Storm Christoph: Investigation demanded after flood defences ‘worked’ – but town still flooded

Colin Drury
·2 min read
 Elderly residents are evacuated from a care home by emergency services in Northwich (Getty Images)
Elderly residents are evacuated from a care home by emergency services in Northwich (Getty Images)

Calls for an investigation have been made after a town’s flood defences “worked” – but the entire centre still found itself under water.

Scores of properties in Northwich, Cheshire, were submerged amid torrential rains brought by Storm Christoph this week.

But it now seems that protective £7m barriers – installed in 2016 to prevent the rivers Dane and Weaver breaching their banks – did their job and stopped the waterways overtopping.

Rather, the town flooded because drains failed, leading to 3ft-high surface water in places.

“Like the rest of the country, we’ve got a 19th-century drainage system trying to deal with 21st-century weather patterns caused by climate change,” Robert Cernik, a Labour ward councillor and cabinet member with Cheshire West and Chester Council, told The Independent. “The Victorians were great engineers but they never expected this volume of water to be coming down.

“The system cannot cope. It needs government investment. There needs to be more holistic ways of dealing with rainfall but the whole sewage system needs rebuilding and re-engineering. We cannot keep putting this off."

His words were echoed by Mike Amesbury, the Labour MP for the area, who called for a "full investigation" to establish exactly what went wrong.

Millions of pounds worth of damage was caused to more than 60 properties – mainly commercial but also homes, a school and a residential complex – during the deluge on Wednesday and Thursday. About 40 residents had to be rescued by dinghy during the submersion.

It is the second time in less than 18 months that the town has found itself under water after the drains failed following a similar event in October 2019.

On a visit to the town on Friday afternoon, environment secretary George Eustice was quick to point out the defences scheme “worked, it did its job”.

But he acknowledged the issue with drains and said the Environment Agency, United Utilities and the local authority "are working on a plan to try to improve that".

United Utilities said flooding was a "complex issue" which had to be tackled as a whole system.

A spokesperson said: "The sewer network in Northwich operated as designed. The two critical pumping stations that serve Northwich have been working exactly as they should to keep sewer flows moving through the system.

"However, the record water levels in the River Weaver naturally prevented the town's drainage overflow systems from operating."

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