Villagers and their homes were left at the mercy of a raging river, after an ‘improved’ flood warning system failed to activate.
The telemetry, set up on the River Coquet upstream from Rothbury, registered a massive rise in water levels on Tuesday morning,
County councillor for Coquetdale, Steven Bridgett, has now demanded answers from the Environment Agency over why the much-vaunted system didn’t work as planned.
As the Coquet burst its banks, water spilled out across the main road and into back gardens and garages.
Homes at Armstrong Cottages and The Maltings faced the biggest risk of flooding and only had a series of temporary barriers and sandbags to hold back the torrent.
“This is of the highest concern to us and very alarming,” said Coun Bridgett. “The Environment Agency has consistently stated since the major flood of 2008 that the system has improved and officers were in Rothbury only a few weeks ago saying it has been improved further.
“However, the system failed to activate and warn residents, despite the Environment Agency’s own gauging data saying that flooding was possible.”
At its peak on Tuesday, the river reached 3.39m – just 66cm short of the 4.05m level set in the floods of 2008.
Coun Bridgett added: “This kind of situation is not only very alarming but at the same time a let-down for many residents who live near the Coquet and subscribe to the early warning system.
“If this early warning system is not operating correctly the Environment Agency need to inform us, we were very lucky this time that the flooding that did occur happened during the daytime.”
A spokesman for the Agency said: “Our trigger levels for issuing a flood warning had not been reached at the time we started receiving reports of flooding at Rothbury. After all incidents we conduct a full investigation into the effectiveness of our warnings. The Rothbury flood warning will be included in this to see if there are ways this service can be improved for the future.”
But Coun Bridgett said the explanation was ‘unacceptable’.
He said: “I have had dozens of residents contacting me to ask why the trigger level was not reached, despite this being the highest flood since 2008.”
He is also raising oncerns with the county council’s emergency planning team over the storage of sandbags at a site that would have been totally inaccessible by residents once floodwater crossed the road at Armstrong Cottages.
As part of the council’s Emergency Resilience Plan, Armstrong Park at the eastern entrance to Rothbury was chosen in 2009 as a location point for dispensing sandbags.
Coun Bridgett said: ‘We all assumed the site had been scrapped because of accessibility issues until today.
“It was not until I made a direct request for sandbags on Tuesday during the floods, that I was told they were being delivered to the drop-off point at Armstrong Park and they would need to be collected from there.
“I got straight on the phone to one of the Neighbourhood Service managers and explained that this location was totally unsuitable not only because it was outside of the village but because we were about to be cut off from it.
“Luckily, the member of staff knew the area and agreed to deliver them straight into the village.”