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Investigation launched after River Foss flood barrier fails

The River Foss flood barrier Credit: ITV Yorkshire

An investigation is to be launched after a key barrier, which has protected York for almost 30 years, failed to stop the flooding last night.

Environment Agency officials are facing searching questions after they took the decision not to activate the River Foss Flood Barrier.

The barrier was built in 1987 after serious flooding in 1982. It is designed to stop the city's two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss, from converging. But on Saturday night, officials said the pumps within the building were in danger of failing and they took the decision to raise the barrier - effectively putting the flood defences out of action. Since then hundreds of homes have had to be evacuated and entire neighbourhoods within the city are submerged.

Rescue boats on the streets of York this morning Credit: ITV Yorkshire

This is what the Environment Agency put out last night as they issued a severe flood warning:

"A Severe Flood Warning has been issued for the River Foss due to extremely high river levels.

These high levels caused water to enter the Foss Barrier building. The pumps within the building are in danger of failing. The decision has been taken to lift the Foss Barrier gate, as if it fails in the down position water would be unable to discharge into the River Ouse. The Foss Barrier gate is now open.

The immediate area at risk is the city centre and areas of Huntington, Tang Hall, Osbaldwick and Foss Islands. People in these areas should start to move valuables to upper floors and be prepared to be evacuated."

– Environment Agency, 26 December

York flood defences - the facts:

  • York has 2.5 miles of flood defences, which were constructed between 1985 and 1995. The defences are designed to withstand river levels of up to 5.45m above normal summer levels and have never been breached.
  • Approximately £8m was spent on flood defences in York following the 1982 floods. The north east of the city is protected from flooding by a flood protection scheme, called the Foss Barrier.
  • The flood defences surrounding the city protect up to 5,000 residential properties and numerous business properties.
  • In November 2000 York experienced the highest river level on the River Ouse since records began in 1625, reaching a height of 5.4m above its normal summer level.

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