Sluice gates not working despite flood warnings, Bedford councillors told

“I just pray we do not get any more water because that catchment is full and the residents are in extreme distress”
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Councillors have expressed concern after it emerged flood defence sluice gates aren’t working.

Before its full meeting on Wednesday (January 11), Bedford Borough Council had published THREE flood warnings on its Facebook page.

Bedford mayor, Dave Hodgson told councillors there were potential flood concerns at Turvey Mill, and he asked councillor Doug McMurdo if the flood defence sluice gates in the area are operational.

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Councillor McMurdo (Independent, Sharnbrook) is the portfolio holder for leisure and culture, and has responsibilities for rivers and waterways in the borough.

He replied: “The short answer is no.

“We have pressed the Environment Agency (EA) on this issue since it first brought to our attention last Tuesday, eight days ago.”

He said that unbeknown to the lead local flood authority (Bedford Borough Council) one of the two sluice gates had not been operational for “many months”.

“The last time I know that it was operational was in December 2020.

“We understand [the second gate] is operational but they’re not prepared to open that sluice gate and reduce the levels.

“In the catchment over the new year weekend did fill and there were flood alerts put on particularly for low-lying roads between Harold and Oakley.

“But never ever had a flood alert been issued for the point upstream of the Mill Race and indeed the sluice gates.

“Last Tuesday it peaked at a very high level and the floodplain was not being utilised as a result of the failure of the sluice gates.

“And the Mill Apartments, as I refer to them, that sit on Mill Lane – the old mill in Turvey – was actually taking the full brunt of the high levels of water.

“We’ve been watching this over the last eight days and continue to do so because we’ve had more rain and there’s more to come.

“That stretch of the catchment between Turvey and Olney has not yet gone back into the normal range unlike the lower catchment below,” he said.

The members were told that on Monday this had been escalated to the executive director for EA local operations in London.

This was followed up with a phone call about the water levels and data around that on Tuesday (January 10)

“They still weren’t in a position to give us an answer,” councillor McMurdo said.

“I have kept councillor Weir [Kempston Rural] informed of the situation, this is a very big threat to those properties, a very big threat.

“And I just pray we do not get any more water because that catchment is full and the residents are in extreme distress,” he said.

The mayor said: “I’ve talked to councillor Weir briefly before this meeting, and [let us know] if he or I can do anything to help put some pressure on the EA to use the floodplain.

“It seems the obvious thing to do to me as a layperson,” he said.

In a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, a spokesperson from the EA said: “The Environment Agency are unable to operate the sluice gates in Turvey but are in dialogue around river level forecasts and river levels with Bedford Borough Council.

“Bedford Borough Council are supporting residents to prepare for the risk of flooding.

“Environment Agency officers are monitoring the situation closely and have someone on hand 24/7 to take action.

“We encourage members of the public to sign up to our free flood warning service –”