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Community demands stronger flood defences for Leatherhead
Residents, business-owners and politicians are demanding improved flood defences on the River Mole following devastating floods in Leatherhead.
In the House of Commons on Monday Mole Valley’s MP, Sir Paul Beresford, made a direct call for money to be invested in creating flood defences in the area - where homes, a crematorium, a football ground, a fire station and a water pumping station have all been flooded after the river burst its banks three times in the past fortnight.
Sir Paul said he will now be conducting a review into the "unique disaster", working with Surrey County Council and the Environment Agency.
He told the Epsom Guardian yesterday that the aim is formulate plans to "improve and increase flood prevention schemes" and to then submit bids to the Government to fund them.
Homes were flooded in Thorncroft Drive, Leatherhead, on Christmas Eve
The Environment Agency said that three more reservoirs are already planned to protect Leatherhead from flooding.
A spokesman said that upstream of Leatherhead, the Upper Mole Flood Alleviation Scheme consists of a flood storage reservoir at Tilgate that holds water at times of heavy rainfall to protect properties downstream, in areas such as Horley, Dorking, and Leatherhead.
He added: "An additional reservoir is soon to be operational at Worth Farm, with planning underway for a third at Clays Lake.
"Further to this, Gatwick Airport are constructing a further flood storage reservoir directly on the Gatwick Stream.
"All these sites contribute to reductions in flood risk for properties downstream."
Leatherhead’s district councillors said questions must be asked as to why a reservoir at Gatwick Airport was opened on December 24, pumping a huge volume of water into the already full river which travelled downstream flooding areas such as Leatherhead.
That day the water reached a level never before recorded at Leatherhead - 3.5 metres - almost half a metre higher than its previous recorded peak.
Indra and Martin Starnes were rescued in a raft on Christmas Eve
The River Mole, a tributary of the River Thames, rises in West Sussex, near Gatwick Airport, and flows north-west through Surrey into the Thames near Hampton Court Palace.
A spokeswoman for Gatwick Airport said: "The reservoir will have been opened.
"The river flooded in a way which was unexpected in terms of the modelling we have conducted with the Environment Agency. The problems we had were because it was unexpected."
Victims of the floods have demanded action to protect their homes and businesses as they begin to clear up the wreckage of their lives and livelihoods.
Natasha Bell, from Epsom, whose sister-in-law runs a racehorse rehabilitation centre in Thorncroft Drive, Leatherhead, which has been flooded three times, said: "It’s absolutely devastating. We have got to keep going in, trying to save what we can, but something needs to be done, it can’t keep on happening."
Indra Starnes, 51, who was rescued by boat from her home in Thorncroft Drive on Christmas Eve, said: "I know we live near the river but there are other houses close by that are not near the river and they have also been flooded.
"This was a freak event, but are we going to get some more freak events?"
Her husband Martin Starnes, 57, said the couple will not be able to able to move back into their house for at least six months.
He added: "We need people to start looking into why this happened. Even in the flooding of 1968 my house did not flood.
"The river comes up and goes down but it doesn’t do this. It’s not normal.
"In 2012 we had rain day after day after day and the river and the fields flood but then the rain stops and it doesn’t flood homes. The flood defences need to be looked at. Someone needs to investigate."
Martin and Indra Starnes sort through the items from their flooded house
Peter Ashdown, chairman of flooded Leatherhead Football Club, agreed that flood defences must be investigated to prevent this ever happening again.
Councillor David Sharland said much of Leatherhead is a floodplain and that building defences on these would be counter-productive and may not be justified in terms of cost.
He said he has questions with regards to how the River Mole was managed at Gatwick.
Coun Sharland said: "We don’t know if Gatwick have been looking after themselves sacrificing areas downstream. It’s something that needs to be investigated."
Councillor Rosemary Dickson echoed concerns about the knock-on effect of the alleged decision to open Gatwick’s reservoirs.
She said Surrey County Council (SCC) checking blocked drains and gulleys and building permeable driveways are also "small measures which might help".
In a debate on flooding in the House of Commons on Monday, January 6, Owen Paterson, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, said the Government would be investing a further £2.3billion up to 2021 to protect 300,000 more homes from flooding across the country.
In response, Sir Paul said: "I am delighted by talks of a review and more money, but I am cautiously aware that we in Surrey usually do not get a decent slice of what is available, so I am putting in a direct bid now."
Mr Paterson said he "strongly recommended" Sir Paul draw up a bid, working with SCC and the Environment Agency, which would be "assessed alongside all the other schemes".
Leatherhead Football Club's ground was flooded
Sir Paul said work will be undertaken on developing the "wide range of different options" for the schemes in the coming months.
He said: "The river floods a bit but not that much and the floodplain is available to accommodate it.
"The continuation of the rain has been worrying."
When asked about accusations that Leatherhead had been "sacrificed" to keep Gatwick Airport up and running, he said: "I don’t know about that, but we will be talking to Gatwick Airport.
"There were some flood defences which were supposed to be put in by BAA, the previous owners of the airport, and this was not done."
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