End Of The River Mole (as we know it)

 

End Of The River Mole (as we know it)

Update 30th July 2019

We are delighted to be able to provide an extremely positive update to this huge area of local concern.

It does appear that there has been quite the climbdown/rethink by the Environment Agency as a result of immense local opposition against the River Mole Flood Alleviation proposals put forward in a series of presentations in June.

Here are some of the updated passages from the relevant Environment Agency web page relating to the River Mole Flood Alleviation Scheme (we have highlighted sections we believe are significant and materially different to the original proposals):

“Current position

Following feedback and concerns from the community, we are reviewing the initial design concepts, whilst continuing to assess the environmental, amenity and economic benefit of any new scheme.

  • This will take time and means that the original timescales for the project have now changed:
  • Selection of preferred option – this will no longer happen in late summer 2019
  • Share preferred option with community (and commence formal public consultation period) – this will no longer happen in late 2019
  • Construction starts – this will no longer happen in Spring 2020

The above dates were presented at the public drop in sessions as provisional dates only, dependent on many factors.

We apologise if this was not clear on our posters.

We cannot confirm yet what the new timescales for these stages of the project will be.

However, it is important to note that this refurbishment project is in its early stages, and in order to take the project forward, partnership funding is required under government funding rules.

We do not know how long this will take to secure but it can take some years.

In the meantime

Routine maintenance

Whilst we review the design concepts and seek opportunities for partnership funding, we will continue to maintain the existing structures to protect properties from flooding and maintain water levels.

Biodiversity

We will shortly undertake a range of ecological surveys to gain a better understanding of the wildlife across the project area.

Once we have done this, we will evaluate how refurbishment works will affect biodiversity along the river.

We will look to maximise any benefits to wildlife in any refurbishment works.

We have heard how important the wildlife on the river is to residents and it is very important to us too.

We would like to reassure you that the Environment Agency is committed to improving rivers for people and wildlife and we will seek every opportunity to achieve this.

Key points

  • Our priority is to sustain the current level of flood risk protection
  • No decisions on how the scheme will be refurbished have yet been made and all concepts remain open for discussion
  • No start or completion dates for the refurbishment have been decided however the start date is likely be in several years’ time
  • Future decisions on the refurbishment will reflect the importance of water levels to residents
  • We will share information with residents and stakeholders as the project progresses. The intention is for the conversation to remain open during the course of the project
  • We are also investigating how to improve the biodiversity of the river and ecological surveys will begin in the autumn

Whatever we propose, we want all interested groups to take the opportunity to have their say. We will continue to inform and engage with you during further stages of the project.”

Now I’d call that a big win and strong result for all concerned about the plans for the River Mole!

Updated River Mole Flood Alleviation Plan

18th June 2019

Recently a couple of posts in a couple of our Facebook groups caught our attention.

Both on the subject of the River Mole and how it is could be impacted by the Lower Mole Flood Alleviation scheme reaching the end of its designed life resulting in a potential drop in the water level of 1.5 metres!

Read on for those initial social media posts which piqued our interest, the various proposals from the Environment Agency, views from local residents and correspondence from MP for Esher and Walton constituency Dominic Raab.

If you wish to comment or raise your own objection contact details for the Environment Agency responsible for this review can be found at the end of this post.

Social Media Post 1 – 7th June at 08:45

“River Mole- Please read!!

Hi my husband and I posted some letters this morning to local residents in Hersham near the river mole telling them of a worrying proposal that we had recently heard about.

You may have received a rather innocuous looking leaflet front the environment agency recently asking for your views on a proposal to refurbish the sluices on the river mole and ember.

This makes it sound like proposed upgrades and improvements- however-the environment agency actually want to stop maintaining the sluice gates on the river Mole and Ember, they claim they do not have enough money to maintain them and they say if they stop using the gates and the river will return to its “naturalistic” state before the sluice gates- also called the “flood alleviation scheme “were used- what this really means is a drop in the water level of approx 3 metres,a huge drop- the river will become little more than a stream in some places, affecting local enjoyment of a beautiful natural resource.this could also affect our flood defences, If there Is bad rain etc In the winter as we have had recently, we won’t have these defences, which is why they were introduced in the first place! Also the banks will be left exposed and animal and water life could be affected.

This could also affect house prices If you live on these rivers – all the way along the whole length of the Mole and Ember.
They have kept this proposed action very quiet and haven’t contacted residents with the full information of what the effect will be on the river- they just want to save money- please attend the public meeting tomorrow at Imber court from 10am – 7pm and make your voices heard otherwise this will go through without anyone being the wiser or having a say!”

Social Media Post 2 – 7th June at 09:22

“RIVER MOLE FLOOD ALLEVIATION

This has been shared by an Esher resident.

You may well have received contact and flyers from the Environment Agency regarding the above. They are trying to illicit Public opinion on their plans to refurbish the Flood Alleviation Scheme. All the engineered elements of the scheme, the sluice gates and channels have come to the end of their anticipated lifespan, and the EA have commissioned various plans for their upkeep and or ‘decommissioning’, from the most expensive, trying to maintain the whole scheme as it is, to the lowest cost option of dismantling all the major elements and letting the River ‘naturalize’. As a riverside resident I was very concerned to hear that part of the proposal was to remove Viaduct Sluice, as it effectively sets the level of the River upstream, as it is today. I went along to the first drop in session at Imber Court, there is another on Fri 7 June 10am-7pm, and my concern turned to horror.!

What they haven’t told you or explained in any of their upbeat literature so far, is the real effect of the low-cost option. If they ‘decommission’ Viaduct Sluice, THE RIVER LEVEL WILL DROP PERMANENTLY BY NEARLY 2 METRES. What is a beautiful meandering river, will in places, become not much wider than a stream. The effect on all of us on the riverbank will be catastrophic. I urge you to stand on the bit of the river nearest you and imagine what a 2 Metre drop in level will look like.? It will impact not only your view and your amenity but your security too, probably the value of your home, not to mention the fish and wildlife.

The River width and depth from Albany Bridge to Cobham has been as it is today for decades. Any maps or historic pictures in the library will confirm that. It is only because they dug down and excavated a channel downstream of Viaduct sluice as part of the scheme, that this totally unnatural level will be set. In no one’s living lifetime, has it ever been so narrow or so low. The EA say they have no money to finance the scheme, so we can only assume they will default to the lowest cost option, and we will all lose the river that we love and care for.

They say they will listen to our views and input. If you are concerned at all at this massive 2 Metre drop in level, Can I implore you to contact them and let them know. There are only a few weeks left till they decide, if they haven’t already? We must keep Viaduct Sluice in some form. Only our combined action at this point is going to save the River Mole as it is today.”

So what’s going on?

The Lower Mole Flood Alleviation scheme was built during the 1980’s following the 1968 floods to reduce the risk of flooding to 3,000 homes and businesses.

It included a new River Ember channel to provide extra capacity for flood waters and three sluice structures with gates were put in to control water levels.

  • Viaduct Sluice
  • Island Barn Sluice
  • Molember Sluice

Now, as has been previously mentioned, these sluices are now reaching the end of their life, over the past few months the Environment Agency have developed a project appraisal for the Lower Mole Flood Alleviation scheme.

This appraisal established a range of options for the refurbishment of the scheme, and compared their economic viability (costs and benefits), technical feasibility (engineering difficulty) and environmental impacts.

The shortlist of options for the Viaduct Sluice were presented at a couple of drop in sessions earlier this month and it was information made available at these sessions that has caused local residents to become extremely concerned with the information being provided that the water level could be permanently reduced by between 1.5 metres and 3 metres!

Options presented for Viaduct Sluice:

Wier, fish pass and gates

The Environment Agency would replace one of the gates with a weir and fish pass. The other gates would be replaced with new gates.

  • Removes barriers to fish passage
  • Decrease in water levels upstream
  • Royal Mills channel will generally have no day to day flow
  • May require works to channel banks
  • Water level will drop by 1.1m

Remove all gates

  • Removes barriers to fish passage. Increased biodiversity
  • Decrease in water levels upstream
  • Royal Mills channel will generally have no day to day flow
  • May require works to channel banks
  • Water level will drop by 1.5m

Options presented for Island Barn Sluice:

Replace with new gates

  • Requires fish passes to be built at Wilderness and Zenith sluices on the River Mole
  • No change to water level
  • Current flows in the River Mole and Ember Loop are kept
  • Gates will need to be replaced again in 30 years

Remove all gates

  • Removes barriers to fish passage (but only if Molember gates are also removed)
  • Decreased water levels upstream. Ember Loop & River Mole channels will have limited flow
  • In channel groynes upstream of the sluice may be installed to form a low-flow channel and improve biodiversity
  • Water level will drop by 0.7m

Options presented for Molember Sluice:

Weir and tilting gate

  • Replace all the gates except for the tilting gate with a weir
  • Requires fish passes to be built at Zenith and Wilderness sluices on the River Mole
  • No change to water level upstream, water levels can be controlled by the tilting gate
  • Tilting gate will need to be replaced in 30 years
  • Access for recreational boating will be maintained

Weir

  • Replace all the gates with a weir and remove the control building
  • Requires fish passes to be built at Wilderness and Zenith sluices
  • Provision of access for recreational boating will remain
  • Water level will drop by 0.6m

Remove all gates

  • Remove all existing gates, control building and access walkway
  • No need for fish passes to be built at Zenith and Wilderness sluices if the Island Barn gates are also removed
  • Access for recreational boating may be limited
  • In channel berms may be installed to form a low-flow channel and improve biodiversity

The image below shows an example of a 0.5 metre drop – some of the proposals above will result in a drop in the water level three times as much!

Before we get onto the views of local residents, if you wish to express your own opinion through the official channels you can do so either to:

Environment Agency Area Manager

Ms Julia Simpson
Area Manager EA.
Red Kite House
How Berry Business Park
Benson Lane
Crowmarsh Gifford
Oxfordshire
OX10 8BD

Julia.simpson@environment-agency.gov.uk

Lower Mole Flood Alleviation Scheme Project

0208 474 6848

FASProject.LowerMole@environment-agency.gov.uk

Dominic Raab MP for Esher and Walton Consituency

dominic.raab.mp@parliament.uk

Dominic Raab MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

What do local residents think of these options?

There is huge opposition to these proposals by local residents who have already voiced their profound objections against what they see as “…turning a treasured environmental asset into a shallow ditch…” and “…destroying a beautiful meandering river and replacing it with muddy banks and a stream…

One resident who asked not to be named said:

“It is worth noting how the real intention to lower the water level by removing the sluices would have been kept secret from the riparian consultees, unless or until they took the trouble to visit the drop-in sessions at Imber Court.

There is a clear intention to present residents as acquiescing with the scheme, indicated too by the hurried decision date in July.

Several of the EA predictions should be challenged, first the scarcely unchanged appearance of the lowered water level, that in reality would change during dry summers.

Second, the substantial fish stocks, that are said to include ancient carp, would suffer severe shrinkage of their habitat. The alleged benefit for fish from moving to the lower reach, if it existed, would surely be negated by this loss of water.

As you have read, angry residents have demanded cessation of the plans and preparation of proper consultation procedures, to include a public enquiry.

It is galling that this whole business has arisen from the imposition of the River Mole Flood Alleviation Scheme in the 1980s, that was fought at a public inquiry in 1972 as unnecessary and illegal, by residents whose property was lost, and because it turned the beautiful lower reaches into an ugly channel.

It is the sluices constructed then, which the EA now wish to abandon. I have attached the letter I wrote in response to the first enquiry by the EA referring to this history, together with comments.”

And confirmed that the following letter had been sent to Dominic Raab MP (attachments :

“Attachment 1 sets the scene for consultation of riverside residents, and those affected by the River Mole Flood Alleviation Scheme, built in the 1980s to “prevent a repetition of the serious flood in 1968”.

A visit to the information boards currently on display at Imber Court reveals a plan to avoid the approaching cost of refurbishing the sluices maintaining water levels, by removing them altogether, resulting in an estimated 1.5m drop in level above the so-called Viaduct Sluice where the railway crosses !

The residents’ protests in Attachment 2 spell out the terrible damage this would inflict on the character of the river through its inevitable conversion to a muddy drainage ditch, preventing boating, ruining fishing, destroying its amenity not just for the riparian owners but for the thousands of ordinary residents who value a real river as a community asset.

These points were spelled out this morning by the dozen or so residents who attended Imber Court, voicing their anger at the way the outrageous intentions had been advanced with an absurdly inadequate, rushed consultation, lacking important information, leaving the EA officers in no doubt of the resistance they would encounter. They were reprimanded, instructed to put a stop to the programme, and take back the consultation for re-presentation in a competent manner.

However, and notwithstanding, we are concerned that the project programme provides for “a decision” in July, for implementation work soon after. Major points worth remembering are

• Inadequacy of EA funding to carry out its duties. Appeals to increase the allocation are said to be “one of the options”, but none of these appear in the exhibition. Can Government allow the destruction for want of money?
• As the need to maintain the river in its historical condition was recognised by the Flood Alleviation Scheme, why is it not now?
• A hurried bi-diversity study of the river expected to report no environmental damage is certain to be challenged
• No costs were presented for maintaining the sluices constructed within the Flood Alleviation Scheme. Are they really at the end of their working life at little over 30 years?

This crazy destruction of a valued environmental asset must be stopped. Please do all you can!”

Another resident reported that:

“The 17 Million Pound River Mole Flood Alleviation Scheme completed in the 1980s was justified by the water authority to “prevent a repetition of the 1968 flood”,

It incorporated new sluices and engineered channels, able to handle flood waters, whilst retaining the normal levels. Alleged to have reached the end of their expected life, as one option these sluices are now to be removed by the Environment Agency rather than refurbishing them, to save money.

The resulting lowering of water levels through Hersham would risk turning our treasured environmental asset into a shallow ditch, in effect destroying a historic river, with unimaginable damage to its wildlife.

The anticipated level drop will be 1.5-2.0 metres, which is a catastrophic and unprecedented level. Never in any of the locals living memory will the level have been so permanently low, the Environment Agency charged with promoting and protecting and expanding our environment, will actually be destroying a beautiful meandering River, and replacing it with muddy banks and a stream.

Any schoolchild could tell you that if a duckpond supports 40 ducks and 20 fish, if you then drain it and decrease it by half, it will only support 20 ducks and 10 fish….how the EA can claim this is an environmentally successful and beneficial option is beyond belief.

Residents have already voiced their profound objections to this shocking plan.

If you would like to join them, please do what you can to publicise this impending disaster and the loss forever of The River Mole as we know it today.”

We contacted Dominic Raab to ask for an update and he confirmed that he has written to the Environment Agency on behalf of residents and will be in touch with us again when he receives a reply.

The content of Dominic Raab’s letter to Julia Simpson at the EA reads as follows:

“Dear Ms Simpson

I am writing to you on behalf of my constituents *names removed for data protection* who have raised concerns around the Environment Agency’s Lower Mole Flood Alleviation scheme.  they are particularly concerned that the plans will result in a significant reduction in the level of the River Mole which they believe will have a negative impact on those whose properties back onto the Mole.

I enclose a copy of the correspondence I have received from *names removed for data protection* and would appreciate your comments on the points that they have raised. “

Now we are no experts in such matters but it does seem clear that if there is a reduction in water levels of in excess of a metre it must follow that there will be a reduction in fish stock and wildlife and a reduced provision for boating and enjoyment of a wonderful local treasure.

You can contact the following to make your views heard:

Environment Agency Area Manager

Ms Julia Simpson
Area Manager EA.
Red Kite House
How Berry Business Park
Benson Lane
Crowmarsh Gifford
Oxfordshire
OX10 8BD

Julia.simpson@environment-agency.gov.uk

Lower Mole Flood Alleviation Scheme Project

0208 474 6848

FASProject.LowerMole@environment-agency.gov.uk

Dominic Raab MP for Esher and Walton Consituency

dominic.raab.mp@parliament.uk

Dominic Raab MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

References

https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/ksles/lower-mole-flood-alleviation-scheme/

https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/ksles/lower-mole-flood-alleviation-scheme/supporting_documents/Lower%20Mole%20Refurbishment%20FAQs.pdf

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