[A]NDIE HARPER: Cambridge and Peterborough appear to be booming. But is it a different story in the Fens? Many of you have been in touch to have your say this morning. Last year there was a summit of local politicians, looking for a long term solution for flooding which closes the road at Welney year after year. Now villagers say the waters are getting higher and lasting for longer. New electronic signs were going to be fitted by Norfolk County Council, but the flooding has even stopped this happening. Karl Rands is Area Highways Manager for the west of Norfolk County Council. Karl, good morning to you.
KARL RANDS: Good morning to you.
ANDIE HARPER: It is a difficult place in many many ways, isn’t it, Welney, because it’s so very much on the borderlands , isn’t it?
KARL RANDS: Indeed, yes it is. It is a difficult location, obviously, because The Wash is there, which does cause residents and drivers a problem when it floods the carriageway.
ANDIE HARPER: And of course we have the two counties meeting, and so there are always issues there. As long as I’ve been doing this programme, and it’s a long time now Karl, around this time of the year we keep telling people that the Wash Road at Welney is closed, and all the usual diversions are in place. Surely to goodness there is something that could be done about it, long term.
KARL RANDS: A long term solution would be very very costly, in terms of installing a bridge, or even some culverts and raising the level of the carriageway. So in terms of funding a scheme like that, that would be cost prohibitive. And the local authority wouldn’t have that sort of funding available for a large project such as a bridge or raising the road surface.
ANDIE HARPER: So that is absolutely out of the question.
KARL RANDS: It is at this current stage, yes.
ANDIE HARPER: So, it comes down to telling people in advance and letting people know the situation. And that’s where your new signs come in.
KARL RANDS: Indeed. We agreed last year, we got some funding last year, to install three message signs in Norfolk. I understand Cambridgeshire are doing a similar thing on the back of what we proposed to install in the near future. So these signs will flash, and indicate that the road is closed, and give a depth of water which is passing across The Washes.
ANDIE HARPER: Which is obviously preferable to temporary signs which used to appear, and be ignored. But at the end of it all, all you’re doing is telling people, this road is closed and you’re faced with a long roundabout journey.
KARL RANDS: Indeed, and that is regrettable. But unfortunately that is the case when the Environment Agency just decide to put water into The Washes. The intention of the signs is to try and give a real time piece of information to drivers at strategic points, so that drivers have an opportunity to take an alternative route at the earliest time.
ANDIE HARPER: You mentioned that a lot of the water comes down from elsewhere, and that this is all part of the flood system. But of course the world has moved on, hasn’t it really? It’s not the backwater that it used to be, if people living there will pardon me saying that, but I think they know what I mean. Now it’s a very busy area, obviously with the RSPB and everything else that’s around there. So we can’t just let it go on and on and on, can we?
KARL RANDS: Well unless there’s going to be a serious degree of funding to the local authority to raise the carriageway, or install a bridge network, then unfortunately it looks like it’s going to remain for the foreseeable future.
ANDIE HARPER: And does the have to be a blanket ban when there’s water lying? You say the new signs will indicate the level of the water. Is it not possible to say, well, four wheel drives and vans and lorries can use it, but small private cars can’t? Is that a possibility? Or do you have to say it’s closed?
KARL RANDS: We really have to say it’s closed, because people do try to attempt to drive though The Washes, and almost annually we have problems with people getting stuck. And the parish council tell us that they’ve had to drag people out with tractors. So the EA tell us when there’s water on the road, and we go out and close the road, and the road is closed to traffic. So no traffic really should be using The Washes at that point.
ANDIE HARPER: Your electric signs aren’t up yet, are they?
KARL RANDS: No they’re not. Unfortunately the depth of water, which last week was about half a metre, means that our contractor unfortunately can’t get on to install the sensor. And that’s the only piece that we’re waiting to have installed. Once the sensor is up and running, the three signs will go up for Norfolk, and I think there’s four for Cambridgeshire, and that will only take a day to do. So our contractor is monitoring the level of The Washes on a daily basis, to see when he can actually get in there to do the work. It’s as frustrating for us as it is for the people who want to see these signs put up and be used.
ANDIE HARPER: One of the issues in the past has been the fact that the signs are sometimes there for days after the road is passable. Will the new electronic signs enable decisions to be made and passed on to motorists more quickly than used to be the case in the past?
KARL RANDS: Indeed. These will react to the actual depth of water that’s on the carriageway.
ANDIE HARPER: Oh right.
KARL RANDS: So when it gets below the threshold if you like then the signs switch off, and the drivers can be advised in real time.
ANDIE HARPER: And they don’t have to be really dry, the roads? A bit of a puddle across won’t matter?
KARL RANDS: Well we use a trigger point, which is based on the Environment Agency trigger point, which is when they tell us to close the roads. So we certainly wouldn’t advise people to be travelling on that road when there is even a small amount of water on there. Fundamentally because at this time of year it’s going to freeze, and then it could cause other problems to drivers. So I would be taking serious notice of the signs which are up, especially if the road signs are out saying it’s closed in any case.
ANDIE HARPER: And is this the only road in Norfolk that comes under your jurisdiction which has these problems? I’m very familiar with the county. Is there anywhere else?
KARL RANDS: No. This is the only one really. It’s very unusual, and I’m hoping that the signs will be up fairly soon, so that we can get it all tested and operated, and our drivers can hopefully see a difference.
ANDIE HARPER: Karl. it’s been really good to talk to you. Thanks for joining us this morning.
KARL RANDS: Thanks for having me. Thank you.
ANDIE HARPER: Cheers.
KARL RANDS: Bye.
ANDIE HARPER: That’s Karl Rands. Karl is Area Highways Manager for the west of Norfolk County Council, talking there about the problems at Welney.