The River Quaggy Flood Alleviation Scheme has been officially declared open today.
Over 17 years after the initial ‘canalisation’ plan for flood control, a very different scheme was officially declared open today. Opposition by local people to bigger and longer concrete channels brought QWAG into being and saw our alternative storm water storage plan adopted for flood alleviation.
The ceremony, which marked the completion of the Environment Agency’s River Quaggy Flood Alleviation Scheme, was chosen to coincide with World Environment Day. The location was Lewisham’s newly regenerated Manor Park, itself re-opening after a two year stint as an operational base for the scheme.
Chair of the Agency, Sir Paul Harman, introduced the speakers.
Ian Tomes, the Agency’s Flood Risk Manager for the Area, outlined the stages of the project. First, the two water storage areas at Sutcliffe Park and Weigall Road, completed in 2004. Then, more recently, the various flood defences downstream.
Paul Warner, Regional Director for Halcrow described the complexities and challenges of this last stage – not least the problem of Japanese knotweed. Some 1,500 cubic metres of contaminated soil had been safely removed and buried in a containment cell beneath Manor Park.
Keith Scarff, Area Director of Breheny Contractors Ltd, highlighted the practical difficulties – communicating on an individual basis with so many residents, the sheer variety of tasks, and the need for a hundred men to work for two years in a narrow, ‘flashy’ river where access was rarely easy. (A flashy river is one that can rise rapidly after rainfall).
Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, spoke of the community involvement with the project and the sense of ownership that such participation brings. Improvements to rivers for amenity and wildlife enhanced Lewisham’s identity. The environment was one thing the whole community possessed in common and could come together in supporting. Environmental considerations in all projects should be the norm. Lewisham has become associated with the DLR. In ten years time, it might in the same manner, become remembered for ‘where all the work has been done on the rivers’.
Ian Pearson, Minister of State for Climate Change and the Environment, praised the scheme and saw it as the way forward for other projects. The Quaggy and its associated green spaces had become a community asset, increasing biodiversity and adding amenity value.
Within the wider context of climate change, flood risk from small urban rivers was every much as important as from the Thames itself. The threat from global warning was serious and needed everyone to make an effort. Every day should be Environment Day. The audience was invited to complete a questionnaire and make a pledge on behalf of the environment.
QWAG’s representatives were delighted to hear so many of its cherished values given a public airing by prominent people. We heard of the value of rivers as amenities – their positive impact on people, and their importance for wildlife and biodiversity.
We heard of the need to make space for rivers, setting back flood defences wherever possible to maximise the river’s ‘green corridor’. And we heard how rivers can give places a special identity.
Following the speeches local MP Bridget Prentice formally opened the park – and with it the Flood Alleviation Scheme. In the traditional manner she cut a ribbon attached to the park’s brand new sculpture. Tours of the park and flood defences in the immediate neighbourhood followed.
In the afternoon, school children and local residents were invited to join the celebrations. QWAG volunteers set up our displays, showing for the first time three of our nine new ‘educational’ display boards, intended mainly for local primary schools.
The sun continued to shine all day and people were happy and enjoying themselves in the new-look park. And for QWAG, a vision was realised after nearly 18 years of endeavour.
QWAG Chair Ray Manchester gives his personal reflections on the day in our newsletter “Quaggy Action”, due out on the 25th June. Our views on the regeneration of Manor Park will also be the subject of an article.