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Flood: water firm chiefs to face grilling as traders demand to know why it happened

Flooded gardens in Devonia Road, Angel. Picture: Polly Brown

Flooded gardens in Devonia Road, Angel. Picture: Polly Brown

Published: 13 January, 2017
by KOOS COUVÉE

ANGRY victims of last month’s disastrous floods in Angel are expected to descend on the Town Hall next week to grill Thames Water chiefs.

Dozens of homes and businesses were wrecked after a burst water mains sent millions of gallons of water gushing down Camden Passage, Charlton Place and Devonia Road on December 5.

Islington Council is launching a review into the response by public services. The aim is to reduce the risk of future flooding, protect homes and businesses and to improve responses to mains bursts, according to documents published ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

Angry traders and residents will come face-to-face with Thames Water chiefs, who will be asked to explain the company’s response to the flooding and their progress on investment in the capital’s creaking water infrastructure.

It was the third time in 20 years that the 1850s cast-iron pipe in Upper Street had ruptured in the same place. 

Antiques trader Pauline Coakley Webb, of Style Gallery in Pierrepont Row, whose shop has had to be gutted and completely refurbished, said: “We want to know why it happened when it had happened previously, and why it took so long to have the water turned off. If they had been quicker there might have been less damage. 

“But none of that solves the grief and state of depression that everyone is going through. Few of us have been able to keep up and running. It just brings the whole place down.”

Residents and traders hit by the floods have questioned Thames Water’s investment strategy at a time of ever-rising profits and dividends for shareholders. 

St Peter’s ward councillor Martin Klute, a member of the committee leading the review, told the Tribune: “We want to know more about the underlying causes of the burst, especially because it happened three times in the same place. 

“At a recent meeting a Hackney Council officer told us Thames Water had been carrying out a programme of reinforcement work to water mains but had stopped doing that and changed to a policy of ‘pressure management’. 

“I’d like to ask them whether this is true, and if so, was that a cost-driven decision and has it been risk-assessed? They might be gambling with damage to premises by not continuing with reinforcement work. 

“The flooding [in Angel] has been disastrous for some people and it’s absolutely amazing that nobody was killed. To live with that kind of risk seems unreasonable to me.”

Some residents in Charlton Place and Devonia Road will not be able to return home for six months while kitchens and basements are being stripped, dried out and completely refurbished. 

The floods caused damage to some 35 businesses in and around Camden Passage, Islington’s antiques quarter. Millions of pounds worth of irreplaceable antiques, some from the 16th century, were destroyed by the water. Thames Water’s bill is estimated to be in the tens of millions of pounds. 

The water company has said that it has invested an average of more than £1billion a year for the last 10 years, including spending on the renewal of more than 1,700 miles of ageing water mains. 

The company has ordered a “forensic analysis” of all of its mains bursts in the last 12 months, which will be completed next month. The independent review is led by Paul Cuttill, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the utility sector, and will also delve into Thames Water’s response. 

Wednesday’s meeting at the town hall in Upper Street starts at 7pm.

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