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WREXHAM Council has been criticised for its slow response to flooding after residents impacted by severe weather had to buy their own sandbags.

Dozens of people were evacuated from their homes when Storm Christoph caused major problems in the county borough in January.

Among the communities worst hit were Bangor-on-Dee, New Broughton, Pontfadog and Rossett, while a landslide in Newbridge caused a section of footpath to collapse down an embankment.

A report presented to councillors at a meeting this week shows up to 50 council staff were called out to around 150 separate properties on the night of January 20.

However, politicians raised concerns over how long it took for officers to arrive in some areas, particularly New Broughton, where around 20 houses were deluged by water when the River Gwenfro burst its banks.

Southsea councillor Nigel Williams, who was praised for his efforts to rescue elderly residents and families from their homes on the night, said he was first made aware of the situation at approximately 4.10pm.

But he said it took until 7pm for an out of hours worker to arrive, who informed him he was usually called to board up properties and was not sure what to do.

Cllr Williams told Wednesday’s (July 21, 2021) meeting of the council’s homes and environment scrutiny committee the local authority needed to learn from its mistakes as any further flooding would be “unforgivable”.

He said: “I would like to know why and what went wrong from the alarm being raised by local councillors at 4.25pm, and the many calls made by local residents, to the arrival of the first out of hours officers and housing officers after 7pm. Why was there such a delay?

“These critical hours involved raising the alarm of the impending evacuation of residents, evacuating residents from bungalows and houses by the mountain rescue teams in dinghies.

“Myself and local residents helped people out of their homes and in one case we helped a mum, dad and baby out through the living room window.

“There were also residents who we had to evacuate in their 80s and 90s, some with serious health conditions, and they were being taken out by dinghy.”

Cllr Williams said in the absence of help from the council, he rang a local vicar who opened up a nearby church hall to provide shelter for residents whose homes were flooded.

He also arranged transport for them to get there after assembling a team of volunteers.

The authority’s chief environment officer said 2,000 sandbags were sent out on the night of the storm, but admitted some took longer to be delivered than they should have.

Cllr Williams slammed the fact that no sandbags arrived in New Broughton until after the flooding had stopped.

He said: “None came here so residents had to go to B&Q and buy them themselves.

“The report says that sandbags arrived but what was the point of them after the fact?

“It’s like sending a lifeboat to the Titanic after it’s already sunk.”

Cllr David Kelly, the council’s lead member for planning and corporate resources, said there were different factors which caused the flooding in each community.

He said on many occasions it was due to private landowners failing to maintain water courses.

He said: “The unique event in New Broughton was caused by the Gwenfro over-topping its banks because a drainage culvert that goes under the road was blocked with debris.

“This issue arose on private land; it didn’t arise on a council maintained drain.

“Around 90 per cent of the cases of flooding that we’re seeing, the root causes originated on private land, in water courses and drainage ditches that have been unmaintained for a long time.”

Cllr Kelly asked for Natural Resources Wales to examine what it could do to ensure landowners take responsibility.

Grosvenor councillor Marc Jones expressed concern over the delays in the council’s response and called for better processes to be put in place.

He said: “I was really disturbed that local councillors had to deal with the immediate impacts in that critical golden hour of the emergency or four hours as it appeared to be in this case.

“They’re the people who residents will turn to in a crisis and it’s really important that outside those areas such as Bangor on Dee, councillors know who to contact and how to contact them.

“I think what Nigel did was heroic, which is a strong word to throw out, but from what I’ve heard from other people it was a very last ditch stance.”

New Broughton representative Alan Edwards described the authority’s communication on the night as “terrible” and thanked Cllr Williams for his efforts.

In response to some of the problems raised, chief planning and regulatory officer Lawrence Isted was keen to highlight the significant the clean-up work carried out in the aftermath of the storm.

He said: “I’d ask you to remember that no-one was harmed despite the unprecedented extent and severity of the flooding that occurred.

“Many people were evacuated and cared for by the council and the council and our partners worked tirelessly to clean up the mess afterwards.”

But lead member for the environment, David A Bithell, warned climate change was likely to cause more flooding issues in the future.

He added the authority would need to be prepared in the event of any further incidents.

He said: “We’re seeing more occurrences of flooding across Wrexham and Flintshire and you’ve only just seen the devastation in Germany that flooding can cause.

“They were at one stage looking at evacuating Bangor on Dee.

“It didn’t materialise to any significance, but it could’ve been catastrophic. I think we were lucky in this instance.

“It could be worse next time, so I think we do need to prepare, we do need to learn the lessons with how we communicate with elected members and how we communicate with members of the public in emergencies of this scale.”

Councillors made a total of 10 recommendations at the end of the meeting, including to express their concerns over how the incident was handled and the lack of communication.

They also called for flood plans to be shared with them and for the environment department to bring a report back to the committee on maintenance issues.

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