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Three weeks after the deluge, parts of the Westcountry still affected by flooding

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 11, 2012

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Almost three weeks after severe flooding brought the Westcountry to a standstill, abandoned cars line a major road on the Somerset Levels – highlighting the fragility of the region's infrastructure.

A 20mph speed restriction also remains in place at the scene of a landslip onto the railway line at Exeter, with 2,753 train services affected as a result, including 137 cancellations.

A few minor roads in Devon are still closed to allow repairs to be made to bridges while, in Cornwall, two out of the three roads into Looe are unlikely to fully reopen for at least a month.

Professor Jon Shaw Professor of Transport Geography at Plymouth University, said the region received one of the lowest spends per head on transport in the country, coupled with a geography that leaves its road and rail links vulnerable to extreme weather.

"The resilience of our transport system is something that there is going to have to be much more focus on," he said. "There's not enough infrastructure anyway and what we do have is unusually vulnerable, particularly the railway. The more extreme weather results in more disruption."

Torrential rainfall brought large scale disruption to the South West at the end of November when the region received more than a month's worth of rain in just eight days.

Roads, including a section of the A39 at Perranarworthal, were shut and rail links were impacted as landslips at Teignmouth and Cowley Bridge, in Exeter, saw services cancelled and rail replacement buses brought in.

Clean-up operations have seen most parts of the Westcountry return to normal but swathes of the Somerset Levels remain under water with roads, including the A361 between Taunton and Glastonbury, closed.

Somerset Highways said the A361 would remain closed for a few days even after the flood water – currently around a foot deep in places – has subsided to allow the water to drain properly. Network Rail said yesterday that work is continuing to repair signal damage at Cowley Bridge after it removed 1,500 tonnes of debris that fell onto the line after a landslip.

Trains can now use the main line, but a 20mph speed restriction remains in place.

"We're working on the track and the signalling as fast as we can to get it up-and-running but we have still got further work to do," said spokesman John Baker.

Network Rail has estimated that emergency repairs as a result of the flooding will cost between £10 million and £20 million. Repairs as a result of a landslip at Teignmouth have cost £500,000 and the bill for repairs to Cowley Bridge stands at between £1 million and £3 million.

A spokeswoman for Devon County Council estimated that the cost of clearing up the floods would be around £1 million, with the bill for structural repairs likely to be around £2 million. She said that the longer term costs of repairing the county's roads could also run into millions, with the final bill difficult to calculate at this stage.

Councillor Stuart Hughes Devon County Council's cabinet member for highways and transportation said: "We will be applying for funding under the Bellwin scheme, which can be used where an emergency occurs, which causes destruction or danger to life or property, and results in the local authority taking action to safeguard lives, property, or to prevent suffering. However, this scheme takes no account of the cost of permanent repairs....

"I want the Government to recognise that we need to build stronger resilience into our whole transport network as we are likely to face more and more extreme weather conditions in the future. That means more money for capital works as well as aid to help with the clear up costs."

Meanwhile Somerset councillors have urged shoppers to support businesses that have been affected by the flooding and have stressed that many parts of the Levels are accessible. Councillor John Williams, leader of Taunton Deane Borough Council, said: "All businesses on the Levels need as much support and custom as possible so I would urge our community to get behind these businesses and visit them."

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