March could be the key focus of major flood prevention project

Christmas Eve flooding in Morton Avenue, March

Morton Avenue, in March, was also affected in the Christmas Eve 2020 floods. - Credit: Ian Carter

March could be at the heart of a multi-million-pound, long term project to solve flooding in Cambridgeshire.

The challenges of protecting homes and businesses in the town were outlined at a meeting between councillors and water management bodies.

Part of a solution could come via ‘resilience innovation funding’ that the county council hopes to secure from Defra and the Environmental Agency. 

Anglian Water has also committed to improve foul drainage infrastructure in the area. 

Gold Street Flooding, Christmas 2020

Emergency services pumping water out of Chrissie Morrison's property in Gold Street, March, on Christmas Eve. - Credit: Jay Hill

Another outcome was a call for Cambridgeshire County Council, the lead local flood authority, to explore mapping all the town’s water courses, identify all the drainage assets and who is responsible for them.

In the lead up to Christmas, more than a month’s rainfall fell in a single day and more than 700 residents - many from the March area - wrote to councillors reporting flood issues.

Those attending the recent meeting were told the issues in March were “exacerbated” by the town’s location and soil conditions.

Flooding in Upwell Road, March

Flooding in Upwell Road, March. - Credit: Fred Yeulett

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A statement released afterwards said: “Extensive flooding across March was seen from December 23, with several properties impacted.

“March is a low-lying island of clay and till surrounded by reclaimed marsh/fen. This makes managing excessive rainfall and the resulting surface water a major challenge.”

It continued: “Pumps were overwhelmed, and in some cases, water couldn’t be pumped out as there was nowhere to pump it to.

“Even without these challenges some flooding would have likely happened and the meeting agreed that all organisations need to work together to be prepared, because these events will happen again.”

Drainage maintenance was also raised as a key issue as “there is a complex network of interlinked assets”.

Gold Street Flooding Christmas 2020

Chrissie Morrison's home in Gold Street, March, was flooded on Christmas 2020. She was also flooded in 2014. - Credit: Jay Hill

The statement added: “There are several known cases where blockages in drains and culverts caused flooding.

“While maintenance is a responsibility for owners, including homeowners and businesses which have drainage assets on their land, there is a role for both local authorities and other agencies.”

And as well as calls to create a watercourse mapping resource, those who attended the meeting agreed a letter should be sent to the government requesting legislation related new developments and drainage is reviewed.

Butt Avenue Flooding 2020

Rob Stevens' garden flooded in Butt Avenue in the Christmas 2020 floods. - Credit: Rob Stevens

The statement says: “[We will request] a review of legislation which allows developers to have a right to connect to the drainage system from any connection which meets required standards – particularly recognising the uniqueness of March where traditional surface water disposal doesn’t work.”

Cllr Steve Count and Cllr Jan French attended representing Cambridgeshire County Council and Fenland District Council.

Cllr Rob Skoulding represented Fenland District Council and March Town Council.

Meanwhile, Cllr John Gowing, of Cambridgeshire County Council, and Ray Jack, of March Town Council, also participated.

Councillor Jan French. Picture: Archant

Councillor Jan French, Deputy Leader of Fenland District Council. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

When asked if progress was being made to tackling the issue, particularly across March, Cllr French replied: “Absolutely, this is progress.

“We’ve got to get to the bottom of all this flooding and resolve it. We can’t have families being flooded; a solution needs to be found.

“We have all the relevant agencies on board, such as the Environment Agency, Anglian Water and the county council. We will continue to tackle this.”

In March, some of the key areas affected at Christmas included Cavalry Drive, Gaul Road, Morton Avenue, Norwood Road and Gold Street.

Many of the same homes were previously flooded in 2014.

The meeting also discussed the £6.5m funding to improve March town centre, which was announced by Steve Barclay, the MP for North East Cambridgeshire, on Boxing Day.

The improvements are said to include works to Broad Street, and it was highlighted that drainage in this part of town also needed to be reviewed.

Last month, March Town Council prepared and delivered hundreds of sandbags to residents at risk of flooding during Storm Christoph and other extreme weather events.

Their efforts were recognised in the meeting, and there was also “a call for a need to work together to streamline communications between all partners and directly to residents in incidents like this”.