Crashes leave Wisbech's flood wall in need of protection
PUBLISHED: 11:09 30 May 2017
Improvements are to be made to Wisbech's main flood wall which has been repeatedly damaged by numerous collisions.
The action from the Environment Agency comes after a Wisbech councillor and flood warden called for a more “long-term solution” to put an end to motorists crashing into the town’s main flood bank – which cost multi-millions and took five years to build.
Fenland District and Wisbech Town Councillor Virginia Bucknor for Waterlees Village Ward contacted the Environment Agency following a number of collisions where drivers are believed to have crashed into the wall after coming out of the Colworth Road junction.
The 313m wall, which was completed in February 2014, aimed to improve Wisbech’s flood defences along the River Nene and, in 2015, it won an award for its infrastructure.
Cllr Bucknor said: “As a flood warden I was concerned that residents had advised this wall had been in this poor state for several months.
“This is after all the main artery into Wisbech, and when we’re trying to make improvements to Wisbech and this has not been repaired for such a long time, it really is disappointing.”
In an email to the Environment Agency, she wrote: “Residents are extremely angry that this wall has been in this state for several months, particularly earlier this year when we had the very high tide.”
The Environment Agency was quick to respond and said: “Since we improved the tidal defence wall in 2010 we have had a number of incidents at this location due to vehicles repeatedly catching the low level wall coping when turning at this junction.
“Ideally the flood wall would benefit from a grass verge to provide a reasonable buffer distance between the highway and defence wall.
“We need a more sustainable longer term solution for this damage hotspot to protect the flood defence. Rather than repeatedly fixing the coping and the brick cladding our catchment engineer, Guy Szomi, has been in discussion with Cambridgeshire County Council Highways about making alterations to the highway and the possibility of moving the kerb line away from the wall.
“The work is being planned by them and we are expecting work to start on the alterations this year. We have contacted them and are awaiting an update on progress. As part of the road realignment, the wall will be repaired and reinstated at the same time.
“The damage has been inspected and it is superficial. The integrity of the flood defence remains intact.
“The coping brick performs a weather barrier and serves to protect from moisture getting between the brick cladding and concrete core. Whilst the cladding has also been damaged, the reinforced concrete core (the water tight element) is structurally sound and therefore does not does not affect the level of flood protection it has been designed for.”
When work on the wall began, in 2010, former mayor of Wisbech, Councillor Jonathan Farmer, called the wall a “hideous monstrosity”.
Residents also attacked the unattractive appearance of the structure, claiming that it looked “more like the Berlin Wall”.
In response to the Environment Agency’s reply, Cllr Bucknor said: “I’m very surprised that this is caused by vehicles who would have to mount the little pavement first.
“However, whilst I’m pleased you’ve confirmed there is no impact with regard to the integrity of the flood defences, the wall is damaged, unslightly, residents have complained and whomever is responsible, this needs to be repaired.”
She later received a statement from the Environment Agency’s catchment engineer Guy Szomi, who said he has had the section of wall re-inspected. “The damage is slightly worse than the last time we inspected it, no doubt as a result of further collisions with vehicles,” he said.
“Some of the larger lorries that make the turn clip the coping brick that overhangs. The top layer moves easily if struck from the side as it only rests on the damp proof membrane rather than via any fixed connection.
“Vehicles aren’t mounting the pavement as there isn’t one. This demonstrates the continued problem and why we need a more robust solution than simply repairing the damage only for the wall to be struck again.
“The wall will be fully reinstated at the same time as the proposed highway led work. I understand the general abandoned look of the wall is unsightly.
“In the interim therefore I will arrange for the wall to be ‘tidied up’ and realigned to lessen the eyesore and to discourage further possible vandalism.
“The work will require road management which will take a few weeks to agree with highways a safe system of working along this busy road.”
Cllr Bucknor has since said: “At least they are doing something about it, it’s just a shame that the local councillor didn’t have time do it.
“The Environment Agency is going to deal with it promptly now, and then longer term work to make a stronger job of it.”