Revealed: How utility firm blunder led to flooding of North Yorkshire village

The scene in Sleights after 600 tonnes of gravel was washed into the village. Picture: North Yorkshire County Council
The scene in Sleights after 600 tonnes of gravel was washed into the village. Picture: North Yorkshire County Council
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A utility firm is facing a six-figure bill after its inadequate work in the North York Moors led to eight homes being flooded in a nearby village and motorists being stranded in their vehicles by rainwater.

Two people had to be rescued in the village of Sleights, near Whitby, last November, after a large volume of water washed down from the moors during a period of heavy rainfall.

Eight homes were flooded in Sleights and motorists stranded in their cars.

Eight homes were flooded in Sleights and motorists stranded in their cars.

There was so much water running down nearby Blue Bank that 600 tonnes of gravel sitting alongside the A169 ended up being swept several hundred metres down the hill into the village.

The surface water caused by the gravel meant the A169 was closed for five days, with highway officials called in to clear it from locals’ houses and gardens.

A report by North Yorkshire County Council has now revealed that the water washing down Blue Bank was caused by damage and obstruction to a series of culverts, which allow water to flow under the road.

It said that this was as a result of “inadequacies in utility work that had been undertaken in the months prior to the event”.

The utility firm responsible, Interserve, has agreed in principle to reimburse North Yorkshire County Council for its recovery costs and the damage to the culverts, at a cost of £180,000.

Home owners whose houses were damaged are being invited by the firm, which describes itself as one of the world’s foremost support services and construction companies, to claim for property damage and recovery.

In addition, the county council is paying for additional improvements to the highway and the culvert capacity itself, at a cost of £36,500. The heavy rainfall that led to flooding in Sleights came on the same day, November 21, that torrential downpours caused widespread problems across the country.

The county council report said: “Widespread and substantial rainfall fell over North Yorkshire, with localised storm conditions persisting particularly in the east of the county during the evening.”

But it added: “Whilst high rainfall was experienced, the volumes were not remarkable compared to typical November records.”

It said: “The volume of water conveying down Blue Bank was sufficient to remove the content of the arrestor bed which runs parallel to the highway for much of the descent, and 600 tonnes of material were deposited on the Bank, causing deep channels of surface water, which made it difficult to safely remove those trapped in vehicles on the bank and left people stranded until the water subsided.”

County council officials at the time said that “numerous properties were flooded, vehicles abandoned and large amounts of debris, mainly from the gravel trap, blocked the carriageway”.

The report said the culverts which were damaged by the utility work were designed to take surface water run-off to nearby Little Beck, avoiding the village. The water could not pass under the highway so was forced down the A169 into Sleights. It added that there were no historic accounts of them having failed before.

The culverts will be added to the authority’s Flood Risk Asset Register, meaning their condition and ownership are monitored in a public document, and highways officials have added them to their inspection schedule to ensure they are well maintained.

Interserve, which employs about 80,000 people worldwide in 38 countries, issued a profit warning yesterday after its trading deteriorated, resulting in shares falling by 30 per cent in value.

The company’s shares had already crashed by more than 50 per cent last month after it issued an earlier profit warning. No-one from the firm was available to comment on the county council report last night.

One grandmother told at the time how the flooding left her trapped in her car with her 10-year-old grandson and pregnant daughter-in-law.

They had to be rescued as gravel from an escape lane rapidly filled their vehicle, blocking them in. Carol Clark told the Whitby Gazette: “It was like something out of a horror movie, but you were in it.”