Over 800 people attended the community meeting on Thursday evening (June 5) at Staines Leisure Centre. Spelthorne residents, many of whom had been victims of the flooding, were angry and frustrated as the panel of ‘experts’ continually avoided straight answers. Many of them walked out before the meeting concluded, with one resident from Staines saying: "I’m leaving angrier than when I arrived."
A panel of representatives from Spelthorne Borough Council, Surrey County Council, the Environment Agency (EA), Thames Water, Community Flood Forum and the emergency services were asked questions about their operations during the severe flooding earlier this year.
The audience appeared to grow angrier and more frustrated with the panel as the meeting went on.
Speaking almost two hours into the proceedings, Staines resident and Save Our Services in Surrey activist, Sian Manaz spoke on behalf of many: “I am really disappointed with the meeting this evening. A lot of people came here hoping we were going to get answers and actually after all that has been said by the people on the table we haven’t got any. I think a lot of the answers you have given us have actually been quite patronising to people who have been flooded and I do not think that is good enough. When are we going to get an apology?” She also pointed out the billions of pounds Thames Water make in profits and compared it to the funding gap being faced by the Environment Agency.
Sian was widely applauded by the audience and swiftly received an apology from Thames Water. Simon Earl, head of water production at the company, said: “I am obviously disappointed and nothing I can say up here can make up for the people who have seen flooding. Do you know what, of course I am sorry, of course I am.”
Kye Gbangbola, still in a wheelchair after being taken ill during the flooding in Chertsey, spoke at the meeting about the tragic death of his 7-year old son Zane (who died during the floods) and the lack of any answers from those in power locally. Mr Gbangbola said: “I would ask of the panel here, remember you are what you do, not what you say."
The meeting was chaired by Councillor Phillipa Broom, who said in closing: “I think the people’s voice was heard tonight and people are saying very, very strongly that we want action not words. I think the huge audience and the line of questioning showed the huge sense of feeling and concern that people have about the safety and about their homes.”
Save Our Services in Surrey campaigners collected over 400 signatures on our petition against cuts to the fire service in Spelthorne, bringing the total to well over 2,000 now. Our question was also asked in the meeting: “Why are Surrey County Council still planning on making cuts to the Fire and Rescue Service in Spelthorne?” Just the asking of the question drew one of the biggest cheers from the audience. The response, from Steve Owen-Hughes of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service was “nothing would have been done differently during the floods, these cuts will make no difference to our ability to respond in such situations."