and unsustainable rather than being planned, she argues.

'They (the government) would get the money back even if they were giving us the defences.'

Environment Agency plans to build a demountable flood wall later in the year will protect the southern side of the village alone, as only schemes which pass the government's economic appraisal get the go-ahead (see box).

To get this proposals must cost no more than the value of the houses they are protecting.

Plans to protect the northern bank of the river did not pass this test, leaving properties fronting the river vulnerable.

Many Bewdley residents have little or no insurance because flooding has been so frequent and insurers are reluctant to provide affordable cover. The village has suffered 11 floods in 10 years. The swollen Severn has filled local roads to depths of 1.5m - 5.8m above normal summer river levels.

So in a bid to protect their homes in future, the frustrated flood victims took flood protection into their own hands last weekend by organising the flood defence fair in Bewdley.

People from the local area and beyond turned up to look over different flood defence and damage remediation products exhibited by more than 20 companies.

They wanted to find out what would be best for their homes - whether they have to pay for it themselves or not.

The fair was organised by the local flood defence committee.

Holland explains, 'We realised we were in need of flood products, but where do you go to see them?'

'There are some on the Environment Agency website but it gives you no idea what they are or what the engineering is, or how they work.'

The flood defence committee has approached the Environment Agency and the government with a request for information on defences and funding in the past.

The committee even spoke directly to countryside minister Elliot Morley before the election.

'He was sympathetic but nothing happened, ' says Holland, 'So in May I had the idea (for the fair) as I thought there was a need.'

By the end of May the committee had over 10 exhibitors of household flood defences interested in exhibiting so the fair went ahead last weekend as planned.

Exhibitors included a wealth of different ideas to protect individual houses from the effects of rising water levels, such as flood barriers that screwed over existing doors in seconds and floodproof wall plaster.

One resident has already paid for pumps to be installed in her back yard out of her own pocket.

'It's not if the floods come anymore, it's when, ' she says.

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