Flooding in Lower Weald, Calverton
We start with the largest flood of more recent times – that of Easter 1998. The scrolling panorama below shows the Whaddon Brook (photographed by Stephen Stewart) as it burst its banks in Middle Weald prior to inundating Lower Weald (which is just off to the right hand side of the picture.
An Introduction by Lucinda Lourie.
On Thursday, 9th April 1998, between 5 and 5.30pm, flood water entered eleven houses in Lower Weald. No warnings were given nor did we receive any help from the authorities. The road in Lower Weald frequently floods after heavy rainfall, due to inadequate and poorly maintained culverts getting blocked. They carry the water from two streams entering the village, and pipe the water under the roadway. One stream flows from Kiln Farm, the other from Whaddon, and together they form a brook at the Old Wood yard that goes under a causeway and then joins the River Great Ouse upstream of Stony Stratford.
So what happened in the Easter 1998 Flood?
1998 – Easter Flood – On Thursday 9 April, just before the Easter weekend, torrential rain had fallen all day causing the road to flood as usual.
This time it was different though; this time the water came into eleven houses, not only through the doorways, but it actually rose up through the cracks in the floors, rising in some houses to a depth of between 12-17 inches. Also what took people by surprise was the speed at which the floors flooded and also how quickly the water went away again. The peak of the flooding was at about 5.30pm, and by 7.30pm it was already down 9 inches; the following morning people awoke to find that the water had completely gone from inside the houses. We were given no warning whatsoever. Water from our two streams had met water from the Great Ouse backing up into our valley, and Lower Weald was caught in the middle and was one of the first casualties. Inadequate culverts exacerbated the situation.
It would be interesting to know why there was this sudden surge of water, where it had come from and why it was unable to continue downstream. Also, why did we get no warning of this serious flood? There were rumours that sluice gates were opened below Buckingham to protect an electricity sub-station from being flooded, and that the mechanism on the Millfield sluice gate above Stony Stratford was jammed, and that this prevented water from moving downstream.
Lower Weald is the responsibility of three authorities, and it becomes clear that Lower Weald’s flooding problems fall between three stools:-
(1) The Environment Agency (that took over from the National Rivers Authority in 1996). They are responsible for the River Great Ouse, and should provide a flood warning service for locations known to be at risk from Main River Flooding. In answer to CRA’s queries about this flood, they told us that our flooding had been due to a watercourse under the jurisdiction of the Buckingham Internal Drainage Board.
(2) Buckingham Internal Drainage Board – They said in their turn in answer to CRA’s queries, that most of the Easter flooding was associated with the Statutory Main River the Great Ouse and to contact the Environment Agency. However on 3 March 1999 CRA called a Special Public Meeting “The Easter Floods and Beyond” to meet representatives of the Board.
(3) Milton Keynes Council – They are responsible for maintaining the highway culverts that carry our stream water to the Great Ouse. They replied, enclosing an interim report from the Environment Agency, that they are proposing to include the replacement/ improvement of the highway culverts in the 1999/2000 highways maintenance budget.
What happened to the £20,000 set aside for this purpose in 1996?
They also have a dismal record for keeping the culverts and streams clear of weed and debris as Councillor Paul Bartlett knows when he tried to shame them into doing something about this last summer. He finally went to the papers, and the weeds were cleared the next day.
Environment Agency Report
In September 1998 an independent report on the Easter Flooding was produced for the Environment Agency. Nowhere is the Calverton Flood mentioned, but it is interesting to hear how Buckingham and Stony Stratford were affected.
Buckingham – the automatic gauging station at Brackley above Buckingham had failed to give the appropriate warning as to the severity of the flood. The first reported flooding came through at 7pm on Thursday evening. 25 houses and 5 non-residential properties were affected. The last times the town had been flooded were during the great rains of 1947, and again in 1979 when 45 houses and 8 non-residential properties were affected.
Stony Stratford – the crucial flow gauge at Thornborough had failed due to the sheer weight of water so no appropriate warning was given. The first reports of flooding started coming through at 9pm on Thursday evening. This was the first flooding since 1947, and 9 houses and 4 non-residential properties were affected. The river level there was recorded as being 500mm higher than in 1947, a one-in-125 years event.
What the Papers said
The only mention of the Calverton Flood was on Friday 10 April 1998 in the Milton Keynes Herald. Under the headline ‘Storm Chaos’ it reported that Milton Keynes Council was forced to shut roads, and Calverton and Ravenstone villages were closed by the Council. It went on to say that ‘student David Lourie, 20, of Calverton, said flooding in the village was the worst he had seen for 10 years’ and that ‘ it was thigh-high in the centre’.
The Three Wealds Newsletter – Issue 27 May/June 1998, gives an account of what happened, plus map, flood observations, and photographs.
Also Issue 31 April/May 1999 gives a report on the Special Public Meeting called by CRA with representatives from the Buckingham Internal Drainage Board. (See Appendix below)
In the Sunday Citizen, of 4 October 1998 it was reported ‘commenting on the report by an independent review team into the Maundy Thursday deluge, the Environment Agency maintained it had been overtaken by the speed and severity of the flood…. It promised to do better warning the public if again faced by floods of that magnitude….The Agency has pledged to have in place a more efficient system of direct warnings to those in the path of any future floods… It will also survey flood affected properties, prepare maps of the Easter floods and establish self-help groups to disseminate flood warnings.
Milton Keynes on Sunday on 25 October 1998 reported that city MP Brian White was calling for a judicial review into the floods and why the sluice gates at Buckingham were opened allowing a wall of water to flow down the Ouse to Milton Keynes.
CRA has contacted Dr Phyllis Starkey MP with our concerns and she has replied asking us to let her have details of any correspondence regarding the flood, and any suggestions that we would like the Environment Agency to take into account.
Report from Andrew Donaldson in The Three Wealds Newsletter – Issue 31 April/May 1999.
On 3 March 1999 the Calverton Residents’ Association called a Special Meeting “The Easter Floods and Beyond” to which all residents of the Wealds had been invited to meet representatives of the Buckingham Internal Drainage Board.
“…The Buckingham Internal Drainage Board set up a small exhibition of their work for the meeting, which had a disappointingly small attendance. Representatives of the Board explained their responsibilities in terms of the smaller watercourses, which feed into the Great Ouse – the management of the latter river being the responsibility of the Environment Agency. At an early point in the meeting it became clear that the Board were just as interested in hearing what the residents had to say about the flooding as what the Board themselves were proposing to alleviate future severe flooding in Lower Weald. As far as the Board’s proposals were concerned, these appear to be far from specific although it was acknowledged at the meeting these funds were allocated in the coming financial year for alleviation works.
The Board explained that complete avoidance of another severe flood could not be guaranteed, although it was acknowledged that the Easter 1998 occurrence was exceptional. (The Environment Agency has already reported the highest river levels in the Ouse at Stony Stratford since the historic flood in 1947 and the return of the Easter event has been estimated as a one-in-125-years chance). However, the Board had extended its detailed survey of the key watercourses further upstream than originally intended, and an ecological survey was also being carried out before any alleviation measures were finalised, these in consultation with the relevant landowners.
Residents at the meeting raised a number of concerns, including the frequent flooding of the road at Lower Weald (even when properties were not affected), the filling in of ponds on higher ground which might have created more run-off, the grids across culverts collecting debris and reducing water flow in heavy rain, the effective operation of sluice gates on the Ouse by the Environment Agency etc. The Board agreed to keep CRA posted on the progress of their surveys and the final alleviation measures proposed..”
(Some of the pleas to the relevant authorities have now been answered so we also cover progress on flood alleviation measures which were finally started in Lower Weald in October 2000.)