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Canterbury flood fears as Great Stour littered with debris

River campaigners fear a repeat of devastating floods seen twice this century if waterway clearance work is not stepped up.

Hundreds of homes in and around Canterbury were wrecked when the Great Stour burst its banks over the winter of 2000/01, and again in 2014, following periods of heavy rainfall.

Fordwich homes besieged by water
Fordwich homes besieged by water

Homeowners and authorities were left counting the huge costs of the mammoth clean-up operation.

And there are now serious concerns such disasters could be seen again, with river-watchers claiming the water is littered with dangerous debris, such as fallen trees, vegetation and silt.

The Little Stour and Nailbourne River Management Group - set up in response to the 2001 floods - says not enough work is being done to clear the Stour.

Especially bad, it claims, is the stretch between Fordwich and Richborough, where it is feared debris is restricting the flow of the river, causing water levels to rise dangerously in bouts of heavy rainfall.

Members fear the river could burst its banks again - threatening properties - if the district is battered by rain for a sustained period.

A car stuck in the 2014 floods
A car stuck in the 2014 floods

Group chairman Martin Twyman said: “To be honest, I’m livid about it. We’ve been telling the Environment Agency for years that not enough maintenance is being done.

“And climate change is dumping far more rain on us now, which is not being taken into account.

“Now, with the extra rainfall we get at this time of year, the flow of the river has decreased and water levels will rise because of all the fallen trees and silt which have built up.

“The river is now in a worse state than it was in 2000, and if we get a large volume of rain - which is even more likely in our changing climate conditions - we could see disastrous flooding in the city like before.”

Mr Twyman says he does not blame agency staff on the ground, as he believes their hands are being tied by bureaucracy higher up in the organisation.

A fallen tree in the Great Stour this week
A fallen tree in the Great Stour this week

He suspects there is more concern over the potential effect on wildlife of dredging the river and removing waterside trees which are at risk of toppling into the Stour and restricting water flow.

“It’s major work that needs to be done annually to keep on top of it,” he said.

“You’ve got a bottleneck coming through Canterbury and there is a risk homes there could be flooded if this water cannot get away down to Sandwich.”

“Fortunately, the Nailbourne is OK at the moment and not presenting a threat.”

Mr Twyman’s fears are echoed by Grove Ferry boatyard owner Roy Newing, who has worked on the river for more than 50 years.

Grove Ferry boatyardowner Roy Newing says dozens of trees in the Stour are creating a flooding risk
Grove Ferry boatyardowner Roy Newing says dozens of trees in the Stour are creating a flooding risk

The 81-year-old says there are now more trees down in the water - mostly willows - than ever before.

“Trying to explain it to the powers that be at the Environment Agency is like banging your head against a brick wall,” he said.

“We used to go down the Stour on my barge andpull out five or six tons of trees and vegetation that were blocking the river.

“I’ve been clearing trees and debris for years but am 81 now and shouldn’t have to do it.

“I’ve been battling away for years on this and took the agency down the river last October to show them the problem first hand.

“Unfortunately, only when people start getting flooded might we get something done.”

“They say they’ve got no money, then waste it on studies, when anyone who knows their job has only got to look at the river.

“It’s also the biodiversity bunch at the agency who seem to have the power to stop everything.

"They don’t want to touch it because it’s up in the triple-SI near Fordwich, and yet people’s homes could be put at risk.

“Unfortunately, only when people start getting flooded might we get something done.”

In 2017, a Kent County Council flood risk study reported that there are 4,722 homes in Canterbury and the surrounding villages at risk of tidal or river-related flooding.

'Agency does clear river'

The Environment Agency insists it is carrying out vital clearance work on the Stour.

A spokesman told KentOnline: “We put our resources into where flood risk is greatest.

“Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Kent are better-protected from flooding from a share of more than £430 million of investment by the Environment Agency in the past six years through hard or temporary defences and maintenance of rivers and streams.

“Operational teams are regularly out on the Stour and Nailbourne, clearing debris and blockages, to ensure rivers flow as they should.

“Our staff work very closely together to ensure we provide maximum protection from flooding, whilst enhancing the environment.

“We continually review how to ensure the maximum benefits for people and nature through our work.”

This week, the agency issued flood alerts along the Lower Stour “as a result of persistent rain”, warning of flooded low-lying land and roads around Thanington, which response staff were monitoring.

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