Why Boxing Day floods happened: Report reveals underground leaks in service tunnel

A view of Huntingdon Road and Yearsley Crescent in York covered by floodwater. Joe Giddens/PA Wire
A view of Huntingdon Road and Yearsley Crescent in York covered by floodwater. Joe Giddens/PA Wire
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A CRUCIAL York flood defence failed on Boxing Day because of water leaks in an underground service tunnel, investigators have concluded.

The Environment Agency was left facing questions after more than 600 homes and businesses flooded, after the Foss Barrier was raised on the evening of December 26, allowing water from the Ouse to flow up into Foss.

In a report out today consultants CH2M said staff were forced to turn off the electricity supply and pumps after water entered the building’s control room. Most came via the service tunnel drainage system through a leak that had developed over time and through an access cover which had been opened that day to pump water out.

However CH2M said the decision to raise the barrier prevented even more widespread flooding and delayed peak water levels on the River Foss by some 18 hours.

A £17 million upgrade is now underway which will address all the recommendations made in the report.

This includes addressing the leaks in the service tunnel and almost doubling the capacity of the pumps by this winter.

By the end of next year the control room will also have been raised to ensure the barrier is more resilient in the long term.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said: “I was in York in the immediate aftermath of the Boxing Day floods. I know that every house and business flooded is a personal tragedy. We can never prevent all flooding, but we can and will do everything we can to help reduce the risk to householders and businesses.

“I welcome this report, which will help us make the Foss Barrier even more resilient in future to extreme floods and greater flows on the River Foss.

“The upgrade work, which began in April, will see the pump capacity increase, providing a higher standard of protection for local people.

“Work on the Foss Barrier is just one component of a wider programme of work, following the Government’s announcement of £45 million for York. We are taking a catchment wide approach to improve flood resilience in the city, looking at how we can slow the flow in the upper reaches of the Ouse and Foss catchments as well as new flood defences.”