Paisley urges ‘buy back’ of flood hit houses

Local politicians are united in the view that action must be taken at the highest level to put residents at Toome Road and Queen Street out of their long-running flooding misery once and for all.

Not for the first time, sandbags could not save many homes in the area being deluged by rainwater on Sunday evening.

Homes were flooded and roads blocked in many parts of Ballymena following almost two hours of heavy rainfall.

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The torrential rain, which was accompanied by prolonged thunder and lightening, saw homes in Toome Road/Queen Street flooded for the fifth time in six years.

Some residents had to leave their homes and were only able to return after the Fire and Rescue Service pumped the flood water away.

Other parts of the town which were affected were Smithfield, Larne Road, Wakehurst, Demesne and Tullymore Park.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley says the time has come for “radical thinking”.

“One solution is for Government to consider buying the street of houses affected and preventing them from being lived in,” he told The Ballymena Times.

“I have spoken to some residents and they would accept this as a solution because the continuing threat of flooding is so distressing. I have written to Danny Kennedy Minister at Stormont to ask him to put in place a working group to consider radical solutions to this flooding nightmare.

“Radical solution and thinking is required. In the past expensive new anti-flooding mechanisms have been looked at and introduced at considerable cost but still the problem remains. On Sunday night properties flooded again and residents are in distress and at a loss how to cope with this.”

Speaking on Sunday after visiting the scene of what was the second episode of flooding within five days, local TUV MLA Jim Allister and Cllr Timothy Gaston expressed their anger that after years of promised action, residents were still subject to flooding.

“It is obvious the drains can’t cope. Yet, how old is this drain infrastructure and what inventive action has been taken to find a solution?”, asked Jim Allister.

“Also, the slowness of the police to close the roads, allowing traffic to send waves of rising water into homes, was an issue with many on Sunday night,” Mr Allister stated.

“The actions of the Fire Brigade in pumping away excess water at Toome Road and Wakehurst was much appreciated, but the real issue is how to prevent things getting to this stage.” said Cllr. Gaston.

DUP MLA Paul Frew who was also at the scene said yesterday: “This was freak weather and places that had never flooded before were on high alert but this cannot keep happening in this area. There is no doubt the drainage system was clean as Cllr Reuben Glover, Cllr Martin Clarke and myself had called road service out last Tuesday night,” said Mr Frew.

“It is very clear that the drainage system in this area is not fit for purpose.”

Cllr Clarke told The Times he had contacted the acting Town Clerk and Chief Executive of Ballymena Borough Council on Monday morning in a bid to get financial help for affected homeowners and to seek a survey of affected homes to be carried out by Council’s Building Control Department.

There was good news for Cllr Clarke and affected residents by noon yesterday when Environment Minister Mark H Durkan announced that he had activated, with immediate effect, an emergency scheme for householders affected by the recent flooding.

Individual householders will be eligible for a £1,000 payment as an offer of practical assistance to those who have suffered severe inconvenience, to ensure homes are made habitable as quickly as possible. It is not a compensation payment.

“If you feel that you may be entitled to the payment, contact Ballymena Borough Council as soon as possible and they will arrange for an urgent inspection of your property. If the council decides that your claim is eligible, you will receive your payment within a matter of days,” the Minister said.

“In addition, your council can also offer a range of practical help and guidance, including collection, retention and disposal of damaged household contents, assistance with arrangements to clean up your home and garden, and also by providing de-humidifiers to dry out affected homes,” he added.

Assemblyman Robin Swann said more action was needed from all agencies to reduce the impact of flooding in the area.

He said: “The impact of climate change continues to affect local communities, cloudbursts such as that which affected Ballymena on Sunday do so with little warning and massive impact. The problems affecting certain areas are historic and despite massive investment continue to be at risk of ever more frequent extreme weather events.

“There are systems available which allow home owners to seal their front doors against a deluge causing a few inches of flooding and there should be a mechanism where all properties at risk in this area have these defences fitted. “

A PSNI spokesperson said they received the first report of flooding at Toome Road just after 7pm but that, due to high demand on resources, police “were unable to attend the flooded road immediately”.

The spokesperson said: “Demand on police resources at that time was particularly high. Local police crews were attending a road traffic collision, tied up making arrests, completing pre-planned searches and dealing with a breach of a non molestation order. These calls were prioritised and police were unable to attend the flooded road immediately.

“Police contacted the Department for Regional Development and the NI Fire and Rescue Service about the flooding and as soon as was possible, went to the affected areas to assist with road closures,” the PSNI spokesperson added.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service said they had pumped flood water from Toome Road to the nearby river at around 10pm.

In another incident, appliances from Ballymena, Antrim and Magherafelt were involved in rescuing a 37-year-old woman from her car when it became caught in a flood at Ahoghill Road shortly after 7pm.