As soldiers erect steel barrier to protect Staines, some residents praise ‘amazing’ efforts but others dismiss it as a showpiece
Neil Lemon stood at the end of his back garden and shrugged his shoulders. “Nervous? No, not really. Well not with that there,” he said, nodding at the glistening steel barricade that had materialised on a nearby patch of grassland bordering the Thames.
Through the night and during Saturday morning, soldiers from the Gurkhas and the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment had erected the barrier in a race to save Penton Avenue, in the Surrey town of Staines. This is the frontline in the battle with the swollen Thames.
Logistics manager Lemon, who lives at number 36, added: “We’re confident the barrier will keep us dry. It’ll work.”
The avenue is bordered by the Thames on two sides. To the east lies the new barrier, 10m from Penton Avenue’s back gardens, and on its southern perimeter a more modest barricade defends the point where the Thames swirls past, carrying more than 400,000 litres of water a second.
At number 24, Elizabeth Newman confessed to growing terror before the arrival of the military and the Geodesign barrier, specially imported from Sweden. The 78-year-old, whose two-storey home also backs on to the waterlogged flood plain, said: “I’ve been here 20 years and it’s amazing what they are doing to protect us. It’s excellent that the authorities care so much.”
At number two, site of the neighbourhood store and post office, a small crowd had gathered to discuss rumours of a possible fresh surge on Saturday afternoon. The post office owner, Miranda Ubbey, 53, believed that despite the barrier they were at the mercy of the elements: “You can’t control what happens farther upstream.”
She also accused the authorities of overkill. “The police and Environment Agency were knocking on doors at 3am telling residents they might have to evacuate. They were acting as if they were expecting a tsunami.”
Others said the barrier was a “showpiece” to convince the media that the authorities were in control of the situation. A customer in the Wheatsheaf and Pigeon pub at the northern end of Penton Avenue said: “The river has fallen. It’s too late. Its main purpose is that it looks good.”
One concern is that while the barrier will almost certainly safeguard Penton Avenue, it will do little about the water seeping up through sodden ground. Ubbey owns several flats that, although farther from the Thames, are inundated. “It’s the groundwater that is the actual problem,” she said.
Beside the sandbagged front door of number 46, Geoffrey Roberts described how river water had crept up his sloping garden three days ago: Roberts, 42, said: “People have been getting nervous around here.”
Douglas Turner, who has lived here since 1973, pointed to several manhole covers where, he said, sewage had seeped to the surface earlier in the week. “I’ve never seen the water level higher. In 2003 water came into the gardens but nothing like this. At one point the water was coming through the garden …read more