Cornwall village Altarnun at mercy of flood waters

By Jonathan Morris
BBC News, Plymouth


"A situation like this does bring out something in people."

Farmer Phil Parsons has been getting his hands dirty, cleaning up after flooding hit the Cornwall village of Altarnun on Wednesday.

The picturesque village was besieged by water pouring off Bodmin Moor to the west.

As water surged down Penpont Water, a tributary that runs down a valley through the village, it became blocked by an old bridge and was forced over the banks.

Twelve homes were left flooded after nearly 33mm (1.4in) of rain fell in 24 hours.

Now Mr Parsons and other members of the South West Flood Defence Committee are in the middle of another battle, over funding for flood defences.

'Exceptional downpour'

Labour former cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw accused the government on Wednesday of cutting funding for flood defences.

image captionAltarnun was flooded when the flow of water from Bodmin Moor was restricted by a bridge

In a question to the prime minister, he said: "Doesn't the devastation in Cornwall illustrate the false economy of your recent decision to slash investment in flood defences?"

David Cameron denied the charge, saying Defra (The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) would be spending £2.1bn on flood defences and coastal erosion between now and 2014, roughly the same as what was spent in the last four years.

The South West Flood Defence Committee, which is responsible for deciding how the region's money is spent, received £18.5m from Defra in 2009/10.

Mr Parsons, 46, has been lobbying for an increase in the local levy - the amount of money the flood committee gets from Cornwall Council, on top of the money from Defra.

'Incredible amount'

But he warned that money alone could not defend a village like Altarnun.

He said: "These kind of events flag up the demand for resources to be spent on flood prevention.

"But the water accumulated at such speed it overcame the point at which it was restricted.

"It was an exceptional downpour, a force majeure event.

"The Environment Agency has been as active as they can be, but you cannot predict where the rain is going to come.

"It was an incredible amount in a small part of time."

The problem at Altarnun was the same at Lostwithiel where another bridge, partially blocked by debris, sent water into the town.

Mr Parsons said: "You can put certain things in place like early warning systems, but how can you prevent flooding with such volumes of water?

"If you are at the bottom of a valley you are going to be vulnerable."

Mr Parsons has been advising local people to install boards across their doors, to restrict flood water.

"They are surprisingly effective against water that is up to 2ft deep," he said.

He praised the resilience of villagers faced with dirty water swilling around their homes.

"Everyone has been working together and helping each other," he said.

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