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Flooding along River Great Ouse over Christmas to be investigated

By Alex Pope
BBC News, East

image copyrightTim Barnard
image captionTim Barnard's home in Harrold, Bedfordshire, was flooded in the early hours of Christmas Day

Investigations have started after hundreds of homes were flooded along the River Great Ouse over Christmas.

The Environment Agency (EA) in eastern England said it was working with councils and the emergency services to collect data and information.

Flood and coastal risk manager Paul Burrows said it was about "making us better prepared for next time - as there will be a next time".

A local councillor said "more could have been done" to clear the river.

image copyrightTim Barnard
image captionTim Barnard has lived in Harrold with his wife, Rona, along with their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, Grace and Jack, for seven years

Tim Barnard, 68, whose family home in Harrold, Bedfordshire, was flooded in the early hours of Christmas Day, said he did not receive a call alerting him to the dangers.

"A week before Christmas we got a call but on Christmas Day, nothing," he said.

Mr Barnard said the information he was given by local police at 22:30 GMT on Christmas Eve was "totally wrong", as he was told the peak would hit at 06:00 on Boxing Day - but instead water started coming into his house just an hour and a half later.

He said the "state of the river" was not good enough and that landowners, whose responsibility it is to clear the rivers, "need to be policed by the Environment Agency".

He predicted the cost to repair his damaged home was about £180,000.

image copyrightTim Barnard
image captionAbout 9in (23cm) of water came into Mr Barnard's home

Ms Fields, Conservative councillor who represents Harrold on Bedford Borough Council, said: "There is more the Environment Agency could have done to have kept the rivers clear and I want an explanation why Harrold didn't get any warnings."

Mr Burrows, for the EA, said the counties of Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, had the last "big floods" in Easter 1998 when "many hundreds" of homes were flooded.

This time about 200 homes flooded, but due to improved defences 4,000 others were protected along the River Great Ouse catchment, he said.

"We have lots of good information and lots of rumour and myth, so we need to sort that all out," he said.

image copyrightBedfordshire Fire and Rescue
image captionRescue teams worked to help residents in Harrold evacuate from their homes

Mr Burrows said the EA would look into the flood warnings, saying: "We need to do a validation process - were they accurate, were they timely and are there any improvements that can be made?"

River repairs would be undertaken by the EA along with clearing any blockages that may have caused a flood risk, he said.

The removal of debris is the responsibility landowners either side of the river, but the EA has "permissive powers to do maintenance over 112km [70 miles] of the Great Ouse catchment," he added.

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