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As Braunton continues to clean up after floods the Environment Agency defends new flood defence scheme

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

By Andrea Foster

  • BAGGED UP: Sandbags at Score Farm Bridge to protect nearby houses. Picture: Mike Southon

  • OPEN AGAIN: Nick Phillips of Braunton News in Caen Street, with sales assistant Pauline Van-Vliet, welcoming customers. Picture: Mike Southon

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AN emergency plan for Braunton was not put into action during the recent floods because of a communication failure, it has emerged.

Braunton Parish Council had prepared a major incident emergency plan in 2009. But it was not activated when flood water inundated homes and businesses in December.

A meeting will now take place between the Environment Agency, North Devon Council, the parish council and other organisations to review the plan and see how it can work in the future.

The plan lays out what people should do in the event of an emergency, including flooding, and who to contact.

Parish council clerk Tracey Weaver blamed a lack of communication. She said: "We were not able to activate the plan because we did not know about the flood until 7.30am. By that time water was already flowing down the street.

"The Environment Agency did not contact the parish council. I wasn't informed until 7.30am, when our tidy man rang me to say that Braunton had been flooded and I rang the chairman."

The parish council has organised a meeting for tomorrow with key agencies and volunteers from the community to go through the emergency plan.

The aim of the meeting is to make sure every authority knows the emergency plan is there and who should be contacted if such an incident happens again.

Meanwhile as the clean up operation continued in Braunton, the question on many people's lips is how did it happen – just six months after a new flood defence scheme was opened.

Extensive work was carried out in and around the River Caen as part of a £1.2 million project including widening a section of the river course.

It was designed to reduce the risk of flooding from a one in 20 chance in any one year to a one in 100 chance.

But after record levels of rainfall the river broke its banks just before Christmas, leaving devastation in its wake.

Thirty commercial properties were flooded and 12 homes.

Shops lost vital business on the busiest weekend of the year.

Many people have questioned the effectiveness of the flood defences.

But the scheme was defended by Paul Gainey, spokesman for the Environment Agency.

He said the scheme had worked but it was overwhelmed by the amount of rain.

"It did what it was designed to do but unfortunately its capacity was exceeded by the volume of rain that fell," he said. "Without the scheme a lot more people would have been flooded and a lot earlier.

"On the back of this we need to look at the scheme to see if there are any minor improvements we can do to make it more effective."

Jim Faux, the Environment Agency's senior advisor in flood risk management, said the circumstances surrounding the event brought together the worse combination of heavy rain, falling on already saturated ground.

"Initial indications are the size of the flood exceeded the design capacity. It worked but there was too much water.

"We need to know the size of the flood before we look at whether it is viable to upgrade the scheme. There are small things we can do to increase the capacity of the scheme."

Local residents have also questioned whether the drains were cleared regularly enough.

Devon County Council confirmed that the drains in Caen Street – the area worst affected by the flooding – are cleared three times a year. The last occasion was on November 9.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, chairman of the Devon Flood Risk Management Partnership and Devon county councillor for highways and transportation, said the authority would be looking closely into this issue.

The village's flood defence scheme saw work carried out at Hordens Bridge, the Memorial Gardens, the Bowling Club and behind Caen Street shops.

Part of the river course was widened and a riverside walk created upstream which could be flooded at times of high river flow.

A flood relief culvert was also built at Hordens Bridge.

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