How the Ea Beck flooded Toll Bar

TO PILE insult on grievous injury, some flood-devastated residents of Toll Bar have become convinced that their homes were DELIBERATELY sacrificed to the rains by faceless bureaucrats... to save Doncaster's new showpiece town centre, and in particular, the Frenchgate Interchange and Doncaster College's 'Hub'.

Some locals even personally blamed Mayor Martin Winter for "causing" their flood by damming the nearby stream, Ea Beck – with one rumour, running rampant in Toll Bar, that he had actually "confessed" this to them.

On your behalf, the Newsletter investigated the flooding of the Ea Beck. And while we uncovered some inconsistencies, we found NO evidence to substantiate any of those stories, or prove that the flooding of Toll Bar was a deliberate act...

THE Ea Beck stream flows west to east, across North Doncaster, carrying water from the Pennine uplands, into the River Don, between Thorpe Marsh power station and the village of Thorpe-in-Balne, a few miles north of Toll Bar.

Its escape into the Don relies on its water pressure being greater than that of the river.

If the river is higher than the beck, "lock gates" close off the latter. In the 48 hours following the non-stop rainfall of Monday, June 25, Ea Beck was thus shut off at its confluence with the Don.

With nowhere to go, it buried the surrounding fields, then backed up along its track until it burst its banks, flowing back south into Toll Bar, by the rugby fields – leaving homes under more than a metre of sludgy water.

As hundreds of homes were swamped, the recriminations began...

One resident told the Newsletter: "We've been flooded a few times before, but never anything like this. No way was it natural for this to happen to us.

"We are convinced the new bus station would have been under water now had something not been done to prevent it."

The belief quickly took hold on Toll Bar's beleaguered Manor Estate – especially after a story circulated, that a clutch of estate residents claimed they overheard Mr Winter "admit", during a visit to the area, that the Beck had been sabotaged to save the town centre.

As the rumours spread, Mr Winter spoke on Radio 4's Today programme to "categorically assure" people he did not "open the floodgates" and sacrifice outlying villages to save Doncaster. He added: "There are actually no floodgates".

When questioned privately by the Newsletter, he added: "People are looking for a scapegoat - someone to blame, as they generally do in the wake of any natural disaster like this.

"This situation came about very quickly and, as is the case with emergency procedures, the police took full control of the operation, rather than the council.

"There were no attempts to try to direct the flow of water... that just couldn't happen.

"We evacuated Arksey because we were worried the floods would extend that far, but no decisions were taken at any time as regards the water course itself.

"When the river flooded, we had to stand by and watch helplessly. At that point there was nothing else we could do."

But the Mayor admitted there were lessons to be learned, adding: "There will be a full review later, when we have time for it, to show people that there was nothing done to interfere with the natural force or flow of water".

The Newsletter however, can show that there are "floodgates" between Ea Beck and the Don. The beck runs under a back road, close by Thorpe Marsh, and empties into the Don, downstream of Barnby Dun, via the lock-style gates, situated under the road.

The Agency told us that IT was responsible for these gates, which it said, operate automatically.

A few feet behind those gates, is a manually-operated, back-up guillotine sluice, pictured.

An Agency spokesman told us: "Ea Beck normally flows into the Don, but because the Don was so full, after the excessive rainfall, the gates shut automatically. The sluice gate from Ea Beck is designed not to open if the Don is above a certain level.

"There was so much water there was no way that the beck could flow into the Don."

Some national newspapers claimed a technical failure had shut the sluice, damming the water in the Ea Beck – but the Agency added that the sluice gates had been closed automatically by the pressure of the water, and that no technical failure had occurred.

We questioned the Agency at length about the operation of the gates – both normally and during the crisis. It told us that the gates' normal status is "open", adding that the automatic gates closed during the flood, when the level in the River Don was higher than Ea Beck.

We asked whether Doncaster Council could have operated any of the sluices and were told: "Only the Environment Agency can do this".

When asked what discussions the council held with the Agency, regarding water control in the Ea Beck during the crisis, we were told: "None, although they would have received our flood watches and warnings".

Interestingly, the Agency insisted the manual sluice shown in our photograph, had not been operated at any time since the floods began.

However, our picture - taken on July 8 - appears to show evidence of recent use. The paddle gear was covered in mud and had been bagged up with cloth, wrapped around with electrical tape, which would not have stayed in place during the rainfall.

In a statement, the Agency added: "Ea Beck is designed to flood to prevent the River Don from flooding. The beck flows into nearby washlands (water storage areas) in a controlled way.

"But there was so much rain in such a short space of time that all the washlands were full and so water from Ea Beck had nowhere else to go and caused flooding in residential areas.

"This has never happened before, and the capacity of the washlands is something we will be looking at as part of our post-flood review."