RESIDENTS and shop owners hit by last week’s flash flood attended an emergency meeting on Friday in which it became increasingly clear that lessons from previous incidents had not been learned.
Two years after The Pantiles and other parts of the lower town were devastated by severe flooding, there was a sense of déjà vu in the early hours of Wednesday (July 18) as people battled in vain to prevent torrents of water spilling into their properties.
Those attending the meeting, held at the request of MP Greg Clark in the St Charles The Martyr Church hall, took part in the two hour grilling which saw members of Kent County Council (KCC), Southern Water, The Environment Agency and the Borough Council (TWBC) defend their records.
One issue which quickly raised the hackles of the 50 members of the public attending was when KCC spoke about which roads received priority when it came to drain clearage. Concerns had been raised about drains along Warwick Park being blocked, one of the factors contributing to flooding.
Drainage Asset Manager Katie Moreton said that when the County Council cleansing crews go to clean the drains, they make an assessment of the number they will be able to access because of parked vehicles.
If they are unable to reach at least two thirds of drains they walk away and attend at a later date. They will not clear the drains they can reach.
Over the past two years Warwick Park had been scheduled to have its drains inspected several times, only for the teams to leave once they discovered there were not enough drains to unblock.
‘One in 50 year event’
Southern Water, which have responsibility for managing the sewer system, also managed to irk the residents and business owners when Mike Tomlinson, Surface Water Management Plan Manager, said his company viewed the flooding as a ‘one in 50 year event’.
He was reminded of the 2015 and 2012 floods and the fact that a recent Met Office report predicted a one in three chance of monthly rainfall records being broken during winter.
Southern Water were also accused of being ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’ in their approach to clearing blockages as they rarely act until a blockage has formed.
The company defended their practice by stating it was ‘impossible’ to monitor entire systems round the clock and that obstructions can build up very quickly.
One resident pointed out the antiquated nature of the Victorian era sewer system, stating the Warwick Park sewer was made for 120 houses, and now has to deal with over 800, meaning it is precariously close to capacity even before heavy rainfall.
Meanwhile, development continues unchecked.
Cllr Lawrence Heasman (Pantiles and St Marks) who sits on the planning committee said they are not allowed to refuse a planning application on the basis of concerns about sewers and surface water.
Borough Planning Officer Steve Baughen said his team were making efforts to engage more with Southern Water over the issue.
Summing up the meeting, Mr Clark said a working group should be set up to examine the issue and requested the authorities submit their own proposals on how to tackle the issue.
He added: “It seems to me that the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather is making an existing problem even worse.
“The additions to demands on the system will make it worse still. There must be a more joined up approach between the relevant parties and this should serve as a catalyst for working together to solve the problem.”
Flooding leaves restaurant devastated – again
THE owner of a popular Thai eatery was left in tears after the ‘devastating’ damage to her recently renovated restaurant last week.
Kai’s Kitchen opposite the station on Mount Pleasant Road had fire engines pumping out water for several hours. They were one of the worst hit properties in the sudden storm that erupted on Tuesday night.
The downstairs kitchen area was left with fridges and freezers sprawled on top of each other as the five feet of water lifted everything of the ground.
Kai King said: “The way it was raining, I’ve never seen anything like it for 25 years I’ve lived here.
“We can’t open the door to our kitchen, we had to call the fire service. The fridges were on the ceiling, we couldn’t get in.
Her husband, John King, added: “It is absolutely devastating. The cost will be at least £100,000.
“We were flooded two years ago and we’ve just received the final payment for the insurance from that. But this time it is much worse.
“We were reinsured. The premiums went up but there were no restrictions on flooding. We will be shut for three months at least.”
Kai’s Kitchen reopened in April 2016 after closing for several months for refurbishment due to previous flooding.
New business hit within weeks of opening
Sarah James had high hopes for her café, and first business venture, Chocolatl when it opened five weeks ago at Number 11 The Pantiles.
But instead of launching their new menu over the weekend as planned, Ms James and her business partner were left presiding over a premises ravaged by floodwater, with ‘tens of thousands’ of pounds worth of damage.
Ms James said she felt ‘powerless’ as a small business owner: “The business has just started trading and this is hugely problematic and deeply frustrating. We do not know when we will be able to open again.”
She is ‘not especially confident’ much would come of the meeting either, adding those who attended seemed more interested on ‘passing the buck’, than finding solutions.