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Upper Street flooding: Town hall and Green cllr locked in war of words over ‘lack of flood strategy’

PUBLISHED: 11:06 05 December 2016 | UPDATED: 17:39 05 December 2016

Firefighters carry victims of the Upper Street flooding to safety.

Firefighters carry victims of the Upper Street flooding to safety.

Paul Wood

Islington’s sole opposition councillor has blasted the town hall for dragging its heels over the risk of flooding – something she says could have lessened this morning’s destruction.

Cllr Caroline Russell and water industry consultant Michael Coffey at the scene of the flooding. Picture: Green PartyCllr Caroline Russell and water industry consultant Michael Coffey at the scene of the flooding. Picture: Green Party

But the council reacted indignantly, saying such a strategy would have been “no help” in Upper Street – because flood prevention plans are aimed at river, ground water and coastal flooding, not burst pipes.

Thirty-five people were evacuated from their homes as a burst main send water pouring into basements around Charlton Place shortly after 4am.

Despite warnings back in 2008 and a legal requirement the following year, Islington remains one of 12 councils in Britain that have failed to put in place a strategy to deal with certain types of flooding.

“Today Islington residents are bearing the brunt of the council’s inaction,” Cllr Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East) told the Gazette.

“Flood risk preparedness should have been a priority for Islington Council.

“The result is the misery you see on Upper Street. This is causing huge disruption to people’s lives. Residents deserve an awful lot better.”

She claims planning chiefs have allowed too much permeable land – such as gardens and parks – to be paved over, leaving it increasingly open to the risk of surface flooding.

The town hall hit back, saying: “Flood prevention strategies are aimed at coastal, river and ground water flooding. The regulations are set nationally and specifically do not include floods caused by a burst water main. So the strategy would have been of no help with today’s burst main.

Devastation caused by the flooding in Upper Street this morning.Devastation caused by the flooding in Upper Street this morning.

“Islington’s flood plans are on the council website. Islington’s flood prevention strategy will be produced by April 2017, when it is due.”

Cllr Russell insisted: “The council needs to be thinking about surface water flooding with every single planning decision that is made.

“There should be no net loss of permeable land in the borough.”

The Environment Agency has identified Tube stops including Holloway Road and Finsbury Park as particularly vulnerable to flooding, as well as trunk roads such as the A1, Blackstock Road, St Paul’s Road and Gillespie Road – including the area around the school. Transport for London is responsible for managing the flood risk at Finsbury Park station.

Damage to Upper Street caused by the burst pipe. Picture: London Fire BrigadeDamage to Upper Street caused by the burst pipe. Picture: London Fire Brigade

Cllr Russell added: “Flood risk was identified as a major concern for the borough back in 2008.

“Former Green councillor Katie Dawson was successful in getting a new policy on surface water flood prevention incorporated into Islington Council’s planning guidelines, which contained very specific measures aimed at addressing the situation before a serious flood event occurred.”

Since then, she says, the council has taken its foot off the gas, allowing too much permeable land to be built on.

The 2009 Flood Risk Regulations made town halls responsible for producing a “local flood risk management strategy” – the document Cllr Russell says is long overdue.

Flooding in Upper Street this morning. Picture: London Fire BrigadeFlooding in Upper Street this morning. Picture: London Fire Brigade

When the council’s response was put to her, Cllr Russell conceded: “They’re not responsible for the burst water pipe but they are responsible for managing the excess water created as a result.”

She added: “The source of flooding may be a burst water main or excess rainfall but Islington needs to have plans in place to ensure surface water has somewhere to go – to monitor how much permeable land they have and if it’s being lost that it’s then being replaced.

“The council needs to design sustainable urban drainage, providing places for the water to go when bursts such as these happen.”

Members of Islington’s top table, including council leader Cllr Richard Watts and environment chief Cllr Claudia Webbe, took to Twitter to criticise Cllr Russell for using the flooding to score political points.

Devastation caused by the flooding in Upper Street this morning.Devastation caused by the flooding in Upper Street this morning.

She hit back: “Yes, of course a burst water main is Thames Water’s responsibility, but the responsibility for managing surface water is Islington Council’s. If they had a proper plan in place we might have seen a bit less mistery last night.

“They should be looking at the increased risk of burst water mains due partly to the need for pressure for higher buildings and the ancient pipes and infrastructure.

“Rather than saying, ‘this is Thames Water’s responsibility,’ they should be geeting on and thinking about what they can do.”


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