Criticism after Colney Heath and London Colney flooding

THE Environment Agency has been criticised for its tardy response to flooding in Colney Heath at the weekend, leaving some residents fearing rising river water would swamp homes.

St Albans district and county councillor for Colney Heath, Chris Brazier, blasted the agency for failing to give locals adequate warning after continuous downpours resulted in the River Colne bursting its banks.

Residents along Park Lane saw muddy river water rise steadily towards their homes after the district experienced its wettest April on record.

Common ranger Charlie Nash said: “It was like someone pulled the chain.”

Cllr Brazier said he could not understand why pre-organised communication channels were not put in action.

In theory, the Environment Agency is to warn the resilience officer at St Albans district council that a flood is likely, which in turn reports to Colney Heath parish council to help people prepare for the worst.

Noticing rising water levels on Sunday, Cllr Brazier called the district council’s emergency line and was put through to a call centre in Cambridge which had never heard of the River Colne.

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He was also concerned to see people swimming in the swollen river despite floating debris and the swift current.

He added: “People are asking, why didn’t we get a warning? Houses were under threat.”

Cllr Brazier explained that devices placed along the River Colne to measure the height of the water in London Colney sent an alert to the EA, “but London Colney only floods after Colney Heath has flooded.

“The river had burst its banks on Sunday, before 10am.”

Kim and Steve Naunton said they had just moved to their home on Park Lane five weeks ago, when the river was little more than a stream.

Kim said: “You can’t normally see the water at all from the house so it is unusual.

“We received no alert from the EA, but a neighbour told me not to worry about it because it would go down.”

She was amused to see a walker on the common on Monday plucking a live pike from a puddle and tossing it back into the river.

Additional sandbags have since been delivered to protect the village.

The EA posted a flood alert on its website on April 29 for the upper River Colne and Radlett Brook at Colney Heath, London Colney and Radlett.

However customers registered to the EA floodline warnings direct system were not sent alerts until 8.11pm on Sunday.

An EA spokeswoman said that as the last two years have been very dry and river levels low, the agency has had, “little opportunity to calibrate” forecasting equipment at London Colney.

As soon as staff noticed high levels, they visited the area and issed the flood alert.

On Tuesday there were 44 flood alerts in force across the region, which had dropped to 28 at time of going to press, but no flood warnings.

Rothamsted Research said it was the wettest April on its records. Monthly rainfall was 168.6mm, 113.57mm above average.

The wettest day was April 28 with 28.8mm of rain.

Veolia Water said while the recent rainfall was welcome, it had done little to ease drought conditions or replenish ground water.