Taxpayers’ bill soars for ‘one in 10,000 year’ Warnham freak flood

Warnham Mill Pond. Photo: Brian Bateman
Warnham Mill Pond. Photo: Brian Bateman

The cost of protecting Horsham from a freak flood which has a ‘one in 10,000 year’ chance of happening has soared by another £200,000, it was revealed tonight (Thursday May 23).

Horsham District Council (HDC) is being forced under legislation to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on improvement works at Warnham Mill Pond on the outskirts of Horsham to manage the risk of flooding from the Warnham Mill reservoir.

Work had originally been estimated at £1.1m - to be shared between HDC and the Environment Agency - but during a survey of the dam earlier this week consultants discovered further structural issues which has forced the council to extend the budget by £200,000.

At a cabinet meeting tonight Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold Shermanbury and West Grinstead), cabinet member for Arts, Heritage and Leisure, said: “This is a huge project for the district.

“It’s quite controversial because you are having to make preparations for the dam to be sustainable for 10,000 years which is an incredible time.”

He made clear that there is more to this issue than ‘that simple statement’ and said a lot of work has gone into the project involving ‘some of the top people in the country’.

Mr Chowen continued: “But unfortunately at the last minute we find that there is some additional work to be done on the dam.”

A report handed to councillors said that the option of ignoring the problem ‘could lead to catastrophic failure of the dam during an extreme flood event’.

But elsewhere in the report it outlines that this is a ‘one in 10,000 year event’.

Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West) blamed Government legislation, arguing that the Flood and Water Management Act - introduced in 2010 - had re-categorised the reservoir causing it to be further scrutinised by the Environment Agency thus resulting in more repair work.

“It can’t be right for Horsham taxpayers to pay for a storm event of this rarity,” he said, pointing out his concerns for ‘the cost’ and ‘the likelihood of the event’.

“It’s been re-classified which means the work has to be done, but it’s put a real burden on the taxpayer.”

He said Horsham is around 1,000-years-old ‘to put things into perspective’ and proposed that the council writes to central Government to expose the ‘real consequence’ of the 2010 legislation.

HDC leader Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry) said a letter sharing the local authority’s experience could be sent.

The cabinet approved a revised project budget of £650,000. After funds from the Environmental Agency it brings the total cost of the project to £1.3m.

It will now be subject to agreement by full council.

For the full report buy the West Sussex County Times on Thursday May 30.