Tooting Common flooding and wear and tear – what the council is doing

The recent flooding on Tooting Common is the worst its been in many years. The council has told us that this is due to “rainwater run-off from the railway, poorly draining soil, and blocking drains in surrounding roads”.

The council intends to adopt a plan of “increasing drain capacity by replacing the current drains with larger bore items. General grounds maintenance will not fix this particular issue.” The council and Thames Water will be working together on this.

Before this week’s flooding, we enquired about the council’s plans to address the general wear and tear of the common after the spike in use over the past year. We received a very informative reply which we have copied here with permission:

Both ourselves and Enable are acutely aware of the impacts the pandemic, historic ground conditions, and wet weather have made in creating the environment we currently see in our parks and commons across Wandsworth, and in this particular case Tooting Common.  We have spoken to Enable’s Head of Parks for an overview of the situation, and while discussions have taken place around the strategy for tackling; endemic waterlogging in winter, new desire lines, eroded and compacted areas, damaged habitats and more, with the current lockdown #3 and no clear end date, very little can be done right now given this is the major cause of the increased wear and tear.  Remedial work will be planned for spring, as the winter conditions make this type of work difficult and often counter-productive, with even lightweight machinery on the ground likely to make the situation worse.

For now, Enable will continue to monitor areas and log damage as they see it.  This will build their priority lists for improvements that could be worked on from the spring, assuming lockdown status has been lifted.  It is extremely likely however that any significant/longer term and practical remedial works will not be carried out until well in to 2021 at the very earliest.  Space still needs to be allowed for social distancing, and attempting to close off areas, block areas either side of paths, fencing off pitches/parts of parks/commons etc. could be extremely negative for users and would likely cause any temporary obstructions/fencing to be forcibly removed to allow ‘rights to roam’.  It is a catch 22 situation to some extent as we would need to remove valuable space from use in order to improve it.  The current approach is to accept damage in some key areas in the short term, and where possible ensure that the majority of space continues to be protected and well managed.  The longer term strategic view will be to remediate those worst affected areas and/or design-out damage through planting or pathway network improvements.

In the short term we will see the following process being adopted:

  1. Site assessment and identification of priority areas to improve
  2. Tackling newly observed desire lines with temporary path closures/fencing etc.
  3. Closing off areas to allow for remedial works (such as ground breaking, overseeding and de-compaction)
  4. Re-seeding or the possible replanting of areas.
  5. Ongoing maintenance and monitoring.

Enable have already started tackling some of the newer desire lines that appear in woodland areas by blocking pathways etc with ‘dead-hedge’ structures and associated information notices.  They have also dismantled some of the dens that have been erected in wooded areas during the summer (which damage habitats for local species).  Where it has been possible to make remedial works without impacting the availability for the public to use greenspaces this is already being done, ground conditions permitting.  Longer term drainage works such as that to playing surfaces as seen on Wandsworth Common do help address short term localised flooding but require surveys, careful assessment and planning to ensure the right intervention in the right area, so are not overnight remedies I’m afraid.

In regards to the point on contractors vans, while this is something that will likely never be fully eradicated it is already documented within the new contract, and we would expect any new contractor to adhere to their obligations.

I hope that the above is sufficient information to allay fears that nothing is or will be done to address the damage being caused by the vastly increased footfall.  Works will be targeted to those areas seen as having the best likelihood of success in the short term with more work being done as weather, ground conditions and tier restrictions allow, and longer term work to follow.  A further update can be provided once we have a clearer indication of the timeline for the easing of restrictions and the consequent impact on Enable’s planning for remedial works.

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