Angry residents and business owners have formed a campaign group to try and prevent a recurrence of the flooding which devastated Leatherhead over Christmas.

The River Mole Action Group hopes to launch a website in the coming weeks to publicise what needs to be done.

Speaking on behalf of the group Nik Cookson, said it believes the Environment Agency (EA) has many questions to answer and has failed for many years to "act in the interests of Mole Valley residents".

Questioning why the River Mole flooded "so fast, so suddenly and with such ferocity", Mr Cookson said: "It seems that the Mole may well have been ‘held back’ to protect larger urbanised areas and that certain control points were opened too late and not opened fully. 

"Mention has been made of faulty electronic sluice gates and this combined with the admitted dumping of Gatwick airport’s holding ponds into the Mole will have caused untold damaged from the unfettered huge rush of water."

Asked by this newspaper to provide detailed information about its balancing ponds, and what exactly happened there during the floods, a spokesman for Gatwick issued a general statement saying: "We have balancing ponds and the flow rate capacity was at maximum because of the heavy rainfall.

"We followed procedure, which is backed up by an EA permit.  It’s important to recognise this really was exceptional weather and severely heavy rainfall.

"The fact that the River Mole burst its banks is proof of this."

The spokeswoman said: "We had never seen levels in the ponds so high.  Everything that could have been done was certainly done - the flow rate capacity, which is controlled by screw pumps, was operating to maximum.

"In short, there was no way to release more water out of them and there was an awful lot going into them."

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Leatherhead flooded over Christmas when the River Mole burst its banks 

The EA said the Upper Mole Flood Alleviation Scheme, which consists of reservoirs at Worth Farm and Tilgate Lake, is in operation and designed to store water during high flows and release it at a measured outflow once water levels drop, reducing the effects of flooding downstream.

A spokesman said: "This means the schemes do not require any specific ‘operation’, as their design ensures they start to impound water once certain conditions are reached.

"Tilgate was used to attenuate and store flows throughout the duration of the period of bad weather across Christmas 2013 and New Year 2014, and although not yet complete, flood water was stored in the dam structure at Worth Farm.

"Together these assets attenuated the flows on the River Mole over the recent incident, which helped reduce the impacts of flooding downstream."

He said the scheme is primarily designed to offer protection to areas of Crawley, close to where the River Mole starts - 23 miles away from Leatherhead. 

The spokesman added: "Other areas downstream are likely to derive an incidental benefit from the presence of these structures by reducing peak flows from the Gatwick Stream.

"The Burstow Stream and the Redhill Stream join the River Mole downstream of Crawley, but upstream of Leatherhead meaning that significant flows of water are introduced into the River Mole."

The existing defences and those the EA has in the pipeline - additional reservoirs at Worth Farm, Gatwick and Clays Lane, are all well upstream of Leatherhead, in the Crawley and Horley areas, and there of limited benefit to Leatherhead itself.