Engineering body says only feasible defence for devastated Cornish village would be wider river channel

Flood defences would not have prevented the devastation of the Cornish village of Boscastle last week, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Graham Setherfield, chairman of the ICE water board, said no type of man-made defence could have stopped last week’s disaster.

He said: “There will always be extreme events that confound design capacity. Boscastle was one.”

The judgment comes as North Cornwall council officials search for ways to protect the village from further damage.

Setherfield believes the only effective defence would be the widening of the channel that runs through the village. This would have directed some of the 3 million tonnes of water that swept through the village out to sea.

A wider channel would still have offered inadequate protection, Setherfield warned, and would have severely affect the picturesque nature of the village, which is facing the collapse of its tourism industry.

Setherfield said Boscastle’s terrain mitigated against defence. He said: “In a different location, an obvious solution would be to build bypass channels for excess water. But Boscastle’s situation between two steep cliffs makes this unfeasible.”

Setherfield’s assessment was echoed by the Environmental Agency. A spokesperson for the south-west region said that, in the face of such unusual weather, it would have taken a 40 ft wall to stop the floods.

The EA had planned to begin work on a flood defence for the village next month. This was to entail repair and enhancement work on a culvert on the Jordan, the river that flows through Boscastle.

Now, the spokesperson said, “there may not even be a culvert left to repair”.

Boscastle was hit by the flash flood after 70 mm of rain fell in two hours.

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