Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has welcomed a commitment by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, to intervene following the failure to repair part of the river wall in Arundel which collapsed two and a half years ago.
Mr Herbert met Mr Gove last week (Tuesday 19 June) to raise the issue and ask for his help to unlock Environment Agency funds which have been pledged for the repairs but cannot be spent because of commissioning regulations.
A section of river wall at the rear of a property in River Road, Arundel, collapsed overnight in January 2016. The wall forms part of the town’s flood defence and the damage has put three properties at immediate risk, as well as increasing the risk of flooding to a further 16 properties in the town.
The Environment Agency stepped in at the time of the wall collapse and shored up the defence with temporary ballast bags to stabilise it and prevent further deterioration. But it has since transpired that it is not the Agency’s responsibility to repair the wall, as this lies with the householders as riparian owners.
Mr Herbert has chaired successive meetings with the residents, the Environment Agency, Arundel Town Council and Arun District Council to try and broker a solution, and he convened a meeting of the insurers at the House of Commons, successfully obtaining ex-gratia payments from them to cover some of the work.
The MP also succeeded in persuading the Environment Agency to offer £200,000 towards the repair costs, a sum which the Agency says is justified by preventing an increase in the risk of flooding to the additional 16 properties.
A contractor is currently working nearby on the River Arun at Arundel and is able to undertake the repairs, but the authorities have so far declined to commission the work because of concerns about risk and cost overruns.
Residents trapped in ‘Catch 22’
Mr Herbert is concerned that the residents are being trapped in a ‘Catch 22’ situation where, despite having raised the funds to pay for the repairs from personal and insurers’ contributions, they are not being permitted to get the work done.
The Environment Secretary acknowledged the importance of rules to ensure that public money is spent properly, but said that the River Road situation appeared to be a special case where it made sense to allow repairs which would cost much less than the official estimates.
Mr Gove said that he would write to the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, to ask if a solution could be found to enable the repairs.
Nick Herbert said: “I am very grateful to the Environment Secretary for listening to my concerns and for raising the issue with the Environment Agency.
“I have worked hard to support the residents and to find a solution to this problem. It is particularly frustrating for all of us that, when we have raised the funds and are so close to being able to get the work done, bureaucratic rules are standing in our way.
“I believe there is a very strong case for the Agency to act pragmatically to enable these essential repairs, and I very much hope that they will respond positively to Michael Gove’s request.”
Kim Parkes, who chairs the River Road Action Group, said: “The residents at the heart of this devastating river wall collapse are extremely grateful that our MP, Nick Herbert, has brought our plight to the attention of the Environment Secretary.
“The collapse of the wall occurred two and a half years ago and has resulted in a torrid existence during that time with no resolution remotely in sight. It has been obvious for some time that the residents alone are quite unable to rebuild the wall without the support of the authorities.
“We hope and pray that this support is forthcoming to negate the threat people are currently living with and to achieve a return to normality at the earliest opportunity.”