April 24 2014 Latest news:
Words by Kath Sansom Pictures by Steve Williams
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Nearly a year since a summit of political heavy weights met at a village hall and Welney is still no further forward in finding a long term solution to its ongoing flooding problems.
The road has been closed for the whole of 2014 forcing people on a 25-mile detour on back roads adding time, money and frustration to people’s days.
The problem is nothing new - except villagers say the flood waters are getting higher and lasting for longer - begging the question of just how bad does it have to get before something is done.
Last year MP Liz Truss and MEP Vicky Ford joined forces with Environment Agency officials, county, and district and parish councillors in a meeting at the village hall to consider action to prevent the A1101 from being repeatedly closed.
NE Cambs MP Steven Barclay added his voice to the campaign to highlight the detour plight for local haulier firms.
Electronic signs costing £20,000 warning people of real time road closures are yet to be installed but are expected shortly.
And a flood shopping wish-list of an in-depth economic study to secure European funding for a solution is yet to materialise.
Despite last year’s promises of funding and impact studies no progress appears to have been made, say villagers.
Welney is a unique part of East Anglia, said Mrs Ford in a meeting last year.
It takes the flooding so that people in towns like Bedford and Milton Keynes don’t have to.
“In short it takes it on the chin for everyone else upstream. It is time we did something to help local residents and businesses live with that,” she said.
But for people living the daily reality of life in Welney, results are yet to be seen, say villagers.
At the Lamb and Flag, where food is served at lunchtimes and evenings all week, landlords Dennis and Georgina Birch have watched the waters rise and their business drop accordingly for 15 years since taking over the popular village pub.
“The floods used to last a few days now it is weeks at a time,” said Mrs Birch.
On Monday the usually buzzing lunchtime pub atmosphere was reduced to two customers thanks to the high waters.
Mrs Birch said: “This is not just a localised problem it is national. Rivers need to be dredged properly to get rid of silt build up. A lot of money is spent on flood defences it’s time the Government invested in waterway maintenance.”
Mr Birch added: “Allowing building on flood plains makes the problem worse. The Government has cut budgets to the Environment Agency and the end result is that people like us in little villages suffer.
“People in Welney are made to feel like nobody cares because nothing is done. The impact on people’s lives round here is massive.”
For people trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of village life but commute to towns like King’s Lynn, Peterborough or Cambridge for work the flooding makes it almost impossible, they said.
Paul Loftus delivers fresh fish to the Lamb and Flag every Monday as he makes his rounds from Grimsby down to London.
He knows that when the wash is flooded it will add an extra 45 minutes to his journey time.
“I have a massive area I deliver to and this is the only place where roads are closed on this scale.
“It is not just annoying but on a business level it adds time and money.”
Pub regular Lewis Jackson said in the ten years since living in the village he had watched the floods get worse.
“A few days of high water have turned into a few weeks, it’s a regular thing now, and it’s getting a bigger problem” he said.
As we photographed the high waters one couple braved driving through the floods in a 4x4 vehicle while another couple decided to turn back and make the detour.
Pat and Charles Larham were travelling from Manea to visit family at Pymoor and had heard the road had re-opened.
When they pulled up to the flooded road they decided to turn back.
“We’re retired so the detour wont impact us too much but if you are on time constraints for work it must be very frustrating,” said Mrs Larham .
“The trouble with the current road signs is you don’t know if the road is flooded or not, it is all a bit of guess work.”
At Giles Landscapes managing director Roger Giles said the cost to his business in terms of extra staff time and fuel money was in the region of £20,000.
Mr Giles, who is a member of a national body known as SWIG, which campaigns for water recycling and green water saving systems, said storm waters in Bedford used to take up to 10 days to reach Welney, now it took just three.
He said: “Flood water has a massive impact on us. Last year it flooded for three months in one hit, when I moved here 50 years ago that was unheard of, it would be flooded for a few days maximum.”
Mr Barclay said he would be working with Ms Truss to campaign for flood prevention solutions to support homeowners and businesses.