While the attention in recent weeks has been on those affected by flooding in Somerset and the Thames Valley, some residents who have been forced out of their riverside homes in Hanham feel they have been forgotten.
Steve Godwin and his wife Linda live at Riverside Cottages, four terraced cottages whose front doors are just a few metres from the River Avon.
Mr Godwin, 61, who has cancer, said he and his neighbours had been flooded at Christmas and once since, and felt let down by the Environment Agency. Mr Godwin had signed up for the Environment Agency’s Flood Warning scheme but there were no calls to alert people that flooding was imminent.
He also feels let down by South Gloucestershire Council, which did not deliver sandbags as he requested. Mr Godwin said that although the sandbags would not have stopped the water coming in, they would have acted as a filter.
At Christmas, realising how high and fast-moving the river was, the Godwins took what they could upstairs before getting out. The sewage-laded waters came rushing in, flooding the ground floor and back gardens to a depth of three feet.
A pair of semi-detached cottages and a further large house set further back escaped the flood but their gardens were under water.
Since then the Godwins have been living with relatives nearby but, like their neighbours, they are now gradually moving back in. Understandably as insurance companies have been inundated with claims in recent months, much work remains to be done. The Godwins are still without heating or hot water. Their kitchen units, replaced last year after they were flooded in November 2012, which led to a total insurance claim of around £60,000, are badly water damaged.
Mr Godwin emailed the Environment Agency to say there had been no warning and received one back on 1st February saying: “I am sorry to hear that you are facing flooding again. I have looked at our flood warning service and yes, you are correct, the Lower Avon alert has not been issued. I believe this is because the trigger for this alert is from the river level in Bath and the criteria was not met. The River Avon at your location can be affected when we experience big tides in the Severn Estuary. Unfortunately it looks like the current alert does not consider the tidal level…. I will speak to the team responsible for our flood warning service and request that this issue is investigated.”
Jo McCarron, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Kingswood, has been helping Mr Godwin and his neighbours after they responded to a letter she put through homes in Hanham and Bitton, where there has been flooding this winter, asking for their experiences.
She has managed to secure 120 sandbags for him and his neighbours in the event that the flooding reoccurs. Mrs McCarron said: “Families facing the distress of flooding need to know they will get all the help available. It seems residents here are not being taken seriously. I managed to get sandbags from South Gloucestershire Council but not without being told that they don’t have a statutory obligation to provide them. It’s simply not good enough.”
She said the council needed a proper strategy put in place to avoid this happening again and urged people to respond to the consultation the council is running on its new Local Flood Risk Management Strategy.
She added: “But this won’t help residents such as Steve right now. For example, I am currently on the case for a lady to get a council tax rebate on a property she can’t live in as it’s flooded.
“I’ve also demanded answers from B&NES Council to find out why the sluice gates were opened down river and what assessment was made of the impact here in Kingswood. Furthermore I’ve written to the Police Commissioner to raise the issue of speed boats destroying the river bank. I’m going to push for action from all agencies that have the power and means to ensure these residents aren’t fearful of losing their properties and possessions again.”
Mr Godwin feels that the flooding has been made worse by the fact that trees and vegetation on the riverbank have been removed to make way for the Greenway cycle path.
Meanwhile he hopes the river will now be dredged: “The recent storms, high tides, and flooding brought down numerous trees into the river system and with the boating traffic about to increase for the new season, it is an accident waiting to happen for one of the larger passenger cruise boats carrying over 60 passengers hitting a submerged tree or other sunken obstacles deposited by the recent adverse weather conditions.”
A South Gloucestershire Council spokesman suggested that householders should be as self-reliant as possible.
He said: “We sympathise with those affected by the recent flooding and encourage residents and businesses to make sure that they are aware of the risks of flooding and prepared for its potential effects .In particular, we recommend that people sign up for the Environment Agency’s Flood Warning scheme and the Met Office’s Severe Weather warning to make sure they are aware of forthcoming flood warnings.
“While local authorities are not statutorily responsible for protecting homes and properties from flooding, we seek wherever possible to work with residents and businesses to help them prepare for flooding and deal with its effects. We provide a range of information and advice via our Emergency Planning Team, ranging from business continuity advice to simple steps people can take to be ready for flooding. Self-help sheets and further sources of information are available on the council’s website.
“In addition, we can provide sandbags on request and free of charge. However, we cannot guarantee that we are able to meet all requests as sandbags will be prioritised for high-risk sites and will be issued on a first-come, first-served principle. We therefore advise householders to make their own arrangements and to be as self-reliant as possible.
“We are currently consulting on a new Local Flood Risk Management Strategy which will set out how we will work with other agencies to manage flood risk in South Gloucestershire in the future. We encourage residents and businesses to contribute by visiting our consultation pages at www.southglos.gov.uk”
The deadline for consultation is 31st March.