HIGH PRIORITY: Chard and Ilminster flooding probe
Flooding On Glynswood In Chard In June 2021, Image: Somerset County Council
Fixing flooding issues in the Chard and Ilminster area should be “a high priority” for Somerset’s new unitary authority, councillors have said.
Somerset County Council is currently carrying out detailed investigations into the “extremely distressing” flooding which affected properties in Chard, Ilminster and the surrounding villages in mid- and late-2021.
Councillors have welcomed the initial findings of both investigations, with division members calling for closer working with water companies and more sensible plans for new housing in and around the two towns.
Full reports into both major events are due to be published by the spring, with Chard residents getting their chance to have their say on local flood prevention at a drop-in meeting set for January 24.
The Chard area was hit by remarkable flash flooding in late-June 2021, with social media being awash with images and videos of water flowing down the A30 Fore Street, the A358 Furnham Road and the Glynswood residential area.
Multiple roads in the villages around Chard suffered severed damage and required extensive repairs, including Scrapton Lane near Combe St. Nicholas.
Helen Smith, the council’s service manager for flood and water management, told a meeting of the council’s policies and place scrutiny committee when it met in Taunton on Wednesday (January 12) that Chard was “already a known area of concern” before the floods.
She said in her presentation: “Excessive overland flow from fields in the steep catchment to the north and western edges of the town channelled into the areas around Crimchard, Glynswood, Furzehill and the High Street, overwhelming local drainage systems and impacting properties.
“Substantial quantities of debris was brought with the flows. Downstream, properties and businesses in the Furnham Road area were flooded and resulted in severe disruption.
“Elsewhere, field runoff into local brooks and watercourses resulted in a rapid fluvial response, with these systems feeding into the Isle and Axe catchments.”
Early investigations have revealed that a culvert within the Glynswood estate had “become blocked with debris”, with the culvert itself being “undersized”.
Ms Smith said there were “ongoing issues” with the drainage system on Furnham Road, with vehicles often being unable to exit Coker Way.
In addition to the Chard floods, the council is also investigating flash flooding which occurred in Ilminster in late-October 2021, with properties on and around the B3168 Station Road and Ditton Street.
A total of 43 residential properties were affected – including numerous chalets within the Holway House residential park – along with three commercial premises on the Rose Mills Industrial Estate.
Councillor Ann Bown said the council needed to press water companies to make improvements where they were most urgently needed.
She said: “In my own division [Bridgwater West], we’ve had a few flooding areas where Wessex Water hasn’t replaced the pipes – they are so old they are beginning to affect a number of areas.
“Something needs to be done – our drainage systems aren’t able to cope with heavy rain, and it causes a lot of problems.”
Ms Smith responded: “A predominant amount of my time and my team’s time is spent on partnership working. We work very hard to make each other aware of work we are doing or proposing to do.”
The two parts of Ilminster which were most affected by flooding have both been earmarked for development.
The Dairygold Co-operative Society Ltd put forward plans in January 2019 for 150 homes on the northern side of the B3168, along with a range of employment units (including a car showroom and a drive-thru) on the southern side.
At the other end of the town, South Somerset District Council is currently reviewing its Local Plan, which could result in fresh proposals for up to 220 homes on Shudrick Lane.
County councillor Ann Groskop, who chaired the committee meeting, said: “So much of Somerset floods or is in a flood-prone area. Areas of concern need to be fed into the planning system.
“So much of this [problem] is because we have homes being built in areas which used to flood.
“This should be a high priority when we become a new set of councillors in May.”
The first elections to the new Somerset Council will be held on May 5, with the new council due to assume full control from the existing five councils in May 2023.
As part of the ongoing investigation, a public meeting will be held in Chard in late-January, giving residents the opportunity to grill council officials and share their experiences of the floods.
The drop-in event will be held at the Guildhall in Chard on January 24 between 12:30pm and 6:30pm – and will be followed by a town council meeting where forming a Chard Flood Resilience Group will be discussed.
Councillor David Hall, cabinet member for economic development and community infrastructure, said: “There are likely to be a great many factors at play in Chard, as we work to discover why the flooding as a result of extreme weather in June was followed up with further flooding in October.
“The investigation is looking at a range of issues such as how extreme the weather event was, water run-off from land surrounding the town, the maintenance of drainage on both public and private land, the impact of recent development, and possible changes to farming practices.
“When the investigation concludes, we will ask the Somerset Rivers Authority to take an overview of the work of partners in the Chard area.
“Extreme weather is becoming more common as climate change begins to have an impact on weather around the world, and we need to make sure that Chard is prepared and resilient to heavy rainfall in the future.”
Those not able to attend the meeting can send comments or questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The final report is expected to be published in the early-spring.
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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