Wednesday, 13 October 2021

After the July floods urgent action needed on the depleted flood defences of South Kilburn as densification continues - Guest Post

 Cambridge Gardens, Kilburn July 2021 (Kilburn Times)

The Westbourne 1790


 The culverted Westbourne

Sign in the former Bird In Hand Pub, West End Lane

Guest blog by David Walton of FLASK (Flood Local Action South Kilburn. The views expressed are those of the author.


The raw sewage river flooding 'major incident' of July 2021 in  South Kilburn and North Westminster, has meant that scores of residents are still housed in temporary accommodation, claims are being made and homes are being dried-out and repaired. Why did this happened? Who pays now and for future major floods?

Householders should beware that new experiments, regressions, crisis and disruptions  are being knowingly allowed in specific new city zonings. In starting to examine this 'major incident' covering Environment Agency policies, unsound growth area, tall buildings, very large site zonings, local flood authority responsibilities, planning law and emergency planning,  a complex picture of government and political indifference  emerges with baked-in environment/ climate denial in regard to the South Kilburn Estate version of 'build back better' where five times the number of homes it had in the year 2000 are being towered, forced and packed onto the River Westbourne's flood plain by year 2041.

The key strategic decision change seems to have been around 20 years ago when the Environment Agency chose, as does the Greater London Authority and Brent Council, that developers could totally deny the existence of the River Westbourne and its tributaries running underneath South Kilburn. Note that South Kilburn's river delta shape is still apparent today and also how early nineteenth century maps of South Kilburn show these rivers set in dairy farm fields, rivers which though in culverts for over 100 years now are natural and still very much here, live and ever present however much denied by government, agencies and politicians.

Taking the Environment Agencies lead and despite all too apparent on site water facts, for Brent Local Flood Authority the River Westbourne and its tributaries simply do not exist anymore (see clause 6.55 Brent Strategic Flood Risk Assessment 2007). A Strategic Flood Risk Assessment process is meant in law to be a 'live' document yet seems to have been rather abandoned at Brent Civic Centre. How 'live' these rivers become in the major incident investigation of 2021 for South Kilburn 'very large site' will be public knowledge soon.

For example, of neighbouring local authorities: Kensington and Chelsea Strategic Flood Risk Assessment highlights the River Westbourne as its second major flood risk after the River Thames and marks the entire river course and tributaries from Hampstead Heath down to the Thames at Chelsea. Camden Strategic Flood Risk Assessment map helpfully indicates historic flooding of South Kilburn and maps how the south west of Camden drains down into South Kilburn vale in Brent. The City of Westminster Strategic Flood Risk Assessment map helpfully indicates historic flooding of Chippenham Gardens, South Kilburn located north of the Westminster boundary.

Since first being built on in the mid nineteenth century South Kilburn was notorious for its flood risk to homes and this kept the area unpopular with new houses being difficult to sell and poverty  concentrated there. This memory of urban trauma inspired progressive architects and planners post World War 2 to protect and transform this flood risk and literally bad land by building a new public owned estate of housing for 6,000 people, with social and health infrastructure set in an impressive recreational parkland of public owned flood defences where flood water could stand, pool and be absorbed by woodland environments naturally- a major London success much celebrated at that time.


The protection/ sustainability long-term problem for this massive public investment however was that all public owned estate community new diverse specific land uses were and remain unregistered at the UK Land Registry and later 1970's phase built large panel blocks were unmortgageable as they had catastrophic build defects baked-in.


From year 2010 the South Kilburn Growth Area with its green parkland public flood defences total removal policies and resultant ever increased flood risk being manufactured, led to a deal being struck with Westminster. The then City of Westminster Plan highlighted the South Kilburn Growth Area policy as being a major risk to its residents. 


So, to protect Maida Vale/ North Westminster in 2015 a £17.5 million flood defence mitigation scheme was built by Thames Water in the form of two large underground rivers flood sewage storage reservoirs sited within North Westminster. However, July 2021, one month’s worth of rain fell in one hour and the River Westbourne and its tributaries sewage waters rose above ground on to streets and flowed into ever reduced flood protections South Kilburn and then horror on into £17.5 million extra flood protection designed North Westminster homes as well! South Kilburn is become a sinking sink and is now proof positive that rivers sewage flood risk, crisis impact and misery can't be neatly corporate zoned in by design anymore.


Government responsibility finally has to be taken and the River Westbourne and its tributaries need to be recognised as existing acknowledged as a real problem again for politicians, public servants, shell company freeholders and developers. Often already off-shored and hard to trace new owners of South Kilburn enclosures/ towers built on former public owned flood defences already will certainly not accept responsibility for the massive costs involved in totally predictable and accelerating future major flood incidents. After all the Environment Agency ‘disappeared’ the River Westbourne and its tributaries in South Kilburn, so that is the current 'live' get out of jail free card/loophole still in place legally for South Kilburn developers. Instead help-to-buy and affordable rent families will have to pay government backed massive repairs loans and forced to pay increased charges. The parallels here with the ongoing inflammable building materials crisis facing leaseholders and tenants since the Grenfell fire disaster are remarkable - a predatory political forward strategy of government by debt in South Kilburn tall building zone? Build back inflammable, build back no health and social wellbeing infrastructure to be retained and build back wetter!


Granville New Homes was built on Granville Road Public Open Space which was designed  as a major South Kilburn flood defence and Higgins are building at Chippenham Gardens in 2021, taking part of another flood fence open space.


The positive news October 2021 is that half of South Kilburn’s public owned green flood defences still exist and function (hence not all of South Kilburn was flooded), even though in parallel they are also Brent 'site allocations' in the unsound as proposed Brent Local Plan towards 2041 (where flood defences are all to be denied and total destroyed). Strong legal protection of the remaining flood defence system for South Kilburn is still possible, while flood defences already market destroyed can and should be urgently restored to raise flood protection back to where it was back in year 2000 as the humane bare minimum. What is the massive Community Infrastructure Levy already raised inside South Kilburn from private developers for if not also to reduce rather than grow multiple deprivations for people living in this zoned experiment in mega population density?


Philip Grant said...

This denial of the existence of, and potential flood risk from, the River Westbourne reminded me of a "local history" enquiry I received a couple of years ago.

An objector to Brent Council's plans to demolish Preston Library, and build a small block of flats there (with a small community library space on the ground floor), asked if I could provide any evidence for the stream there. She was sure that there was one, but Brent's planners denied that any stream existed, even in a culvert.

You only have to travel from Preston Road Station towards Wembley, down a hill to the junction with Carlton Avenue East and then up again, to suspect that you are crossing a valley.

Luckily, I was able to supply a copy of an old map of the area, and a relevant paragraph from "A History of Wembley" (published by Brent Libraries in 1979):-

'The dip in the lie of the land at Preston Park suggests the presence of a stream. This was formerly known as the Crouch Brook and it now flows underground from Harrow Hill to the Wealdstone Brook, by way of the basement of Preston Library.'

That paragraph was written by the late Geoffrey Hewlett, who as well as being an excellent local historian (who carried out detailed research before writing up his findings), spent his entire working life as a Planning Officer for Brent Council.

The information I'd provided was presented to Brent's planners by the objector, who was concerned that the Council's plans would increase the risk of flooding to nearby homes in the Carlton Avenue East area. Apparently, they still refused to accept that there was a stream underneath Preston Library!

Simon Wookey said...

Can you publish more maps - I’m finding it difficult to visualize where these flood defences are

Pete Firmin said...

How the Community Infrastructure Levy is (mis)used in South Kilburn is almost a scandal in itself. Very little is used for genuine community projects, not least because of the hurdles which have to be overcome to make any application.
As regards the recent floods, Brent has not only failed those who have had to be placed in emergency accommodation, but also failed to fully repair flood damage to roads etc. One of the (many) problems is that Brent fails (refuses?) to engage with Tenants and Residents Associations about such repairs.

Martin Francis said...

Murad Qureshi
@MuradQureshiLDN via Twitter

Replying to
It’s interesting that when Westminster City Council undertook a scrutiny on the flash floods, the underground rivers like Westbourne which run through the City didn’t get a mention at all.

David Walton said...

Also worthy of note….

The River Westbourne culverted on route south to the River Thames on its floodplain plateau South Kilburn, at Chippenham Gardens meets with the North West Storm Relief Sewer which heads west to River Thames and with the Mid Level 2 Interceptor Sewer which heads east to Beckon Sewage Works!

Basically there is a lot of complex subterranean water world river sewage stuff happening on South Kilburn floodplain plateau deregulated from the Government Environment Agency (former Department of the Environment/ remember those natural parkland flood defences) with responsibility passed now to Local Authorities and Thames Water- the same level of expertise or interest?

OK, Local Authorities get to play some fun new public land power dispose-all games, but what about the massive new exposures and liabilities when things go wrong on local taxpayers?

David Walton said...

The South Kilburn public owned natural flood defences from in the 1950's and 60's are the parkland landscape (half of which remains still in existence and visible), within which progressive planners of yesteryear understanding major flood risks from rivers and streams safely for that era built council housing blocks.

No gardens because a communal recreation parkland in this flood vale was regarded as fair mitigation, large trees could be planted, natural flood defences easily managed and even within this new urban design form, population density was still Government grown higher than in all of its surrounding Victorian neighbourhoods on this 'bad flood prone land'. That was the estate deal.

The new C21 Government deal South Kilburn of no rivers and streams exist here anymore innovation to 'build back better' (better for who?), is a highly regressive set-back and building of climate crisis, when climate justice and compensation needs to be local sought even now for loss and damages caused already by Governments seeking to build on all South Kilburn flood defences- see also the new Brent Local Plan South Kilburn Growth Area, very large site, tall building zone proposals towards 2041.

Sewage flood damage being escalated to regular and inevitable, flood after flood may be another reason for the recent plague of 'sick' buildings being South Kilburn zone forced? The Help-to-Buy-Bye-Bye off shored new building enclosure owners preferred approach?