Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Delays added to devastation

A sorry tale of delays and confusion emerged on Monday night as some 100 residents met with us, the local councillors, and officials of various agencies to discuss what happened in the Witton flooding.

First of all it emerged that the Environment Agency had indeed failed to put out the flood warning - despite alarm bells sounding at 7am on the Friday.

What happened was that a duty officer saw that the gauges were reporting the River Tame about to break over the flood walls at Brookvale Road - but did not believe it. So instead of activating the Floodline warnings - which would have generated a series of telephone calls to the local community - he sent out a worker to investigate. The worker got there at 830am - by which time the Tame was already in full flood in the neighbourhood.

It seems that nobody recognised this as a major emergency until much later in the day. To their credit the fire service were on the scene quite early and used boats to evacuate three factories and about 12 other residents. Most residents seem to have simply moved upstairs.

But the police admitted they did not arrive until late morning. Because of the camber of the roads - with a high centre - lorries continued to thunder down them, in some cases drivers abusing distraught residents. This created waves of water which flooded even more into the houses. Nobody closed the roads.

The water was dirty and smelly but no public health official ever visited the site to declare it unsafe. So in subsequent days the fire service refused to provide pumping assistance to get the water out of cellars and houses (except on payment of a £399 fee). On the Saturday nobody could get through to the environmental health office duty line.

Once things got going all sorts of measures were taken - evacuation centres opened but not used etc. And local council staff have been brilliant since Friday in running advice centres and ensuring a plentiful supply of skips (from the skip allocation that we purchase for Perry Barr ward, please note!). Local churches have also been great. Aston Parish Church is hoping to organise some donations of furniture for those who have lost theirs whilst others have rallied round to release hardship funds.

But this was a forgotten emergency. Maybe not as bad as they've had in the north this week but by far the worst and least reported incident in that first round of flooding when a whole month's supply of rain fell in just six hours.

This is not just about hand-wringing. Karen Hamilton is going to chair a Flood Action Group, working with a group of local residents and with the city council's emergency response team. The work, we hope, may help other areas to ensure that responses to flooding incidents are tightened up. The group will also look at measures to flood proof local homes - and where we can get cash from to make this possible. Aston Pride will help I hope. After all there is talk of putting more housing in this neighbourhood. The Environment Agency has promised to tighten up its floodline procedures and also review the defences on the River Tame.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


The Brookvale Road area was badly flooded last Friday and we estimate that at least 50 householders, mainly on Tame Road, suffered severe damage from the water and loss of property.

We spent time in the area over the weekend assessing the extent of the damage and providing information to householders. We've also identified some local charities which can help with small grants for those who did not have insurance.

The council's local constituency staff have been brilliant and have been running advice sessions at Witton Community Centre throughout the week. Extra collections have been arranged to enable householders to get rid of flood-damaged material.

We all know that the rain last Friday was exceptionally heavy - but there are still big questions about the emergency response to this incident.

As it happens, Perry Barr ward committee is to meet at Witton Community Centre on Monday (7pm) and the bulk of the meeting will be devoted to discussing what happened with senior council officers and, hopefully, other agencies.

Many households had signed up to flood line to get flood warnings - but received nothing. The roads were not closed and heavy lorries continued to use them. This created waves which flooded into the houses, aggravating the damage. We also need to know whether the work on Perry Hall Park was effective at creating a safe flood plain on the cricket pitches to mop up water from the River Tame - that was plan when work was done on it two or three years ago.

It's clear this very deprived neighbourhood is woefully unprepared for this kind of flooding and we hope to involve Aston Pride in discussing how houses can be properly protected (such as through flood barriers at doors).