VILLAGERS at Iping, one of the worst-hit areas in the Midhurst and Petworth area, believe – like flood victims in the Somerset Levels – that the river should be dredged.
The River Rother broke its banks and gushed into their homes, leaving a trail of devastation. Seven households had to be rescued in boats.
It was the worst flooding in living memory and with bills for thousands of pounds of damage, they are asking ‘what went wrong?’
Jacquie Broadway believes much of the blame lies with a failure by the Environment Agency to carry out regular dredging maintenance of the river as they did years ago.
“We are told the government stopped the Environment Agency carrying out dredging about ten years ago.
“There is only about a one-metre gap under Iping Bridge at present. I believe the problem is caused by farmers ploughing close to the river’s edge and when it rains, the silt is washed into the river.”
Over the years, villagers believe the build-up of silt has raised the river bed and during the Christmas storms with the build-up of debris, the river was blocked at the bridge. They also believe the sluice gates at Stedham failed, exacerbating their nightmare.
“In the past we have watched the river rise and when it gets to a certain level, it suddenly goes down because they open the sluice gates at Stedham.
“This time the gates were like a drop in the ocean and the river just kept rising at Iping. We are all asking ‘whatever could have happened?’”
They also believe landowners should be made to take up their responsibility to keep ditches and culverts clear and hedges maintained to alleviate flooding problems.
Mrs Broadway and her neighbours have now met Environment Agency officers to discuss their concerns.
Jamie Fielding, flood risk adviser for the EA, told the Observer: “My initial visit to Iping was the first step in understanding the community’s issues, to start a dialogue and look to address their concerns.
“As a range of options it is possible dredging may be a short-term solution, but what we are currently doing is talking to landowners throughout the Rother Valley jointly with the South Downs National Park Authority, Natural England and the Arun and Rother Rivers Trust and working with them to make sure the sand and soil is staying on their fields. If we can address the issue at source, there is no need to dredge.
“In terms of debris in the rivers, our operations teams are out regularly checking for blockages. At peak flooding we try to do as much reactive work as soon as it is safe to do so.”
He said: “Iping was a community affected by a significant flood event and through our discussions we are hoping to make them more resilient with flood warning and more information.”
He hoped to involve the National Flood Forum in helping Iping set up an action group which had been beneficial in other communities.
“We would also welcome any other communities affected by floods to get in touch as we are keen to have more engagement with people so they do not feel alone.”