Residents in Ashburton have given a cautious welcome to a new flood warning system which will give more time for them to prepare if the town is hit by flooding.
But some people living in the Devon town fear the service, set up by the Environment Agency, will not go far enough to protect homes at high risk.
A flood defence scheme was built in 1983 on the River Ashburn which has prevented the town centre flooding since, but the current early-warning system relies on communication between a number of volunteers and agencies.
Town clerk Bruce Broughton said: “We’d get a warning from the Environment Agency to say there was a flood risk.
“I would then check the river levels and probably have a quick drive around just to have a look at all the areas to see if there were any signs of flooding.
“And then if it looks like one or two areas, we’re going to need to do something, then we send out an alert on the WhatsApp group and get some volunteers and if necessary, build sandbag walls or do whatever is required.”
Mr Broughton also explained how the existing 40 year-old defence scheme has helped the town.
“What we have got is a flood scheme so that when the river level gets to a certain point, it gets taken out of the river and put into an emergency overflow so that the pressure coming through the main centre of town is taken away, which works really well.
“And I think any issues of flooding that we’ve had in the last few years have actually come from the drainage system.”
Lauren Bentley is an independent dance artist living in Ashburton who is still worried about floods.
She says the problem is not about the lack of warnings; it is about the authorities failing to provide what is needed after the warning is given.
“We’ve only lived here three years, and we’ve already had the problem of not having enough sandbags delivered by the council,” Ms Bentley says.
“And those sandbags being difficult to find at the town hall or running out and it been very difficult to get those sandbags to our property or other people being able to do the same because of disabilities, because of not having a car, because of age and because of children, all kinds of things.”
Despite information leaflets being posted through doors, she says they are not very helpful and often fail to recognise where the biggest problems lie.
“There’s a problem created for a lot of people – even though [others have] properties right next to the river – and by the poor management of the roadside part of the property and flooding in through the front door due to the way that the council haven’t looked after the drains.
“The drainage system isn’t up to date.”
Mr Broughton admits the drainage systems are not alway effective and that there have been some unfortunate mistakes. He adds that some residents have more reason to be nervous than others.
“So if they lived at the bottom of St Lawrence Lane, there would be a lot of nervousness because what is known as the Balland Stream flows through there and there’s a culvert that has traditionally flooded fairly regularly.
“And I think the last time it flooded the district council knocked the cover for the culvert back into the culvert, which caused it to flood.”
The Environment Agency insists the new flood warning service is a significant improvement on the old one as it can contact residents at flood risk directly.
Over 300 properties will be auto-registered to receive flood warnings for the River Ashburn at Ashburton and more than 125 of those are at high risk.
There are three types of warning; flood alert, flood warning and severe flood warning.
Each warning type is triggered by particular weather, river or sea conditions which cause flooding.
Ben Johnstone, area flood and coastal erosion manager, said: “We know the devastating impact that flooding can have, which is why protecting people and communities is our top priority.
“However, the climate emergency means we cannot prevent all flooding – so we’re working to make communities more resilient.
“We want to ensure that everyone has as much time as possible to prepare for flooding which is why we’re pleased that people in Ashburton will now be able to receive our free flood warning service.”
In England 5.2 million properties are currently at risk of flooding with the average cost of flood damage to a home being £30,000.
Mr Broughton says he is confident the new service will help reduce the risk.
“This will make a difference because it’ll mean that we’re not asking people to go out and keep an eye on it because we’d have more specific and targeted information.”
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