NEARLY a decade ago, four riverside villages that are in the shadow of Windsor Castle became the flooding epicentre of the UK during the widespread issues of 2014.
The villagers of Datchet, Horton, Wraysbury, and Old Windsor not only woke up to their homes being six feet under water; they also found leading politicians of the time, a mass media frenzy, and some swans floating at their doorsteps.
Scenes of bravery and compassion from the army and the community rolling up their sleeves to deliver food, water, and essential supplies to vulnerable people and building walls out of sandbags captured the nation’s heart.
Wraysbury Primary School became the control room and a safe haven for affected residents. The army even used it for the soldiers to sleep.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke with Datchet and Wraysbury residents, parish councillors, and residents about the 2014 flood event – and the one thing they all said is the community really pulled together and got through the crisis mostly by themselves.
Describing the 2014 flood event, deputy headteacher of Wraysbury primary school Lynn Holden said: “It came down like the rapids in 2014. My bin was tied to the tree with rope snapped off and whirled around the garden like a whirlpool and then down to the River Thames. It was like the Colorado Rapids.”
She even said she saw swans floating around her property.
When the next flood event happens, the residents said they are “better prepared” and organised to take on the challenge by themselves.
But behind the brave faces lay a furious rage at the Environment Agency (EA). They felt the authority didn’t do enough to hold back the flood water that devastated their communities.
EA officers and leading politicians who went to the villages to show their concern and support – with the paparazzi and TV cameras – were cursed at by the flood-ridden villagers.
Cllr Margaret Lenton, chairwoman of Wraysbury Parish Council, a somewhat village celebrity for telling then Labour leader Ed Miliband to get out, accusing him of only being there for a photo opportunity.
The comments were made after rescuing someone with a disability and needed to pass Mr Miliband, who was setting up for a press conference. Lynn Holden said she shoved the Labour leader when he got in her way, adding she thought she “knocked over a 16-year-old boy”.
Cllr Lenton said: “We also had [then defence secretary] Philip Hammond, who thought we were in his constituency, and then [former prime minister] David Cameron came.
“A number of us sat round the table and he said money is no object. If you were naïve, you would have believed that.”
Wraysbury was by itself, for the most part, as the army was mainly helping out villagers in Datchet. That was until resident Su Burrows challenged Mr Hammond to bring the army to the village, which they did shortly afterwards.
Wraysbury parish councillor Lora Andrew recalled she had three days of no sleep as she was manning the phones and informing residents directly or through groups on Facebook.
She explained: “2014 was all a bit wild, really. There wasn’t a lot of sleep involved. It was all hands to the pumps.
“It was incredible how quickly everything happened both good and bad. The sheer volume of water, I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime.
“My parents’ home floods every single year and I have never seen anything like this. 2003 possibly was the worst prior to that but this was worst by a longshot.”
She continued: “The fear was real. There’s no prettying it or sugarcoating it.
“It was you stay in your home, you risk your life, and those who chose to risk their lives for other peoples’ had their homes go under. It was huge and it still makes me emotional today.”
The 2014 floods were not the first time the villages flooded. All four have had a history of flooding – some even dating back to the 1600s.
Scenes like the 2014 event, but not as severe, were even seen back in 2003.
However, the four villages became one of the most severely hit by the widespread flooding in 2014 – and some think they know why.
Fingers are pointed to the £110m Jubilee River flood alleviation scheme that protects Maidenhead, Windsor, and Eton from flood water.
The idea was conceived in the 1990s that those Royal Borough towns should have flood protection. It became fully operational in 2003 and was even officially declared open by Prince Andrew in 2002.
What became a dream for residents in Maidenhead, Windsor, and Eton became a nightmare for the villagers in Datchet, Horton, Wraysbury, and Old Windsor, who believe the flood water the Jubilee River accumulates is dumped downstream where they are during the night-time.
Chairman of Datchet Parish Council David Buckley said: “They are releasing the water further up to protect Maidenhead, Windsor, and Eton, and dumping it.
“They are dumping thousands of tonnes down onto us and the situation is we haven’t got the flood defences to protect us. The ones we have got haven’t been designed or maintained well, and there will be worst floods to come.”
The men who foresaw this and warned the EA during a public inquiry in 1992 were Cllrs Ewan Larcombe and Ian Thompson.
Cllr Thompson claimed the EA tried to make savings and took out a stilling basin at Taplow. It is a concrete wall set into the ground that absorbs the force of the water when the gates open.
He said: “The full power of the surge load went straight down the Jubilee River, and it destroyed weirs, almost every structure.
“Most importantly, it nearly flooded Datchet. It nearly took us out as a community.”
He also said the bend in the Slough area, by Eton College, was “incorrectly designed” and the gates were stuck in the open position on the first opening.
Even Windsor’s MP Adam Afriyie chimed into the debate and wrote a letter to the EA. He wrote after the 2014 flood event: “When they open the Jubilee gates at Maidenhead, it causes a mini-wave with a bumpy surge. When it meets up with the main river, it is very fierce.
“I believe this rapid flow causes problems.”
A review of the Jubilee River was ordered by the EA, and it dismissed the claim that the water from the Jubilee River negatively impacts the villages.
However, the local authorities and partners part of the £640m scheme were required to put forward their contribution as, unlike the Jubilee River, the government was only willing to pay for it partly rather than fully.
RBWM’s part of the scheme was channel one and it would have protected Datchet, Horton, Wraysbury, and Old Windsor from flooding.
But the council’s failure to raise the £54m in time via a flood levy on council tax prompted the sponsoring group to go ahead without the Royal Borough in 2020.
This enraged the villagers even more and felt like the council abandoned them, dubbing themselves “the forgotten villages”.
So, enraged that a petition signed by over 1,500 people went to full council for debate, urging for RBWM to ‘honour its commitment’ and re-join the River Thames Scheme. This was defeated by the ruling Conservatives.
When Datchet, Horton, and Wraysbury councillors David Cannon (Con) and Gary Muir (Con) abstained from the vote, the parish councils passed motions in no confidence in the pair.
What teethed off villagers the most is that RBWM spent millions of pounds on a new leisure centre in Braywick, Maidenhead, rather than use that money to spend on channel one.
Wraysbury resident Henry Perez said: “That is money that could have been committed to the scheme. What is the council’s priority? Is it saving lives and property or glamorising a certain town?”
Cllr Larcombe summed up the feelings of the villagers: “We are a distant outpost of the borough. They [the council] really don’t care about us. All they want is our tax money.”
Another blow is that villagers don’t feel there are any lessons learned and any other scheme that will alleviate flooding will just have the same problems the Jubilee River and River Thames Scheme faced.
On top of that, the watercourses in villages have not been properly maintained by the council due to complications of land ownership and enforcement, nor has the EA undertaken dredging since 1992 due to the ever decreasing population of depressed river mussels.
The scars of the major flood event have not healed, and villagers fear the next disaster will be bigger than what was seen in 2014.
Wraysbury resident Leen Vanrenterghem, who still keeps her furniture on bricks, said: “I’m still petrified from the flooding. We are not protected. I haven’t kept any photographs because every time I see flooding on the television, I still get flashbacks.”
Cllr Larcombe said: “It [2014 flood event] changed peoples’ lives. There are lots of people who left because they couldn’t live with the fear of flooding.”
There is a small glimmer of hope that remains lit. The EA and RBWM are exploring an alternative option that is viable and affordable that will protect properties and businesses from Datchet to Hythe End.
However, details surrounding this new scheme remain unclear as the scheme is only just being looked into – nearly two years after RBWM left the River Thames Scheme.
Cllr Cannon, lead member for public protection, said: “We are committed to continuing to work with the EA, landowners and other partners to seek to manage flood risk and impacts in the Royal Borough, which we know is a very real concern for some communities.
“We are working in partnership with the EA to develop and deliver technically and economically viable, affordable and sustainable flood risk improvement measures in Datchet, Horton, Wraysbury and Old Windsor.
“This involves assessing potential longer-term options for reducing the risk and impact of flooding, including ideas suggested by parish councils and community groups. All flood risk management projects are complex, multi-stage, significant infrastructure projects and, as such, they take time to identify suitable options working with the community, secure the required permissions and raise the significant investment required from multiple sources in order for them to go ahead.
“This project is currently in the ‘identify options’ stage, which ends with Strategic Outline Case approval. We anticipate this stage will be completed in spring 2023. Options being explored include channel works, flood walls, embankments and other engineering works, flood storage, natural flood management and riverbed re-profiling and dredging.
“While work, quite rightly, has continued in other areas and in other parts of the borough, we are still very much committed to working on this project.
“While channel one of the River Thames Scheme was unfortunately neither viable nor deliverable without either significant additional national funding, or the greater flexibility we sought from Government over council tax, our original commitment of £10m is still ring-fenced to contribute to alternative flood alleviation works.
“In the shorter-term, we are undertaking several shorter-term flood-related improvement and maintenance works at Wraysbury Drain, Datchet barrel arch and Datchet Common Brook. Work at the Wraysbury Drain has started and we will be commencing work at the barrel arch in the new year.
“When there are significant flooding incidents there is a multi-agency response involving the council, Environment Agency and emergency services in order to support those affected, and this was the case with the floods of 2013/14.”
It’s not the question if there will be another flood; it’s when. And with climate change ever increasing the risk of flooding and the four villages still remaining unprotected, this fear will only be exacerbated until a scheme is fully implemented.
Original article: https://www.windsorobserver.co.uk/news/23211709.four-forgotten-windsor-villages-remember-devastating-flood-event/