Firm admits: ‘Our failures led to flood’

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There were angry scenes and jeering at a meeting in Luton on Tuesday as a water company admitted its failures had led to homes flooding.

Homes in Marsom Grove, Luton, experienced flooding for the first time on June 7 when a heavy rainstorm overwhelmed an unfinished holding basin constructed by Thames Water.

This was in spite of the fact the company had sent a letter to residents in February advising that the basin behind Icknield Way was finished. The basin was designed to prevent flooding to a group of homes in Icknield Way – which it also failed to do.

At Tuesday’s packed meeting at Warden Hill Community Centre, Thames Water engagement manager John Sullivan said: “We admit that was our mistake, our error, and we’re going to make it right.”

It is understood water flowed out from the unfinished basin and was diverted south of the embankment to rear gardens in Marsom Grove.

Resident John Boyle said: “The whole problem is that [the homes in Icknield Way] have been flooded again. There’s something drastically wrong with that.

“These people have been saying one thing and doing another. You’ve upset residents and you come back with your apologies – you’re a disgrace! We’ve been insulted and our intelligence has been insulted.”

Theresa McBride has lived at Marsom Grove for 28 years and says she never experienced floods until the storm of June 7. She said: “Are Thames Water competent to do anything?”

Fellow resident Simon Franklyn added: “Can we stop talking about this as an exceptional storm? The main thing here is that the basin was left unfinished. It would have taken a hell of a lot less rain for that to burst.”

Thames Water presented plans to the meeting for flood defences it claims have a 1/100 rainstorm chance of flooding.

During the presentation, it was explained the rainstorm on June 7 totalled 75mm of water in a few hours compared to an average of 49mm for the month of June. The company stated some flooding would have been experienced in Marsom Grove even without the holding basin being built.

“You wouldn’t expect to see a storm like that in 65 years,” said Mr Sullivan.

Nevertheless, he then said if the holding basin had been completed, the water would have been contained and not caused flooding to gardens in Marsom Grove.

He added: “It’s poor project management on our part as a company, it should have been complete and it wasn’t.”

Residents contacted civil engineer Richard Burton, who carried out his own analysis of the project based on available documentation. During the meeting, he questioned the exceptional status attributed to the storm, and highlighted severe weather in 2007 and 2009. He also questioned whether the permitted development by Luton Borough Council was appropriate given the change of the use of land, and suggested a retrospective planning application ought to be made.

Paul Barton, acting services director for planning at Luton Borough Council, said legal advice would be needed over whether a planning application should be submitted.

Thames Water said contractors would return to the site and complete all remedial work by the close of October.