Floods: next time switch on the pumps

Investigation of defences after catastrophic storm water damage

Friday, 22nd April — By Tom Foot

Flooding in Westminster

Flooding in Shirland Road last summer. Photo: Westminster Labour

AN inquiry into catastrophic flooding which devastated hundreds of homes last summer is to focus on potential delays in opening water pump house gates.

Thames Water has told councillors that on July 12, the day of the historic downpour, a technician had to be sent out to switch-on a defence system in Chelsea at around 5pm. The Lots Road Pumps are capable of flushing-out the sewer network when it becomes blocked and can have a knock-on effect on drainage systems over a wide area.

Flooding severely damaged homes in Maida Vale and Geoff Barraclough, a Westminster Labour ward councillor, said: “The inquiry is going to model the impact of Lots Road on basement flooding across the region. It seems the current flooding model assumes Lots Road works automatically which is clearly not the case.”

An independent inquiry launched earlier this year will now focus on whether an automatic flood alleviation systems could have spared people from the damage to their homes.

On July 12 some residents reported seeing the flood water suddenly drain away around 5pm from streets and homes despite the fact it was still raining.

Jody Thompson, who is still waiting to move back to her destroyed flat in Maida Vale after the floods, said: “We have always maintained it was very odd that the flood water vanished so quickly when it was still raining heavily and that something mechanical was involved.

“The flood water and sewage that inundated our flats and others disappeared just after 5pm that day. If there’s a gate not opened or not functioning it affects streets all over London. It’s all connected, all the way down to the River Thames.”

She added: “Thousands were affected that day. But even if it is found out that it was because these gates weren’t opened quickly enough, it is unlikely Thames Water will do anything about it. They are a private company and they can do what they like. To say I am fuming is an understatement after almost 12 months of either silence or total gaslighting from Thames about the floods.”

Ms Thompson, a journalist, has been living in temporary accommodation with her family and two cats since July 20 and is not expecting to be back in her flat until July this year.

No compensation has been paid out and many people could not get payments under insurance. She said she had taken out grievances about the process to a “toothless” Consumer Council for Water.

Other theories about what caused the flooding chaos are Thames tide levels and Victorian drainage systems some think no longer fit for purpose.

In a letter to councillors, Alex Nickson, head of London flooding response at Thames Water, said: “The Lots Road Pumps are manually operated but closely monitored 24-hours a day and when flows increase during heavy rainfall they are switched on. This is what happened on July 12 last year.

“Once it became clear how severe the storm was, a technician was dispatched and switched on the pumps at just after 5pm (note that seven pumps were operated and these were turned on sequentially). They were operated in accordance with the site operating manual.”

He said the pumps issue would “feature more prominently in the third report due in a few months”.

The Independent Expert Group looking into the flooding chaos will make recommendations after the investigation’s conclusion this summer.

A spokesperson for Thames Water confirmed there were concerns about the pumps and these would be addressed by the inquiry.

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