By Andy Tong andy@timesoftonbridge.co.uk

GOING UNDER The Racecourse park in Tonbridge flooded in Christmas 2013 PHOTO: Emma Stokes

TONBRIDGE needs more flood wardens to help raise awareness about the dangers to homes and businesses – and they need to be trained with more urgency.

Lead flood warden Martin Coulstock, says there are 17 flood wardens for Tonbridge, but only eight of them are trained – and they have to cope with 2,000 properties that are liable to flooding.

Over the festive season the thoughts of many Tonbridge residents turn to Christmas Day 2013, when 80 homes were inundated on Barden and Danvers Roads and gifts were seen floating down the street.

‘Some have been waiting to be trained for six months’

“We’re waiting for the other nine wardens to be trained,” says Mr Coulstock. “Some of them have been waiting six months. This is the time of year when things happen.”

He adds: “Hildenborough is overloaded with flood wardens because they all live in the flood area and are worried about their properties. It’s not like that in Tonbridge.”

But providing flood wardens with the right know-how in the town is proving too difficult and time-consuming, and it’s a role which can be fraught with danger.

“You’re not insured if you’re not trained,” says Mr Coulstock. “We can’t explain to loved ones that we’re sending your family member out there without the right understanding of the role.

The plea for recruits comes after the launch of the Medway Flood Action Plan, which brings together the different stakeholders – parish councils, local authorities, national agencies, landowners and businesses.

It was attended by Tonbridge & Malling MP Tom Tugendhat, who said: “The plan provides a clear direction on the works needed to do to improve flood resilience locally.

“Recruiting, training and maintaining contact with flood wardens is in the Action Plan and is an ongoing effort, led by the Environment Agency with other partners.

He added: “Over the coming months I’ll be making sure this work, along with all the other actions in the plan, is delivered.”

‘It’s everybody’s responsibility. I have a saying: The wardens don’t get their feet wet’

The five-year strategy includes a £17million project to enlarge the Leigh Flood Storage Area, which acts as a barrier to the River Medway upstream and its tributaries, and construct embankments in Hildenborough. This will see a reduction in risk for a further 275 homes, bringing the total protected in the Tonbridge area to 1,475.

The government is contributing £11.2million, with a further £5.8million coming from Kent County Council, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council and the South-East Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Environment Agency will seek planning approval next year, with work due to start in 2020 and be completed in 2023. Considerable work has already been done with £9.8million spent since December 2013 – almost £2million on the Town Lock, Bewley’s Weir and Leigh.

But none of this guarantees protection, so residents are urged to sign up for flood alerts and warnings. Creating awareness is a crucial aspect of the wardens’ job.

Mr Coulstock says: “We aim to have two or three people to put the plan into action for each neighbourhood. It’s everybody’s responsibility. I have saying: The wardens don’t get their feet wet.”

Carl Lewis was the only warden for almost two years after the 2013-14 floods. Then former Mayor Owen Baldock joined and Tom Tugendhat put out plea for volunteers.

The borough council’s Head of Technical Services, Andy Edwards says: “Flood warden training is organised on a regular basis and this year training was held in Hildenborough, which was very well attended.”

“The EA and the Kent Resilience Team will be setting dates for the training in the new year. Any volunteers from Tonbridge will be welcome to attend.”

What the flood wardens do

The main responsibilities of the warden are to provide up-to-date information on potential problems by patrolling the streets and water courses, and to urge residents to sign up for flood alerts and warnings. To register for alerts please call Floodline on 0345 988 1188 or visit https://www.fws.environment-agency.gov.uk/app/olr/register