THE Environment Agency has strongly refuted claims by one of its own workforce that vital maintenance work on the River Rother has not been carried out.
The river, which runs through Robertsbridge, Etchingham and Bodiam, has burst its banks a number of times in recent weeks, following persistent heavy rainfall.
Environment Agency workers were out in force in Robertsbridge, deploying the village’s flood defences in a bid to save homes and businesses from flooding.
But an anonymous whistle-blower who works for the Environment Agency locally claims the company is failing to carry out essential maintenance work.
The man, who is based in the Rye area, said: “The River Rother south of Robertsbridge is clogged up with trees and that is the river that carries water away from Robertsbridge.
“The second bridge on the Cripps Corner to Hawkhurst Road is particularly bad.
“It hasn’t been maintained for years. Robertsbridge people would be horrified if they walked south along the river.”
He also claimed that flooding at the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve ‘could have been prevented’ and says there have been complaints about the flood walls in Rye town.
He added: “Routine maintenance has been neglected. Some has been started but left unfinished.
“It is all being pushed under the carpet when it should not be. Management have not got a clue and they don’t care.
“We have four people off with stress. Work should have been done but it hasn’t been.
“It is getting out of hand and people’s homes are at stake here.”
Environment Agency spokesman Ash Dobson said: “We completely refute the suggestion that the work carried out by our staff has not been to a high standard, as it undermines the hard work carried out by our teams to protect communities across the South East from flooding.
“Our staff have worked brilliantly across a very challenging period, and can be proud of the work they have done. It is important to acknowledge this work so people have confidence in our staff and our flood prevention assets in the area that have worked to reduce their risk and impact of flooding.
“Environment Agency staff carry out regular inspections of all of our flood prevention assets as part of our ongoing effort to reduce the risk of flooding.
“Our teams have been out on the ground since Christmas working on the River Brede, the River Rother, and their tributary waterways to clear trash screens and remove blockages to ensure they are flowing well, and have carried out regular inspections to monitor water levels and issue Flood Alerts and Flood Warnings.
“Along with the rest of the country, the area has faced an extraordinary combination of weather conditions over the last six weeks and throughout this period all assets in the Rye area have been in a good condition and have performed well to reduce the risk and impact of flooding.”
The Environment Agency was praised by villagers and local politicians after deployment of the Robertsbridge flood defences prevented a repeat of the flooding of October 2000, which affected more than 70 properties.
As the Observer went to press, an Environment Agency Flood Alert for the River Rother remained in place ‘indefinitely’.