Havering Council, Thames Water and Network Rail in disagreement over causes of Rainham flooding
PUBLISHED: 15:37 01 September 2020
After a terrible month of torrential downpours devastating Rainham homes, authorities are at loggerheads over the cause of the flooding.
Havering Council is calling on the government to take action against landowners responsible for maintaining sewage systems. Landowners, such as Network Rail, say it was caused by “issues” further downstream in RSPB Rainham Marshes and Thames Water say no amount of preparation could have saved homes from flooding given the quantity of rain that fell in such a short space of time.
The questions arose after London Fire Brigade received 93 calls to flooding in two and half hours on August 15, affecting around 65 Rainham and South Hornchurch homes.
The council, which is responsible for roadside gullies but not sewers, says blocked drains and antiquated pipes owned by Thames Water are not being maintained on publicly-owned plots of land and are partly to blame for the floods.
One sewer system thought to blocked is in Brookway, Rainham, on land owned by Network Rail which goes under the high speed rail link (HS1). Residents say it is responsible for the flooding in Lambs Lane.
They say that over the years the drainage system has become full of vegetation, which has “now proven problematic”.
Deputy leader of Havering Council, councillor Robert Benham, said: “We have a proactive maintenance programme and in the week leading up to the heavy rain, we had extra crews out cleaning all of the drains across Havering to prepare for the extra water as best we could.
“It is also up to other landowners such as Thames Water and Network Rail, to live up to their end of the bargain and to make sure their land is clear for excess water to flow away as necessary.
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“We’re writing to the government, calling on the secretary of state to take enforcement action against the owners of these and other publicly owned plots of land, including Network Rail, where drainage and sewage systems seem to have not been maintained adequately.”
Thames Water said that the latest flooding event was likely to be well in excess of the capacity the sewers are designed to handle.
A spokesman added: “Our surveys of the sewers involve using a CCTV camera on a cable which is fed through the pipe and sends footage back to the engineers above ground who review it in real time.
“Our cleaning programme saw more than 900km of sewers inspected and cleaned last year, including in Rainham. In total more than 700 tonnes of materials including wipes, fat and other debris were removed to keep sewers flowing.
“In Rainham we used tanker lorries to pump away excess water but occasionally rainfall is so heavy, as was the case during last week’s exceptional downpours, that it can still overwhelm the system and cause it to overflow.”
He added that engineers recently visited the area to survey the sewer network and found no blockages or other defects, “confirming the sheer volume of rain which fell in a short space of time was the sole cause of the flooding”.
Network Rail explained that although the Brookway sewer is on Network Rail land, the sewer is not blocked and the overflow was caused by an “issue” further downstream in Rainham Marshes.
A spokeswoman said: “The site is also in an environmentally protected area, Rainham Marshes RSPB, which adds many restrictions, usually relating to wildlife. This includes restrictions on when work can be carried out by anyone, [either Network Rail, Thames Water, council or any other third party].
“We suggested that Thames Water investigate this with the lead local flood authority and landowners further south of the railway. We continue to remain ready to provide support where we can, and to work collaboratively with all parties to help manage flood risk in this area.”
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