Highways drains

Much Wenlock has a history of flooding. Most people associate flooding with watercourses – mainly rivers. Much Wenlock, however, sits high above the River Severn, three miles to the north.

The issue that adversely affects Much Wenlock is surface water flooding. Over centuries, the town has developed in a bowl in the landscape. The land falls from Wenlock Edge along Shrewsbury Road and Stretton Road. It drops sharply off the Craven Arms road – Bourton bank is quite a steep incline. The Broseley road drops down from The Marsh, and the Farley road falls steeply from Homer head. And the Bridgnorth road tops at Oakfield Park and falls sharply to the Gaskell Arms corner on the A458.

So water accumulates at the lowest points in the town. The first gathering is at the Gaskell Arms at the busy five-ways junction with the High Street. Thereafter, the natural watercourse is down Back Lane and via the Bull Ring to the Farley river and onwards to the River Severn.

Given the justifiable expectations of Much Wenlock residents, most would like to avoid wager ingress to their properties. £2.1m of taxpayers’ money was invested in two large flood water attenuation ponds in 2017 – I wrote about it here. It’s just as well, because a month ago on Saturday 26th October, we experienced very heavy rainfall. I saw for myself that the pond on Stretton Road was filling up, thus preventing the water cascading into the town.

The junction of Bourton Road and the A458 – 26th October 2019

If it had, there would have been a lot of damage. Why? Because around one third¹ of the gullies/drains around the lower part of the town are fully or partially blocked. There should be a regime of regular gully cleaning, with jetting debris through the drains if necessary. Since I was elected in 2013, I have noticed an increase in drains which are blocked solid with debris, with many having weeds growing out of them.

I have been assured on too many occasions that there is a cross-county programme to deal with neglected gullies, but little evidence has been seen in Much Wenlock. Whilst Shropshire Councillors were advised that the Council had cleaned 12,825 “drainage assets” around the county in August and September this year, the only work I could bring to mind was in sorting out a damaged drain outside Park View in Barrow Street in June – and then only after repeated requests from me and from a householder who was quite rightly fearful that water off the highway would cascade off the road down his drive and into the house, which lies lower than the road.

In my monthly address to Much Wenlock Town Council in October I reported that I had seen an email appearing to claim that work on drains in Much Wenlock was “complete”. As I said, this was clearly the complete opposite of the truth.

Collapsed pipework in Barrow Street

A lot of subterranean camera work has taken place in Much Wenlock which in many cases indicates that they’re either half-full of debris, or partially collapsed, or invaded by tree roots.

I have been working hard at something which should be routine – gully cleaning. My theory has been that the impressive statistics showing that 411 “gully assets” in Much Wenlock cleaned since April 2018 on either estate roads or A roads are either incorrect or on low-risk roads that don’t form part of any concern locally about flooding. My theory may be borne out this week, when I learned that, after my interview on BBC Radio Shropshire² and an article on the topic in the Shropshire Star³, the gully-cleaning machine has been seen in Swan Meadow and in Oakfield Park – housing estate roads, neither of which would be described by the layman as having a particular problem with drainage, and neither of which form the basis of concerns raised by residents. There has also been a report of the machine in Sheinton Street.

I do not understand why these have been dealt with and any one of a number of other issues haven’t, including drains in Homer, a manhole cover spewing water onto the A4169 Farley Road, and numerous blocked grids on Sheinton Street, Victoria Road, High Street etc. This is not a comprehensive example. The issue about priority was raised during the heavy rainfall on 26th October. A St Mary’s Road resident told me that three gullies had been cleared in that road, but not the one at the bottom by The Raven. It seems that the team have been out to this one and, on each occasion, have been unable to lift the grid to carry out the work. It strikes me that after the second try, a different approach might be appropriate. To keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is optimistic, to say the least.

The lay-by at the Gaskell Arms

If the work on two estate roads is the start of a more comprehensive programme, that is good news, but I don’t intend to rest until I have further evidence. If you know of work that has been carried out, please let me know.

¹ I suggested to Shropshire Council Portfolio Holder for Highways, Steve Davenport that around a third of the gullies were blocked when we walked around the town on 24th September. His response indicated that he thought the proportion was higher.

²  https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07t1pft – starts at 1h 19m

³ https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/local-hubs/bridgnorth/much-wenlock/2019/11/27/plea-to-tackle-flooding-in-much-wenlock-and-surrounding-areas/