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Updated 8th March 2003

See also

Report on the Floods of 2003

The RWWS Thames Forum

River Thames

Flood Relief Scheme

Royal Windsor Home Page


The Aftermath
January 2003 and the Flood Relief Scheme
receives its first real test

This article features:

Flood Relief

For Maidenhead, Bray, Eton and Windsor residents it passes
with flying colours but residents downstream are not convinced!

Chalvey Weir

The Jubilee River weir at Chalvey beside the M4.
Jan 6th 2003

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Local Meeting at Wraysbury,
but no Environment Agency representative!

Tuesday, 21st January

The meeting on Tuesday evening at Wraysbury Village Hall was, to put it mildly, oversubscribed! The Hall was full to bursting, as yet more rain poured down outside and with plenty of evidence of saturated ground all around, the mood of the public attending was decidedly 'anti' the Environment Agency, who elected not to send a representative. It is understandable that the public at large should take the opportunity to voice their shared view that the EA's Jubilee River was the cause of the flooding, "A man-made disaster," the Chairman, Mr Lawrence, the Leader of the Parish Council, called it. One of the main objectives of the meeting was to demand an independent enquiry into the causes of the flooding, not relying on an in-house Environment Agency report, an understandable point of view!
  The Environment Agency has replied to
Mr Lawrence's letter which demanded an independent enquiry. The EA responded claiming that the demand was 'premature' and stating that the facts would be made available at the 'all-day surgery' organised by The Environment Agency on Thursday, 23rd January, at The Hythe Centre, Egham. The EA has however requested that the computer modelling of river flows during times of flood be rerun by their consultants (Gibb Ltd) now that the project is complete, using 2003 flood data.

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Public Surgery at Egham,
and the Environment Agency are out in force

Thursday, 23rd January

Following a visit to the above 'Public Surgery', it seemed obvious that the Environment Agency had done their homework. On view were a wealth of charts, maps and leaflets that had been quickly prepared for the public's benefit. A steady stream of visitors were calling in to see for themselves. The data published on the day showed that a combination of waterlogged land, persistent wet weather for two months and very heavy rain just after Christmas forced up river levels to critical heights thoughout the Thames Valley. The EA's claim that river levels rose close to 1947 levels throughout the valley are fully justifiable. In these circumstances, there was nothing that could have been done to reduce or avoid the resulting floods along the entire length of the Thames, except where the Jubilee River was able to do what it was designed to, which was to alleviate flooding between Maidenhead and Windsor. This was achieved by dividing the flow between the Thames itself and the newly constructed Jubilee River. This was very effective as at the flood's peak, 144 cumecs of water were passing into the new channel, 60% of its designed capacity. This allowed flood water volume in the Thames to be held at 260cumecs which although very high - flood water was over the Brocas and Promenade in the Windsor reach - no properties were threatened, and the entire stretch from Maidenhead to Windsor remained on only a Flood Watch.
  Many residents downstream had concluded that two rivers meant more water, rather than seeing it as a split watercourse that allowed reduced levels in the channel that mattered, the Thames. Without this 'relief', the river would certainly have flooded a substantial number of homes as it had on a number of occasions earlier in the 1900s, in particular 1947. With 64% of the downstream flow passing into the existing watercourse and 36% into the new channel it is estimated by the EA that 400 properties were protected from flooding, and disruption prevented to a further 1000 properties.
  It is unlikely that the flooding downstream was in anyway aggravated by the use of the Jubilee River and it is tough on the Environment Agency and their staff that a new and innovative scheme was given such a fierce test so soon after its completion, resulting in a knee-jerk public condemnation of its operation. It was inevitable that certain members of the public who suffered flooding downstream would complain bitterly, even demanding its suspension from use until after a full enquiry, and, with 100% clear hindsight, claiming that areas upstream should have been flooded earlier in order to reduce flooding downstream. "Flood them upstream, not us!" is the claim by a handful of Wraysbury residents who bought properties knowing them to be within the areas flooded in 1947.

Jubilee River Bank Failure

There is however one problem that requires explanation, and that is how an extended length of cycle path progressively fell into the Jubilee River late in December 2002 and early January 2003, requiring substantial emergency stabilisation at a time when the relief channel was fully operational and handling almost 40% of the Thames flow. Pictures and information


With river levels again on the rise (23rd January 2003), and the Jubilee River again in operation, it is plain that we are in for a nervous couple of months, with floods possible right through to April or even May, given that the entire valley is now totally waterlogged. It only needs a few inches of rain in a short period of time for the whole soggy saga to be repeated, Jubilee River or no, and residents living in susceptible areas must take heed and make appropriate arrangements.
  We have been promised fuller data by the Environment Agency in due course. We are confident that the Jubilee River and its operation will be fully exonerated from any blame.


As luck would have it, March in particular was very dry and sunny, breaking records in some areas, so the fears of a repeat of the problems experienced at New Year proved unfounded.

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The Flood Relief Channel upsets residents downstream

Gloucester Drive, Hythe End

Gloucester Drive, Hythe End, Wraysbury
3.00pm on Sunday 5th January about 6 hours before "High Tide".
(With thanks to
Les Willis of Gloucester Drive for sending this to us)

Letter to the Editor, Thamesweb.
January 7th 2003

I am glad all the residents in Maidenhead were safe but what about all the poor people further down the river in Wraysbury.
  It is not surprising that the residents in Maidenhead were only on a Flood Watch on Saturday night and the residents of Datchet and Wraysbury were on a severe warning, as this could only have been caused by the Jubilee River. 
  Many residents have lost their cars, as they were unable to move them in time before the flood waters reached their properties. Many residents are still stranded and unable to move their cars. The water was above the door sills of many of them. Fortunately my daughter had gone out for the evening and when she returned our front garden was under water. We had already moved our cars to higher ground earlier in the evening. The water level rose to such an extent that in 3 hours we had 2 1/2 feet of water in our back gardens, and escaped substantial damage by just 1/2". As our road is still on cesspits, we are unable to use our toilets, have baths, do washing etc. It will be days if not weeks before we can actually use these facilities.  The houses that have been severely affected are not the ones directly on the river, our house is some 500 yards from the Thames and there is a large area encompassing Ouseley Road, Wharf Road, Coppice Drive, Garson Lane, Riverside, Friary Road and The Embankment that has been affected.
  How many houses were actually flooded in Maidenhead in November 2000 compared to the number of houses that have been flooded in Wraysbury? I would imagine more in Wraysbury have been affected and this is of course due to the volume of water that has been pushed into the Thames at Datchet via the Jubilee River. How can twice as much water be put in the river at Datchet and the areas lower down not be affected?

Unhappy resident

The Jubilee River scheme sounds wonderful for the people it was designed to protect. However, it appears to me that this protection has been achieved at the expense of those living further downstream. What measures are being considered for present and future flood relief in these previously unaffected areas?
Chertsey resident

Reply from the Editor, Thamesweb

May I from the outset send my sincerest sympathy for the situation that you find yourself in. I am sure you will understand that as editor of the privately run Royal Windsor Web Site I hold no brief for the Environment Agency, nor have any connection with them, and for two years I have been concerned, as you, that the Flood Relief Scheme would deliver water faster to Datchet and downstream than the existing river course could handle.
  However, I have changed by mind in the last few days and now believe that in order to deliver additional flood water or accelerate delivery downstream, it must accept additional water from upstream in order to do so. In this case the result would be a draining away of the water upstream. This has not been the case. The truth is that the Jubilee River merely divides the flow arriving at Boulters Weir, splitting it between the Thames and the Jubilee River such that the levels in the reaches downstream as far as Romney Lock are lowered or 'shared' between the two waterways. The amount of water delivered into Datchet Reach at Black Potts is exactly the same as the amount of water arriving at Boulters Lock, bar minor additions from streams feeding the river between Maidenhead and Windsor. It is entirely coincidental that the first real use of the Jubilee River resulted in the first significant flooding downstream since 1947 (perhaps with local exceptions). The truth is that, regardless of the new channel, the Thames would have flooded severely as a result of the massive amounts of water accumulating in the valley throughout its length and for a prolonged period. I am attempting to get river levels, flows and historical data from the Environment Agency to prove this point as I do understand your view, which, as I say, I shared too throughout the construction of the flood relief scheme. When these figures are to hand it may be easier to determine which argument is actually true.
  The main point that remains is the morality of spending £80 million on the scheme for the benefit of some, while spending substantially less upstream or downstream. Eton College may well have benefitted substantially through income from the sales of gravel, etc., as well as the income from land released for the project. Maidenhead and Bray was the prime beneficiary of this scheme, and Windsor too, and it is the flooding in 1990 of properties built on the Maidenhead flood plain, contrary to informed advice from various concerned agencies, that finally precipitated the channel's construction.
  What the future holds we cannot tell, but in order for the risk of flooding to be almost totally removed throughout the length of the Thames Valley, we need a second river to accommodate the excess water. This will almost certainly lead to the loss of homes and businesses in its path. It is debatable whether this is acceptable, given that we are talking (currently) about a 'once in 60 year' timescale. It should be noted that in Victorian times floods of this regularity and height were far more common. We may be returning to those times, but as yet we do not know, and cannot predict the need for a 'full length' second channel.
  Finally, I would point out that the Environment Agency issued a Flood Warning (
Flood Warning - Flooding expected affecting homes, businesses and main roads. Act now!) at 10.33 on 1st January yet it seems that many people failed to take note, thinking no doubt that there was nothing they needed to do or that it did not concern them. The Severe Flood Warning was issued on Saturday night at 9pm (SEVERE FLOOD WARNING means serious flooding is expected. There is imminent danger to life and property. Act now!). Whilst I am not aware of when cars and property in your area were actually affected, the peak levels did not occur until late on Sunday afternoon which suggests that sufficient warning was given, but some residents were too slow in taking action. The truth of the matter is of course that if water wants to go somewhere, it will, and that the only action that residents can reasonably take is to remove items of value out of reach of the rising water. It is sad to note that EA publicity in October given to the possibilities of future flooding, and the need to plan for one's own area if flooding is likely, have not been heeded by some.
  As a Windsor resident all my life, and my father before me, who was closely involved with the
Floods of 1947 as Assistant Borough Engineer, I can only have great sympathy for those affected over the last few days. We missed another '47 by a whisker.
With my best regards

9th January 2003

I have just read your email with regard to the recent flooding. Thankfully my house was not flooded and no serious damage has occurred to my property, apart from my poor garden. However I do think you are missing the point that people in the Wraysbury area are trying to make about the Jubilee River.

No one doubts the river levels were high and would have flooded regardless. However, before construction of the relief scheme, everyone along the path of the river would have had a share of this flooding instead of it being shunted along and trapped between Old Windsor and Leyland. We then suffered not only our own share but also the volume of water that would have dispersed over the Maidenhead, Dorney and Windsor area. The lock at Shepperton was closed and the Thames Barrier raised. This is what is upsetting so many of the residents. Can you ethically save one area at the expense of another without any consultation?

Your point about the flood warning slightly irritated me. As soon as I received the flood warning leaflet asking me to ring up to get a short dial number I did. This was not an easy thing to do and took several phone calls over several days before I managed to get through and get the short dial number for my area. On Saturday I tried to get the flood warning for my area using this number only to be given the warning for the River Ash. I held out again and dialled the complete number and waited patiently until for the whole thing to roll through until we came to the Windsor area. The voice then tailed of to a soft tone repeating the words "three... three....three". I dialled this several times getting the same response before giving up!

On the Saturday a lorry with sandbags came down the road and gave me the number to ring to order some. I explained to the woman on the end of the phone that the river was already up to the house wall and would that I like some sandbags as soon as possible please. She told me in no uncertain terms that I would not get any until my house had been inspected. There were inspectors in the area and I would have to wait until one came round and certified that I was close to flooding!!

The people of the flooding telephone line know what has caused so much misery here. I spoke to one person and said that I would hate to think that the Dorney Wildfowl conservation area had flooded. I couldn't bear to think of all those Ducks getting wet feet, or the cows on Dorney Common. He only laughed and said that although he couldn't comment, if he told me that Maidenhead was clear I could make my own mind up!

Have you got any response to that?

Many thanks for further news from your area and your experiences. I have just read the local Windsor Express which has of course given great coverage to the floods and the claims that The Flood Relief has contributed towards the problems downstream. I shall be pursuing the EA more vigorously now having had a chance to tour the Ouseley Road area myself last night and seen more clearly just how bad the flooding was for some residents. The only proof available to us one way or the other regarding the Scheme is to study the water flows and volumes at each end of it and between Maidenhead and Windsor. This should tell the true story. However, I am concerned by two stories that I have heard. One that a gate got stuck at Boulters Weir affecting the flow into the Flood Relief one way or another, and another that Teddington closed up too soon before a high incoming tide. I don't think either story has much bearing on our area. But we need to investigate!
I am sorry that you have had trouble with the Flood Line. To be honest I have rung it many times over the past two years in times of high river levels before placing updates on The Royal Windsor Web Site and have always got through to the right area every time.

We then suffered not only our own share but also the volume of water that would have dispersed over the Maidenhead, Dorney and Windsor area. The lock at Shepperton was closed and the Thames Barrier raised. This is what is upsetting so many of the residents. Can you ethically save one area at the expense of another without any consultation?

This is the point we must pursue vigorously with the EA. I think that with the volumes of water arriving from upstream of Maidenhead, the 'absorbent' effect of Dorney Common etc. would merely have delayed the events downstream, not reduced or removed them. This is simply because once Dorney was full, for example, the water would have still flowed on downstream, just later. The relevant aspect is the the volume of water that had to flow from above Maidenhead through our area to the sea, come what may. We must get answers from EA engineers to determine if flooding Dorney, or the rest of us, would have made any difference overall.
The point about Shepperton is interesting although one would expect the Lock to be closed anyway. Was Shepperton Weir closed? If so one must find out the reasons. I have just talked with the Information Centre at the Thames Barrier, Woolwich who tell me that the barrier has been raised twice a day ever since New Year. Again, I need to find out to what extent this constant raising of the barrier has slowed flows out of the Thames and if water levels have 'backed up' as far as our area as a result. It seems unlikely.
As to the ethics of the matter, I think most people would agree that if you can save some areas, then one should do so. The financial costs of flooding a large number of businesses upstream, closing many roads and inflicting damage on a vast number of additional properties cannot be supported - quite apart from the massive increases in insurance claims which we all have to pay for in the long run. Without the Flood Relief Scheme the damage upstream would have been substantially greater. The fact remains that the last week or so has seen massive flows of water, close to 1947 levels, and the Flood Relief has done exactly what it was intended to do which was to avoid these massive expenses over a wide area. As I said in my original letter, these are once in 60 year occurrences and it is up to the population of the area to decide if they want the massive cost and disruption of a second river through an increasingly built up area, to drain the river to the sea without flooding our reaches.
  The matter of sandbags I suggest was simply due to the sheer volume of demand. It is a shame that many residents did not get their supply when they needed it, but equally there were some residents who demanded sandbags even when others closer to being flooded had not received theirs. Hence the need for inspection. A valuable lesson here would be to establish a list in priority and address order, based on the level of the property in relation to the river. The lowest first! Then the need for inspection would be removed as the authorities would know better than individual residents which properties were most urgently in need. I am reminded however of my late father's view that sandbags were not much more than a public relations exercise as water most commonly rises up through the drains, from under the floor and up through the ground so have little effect other than to cut down undue 'wash' from passing vehicles.
With my best regards

A View from Staines

Firstly I would like to thank you for an informative and interesting web site, and like many, I express that, despite the fact that I'm going to make points about the Jubilee River, I do not wish floods and the distress caused upon any one.
  I attended the EA's open forum on the 23rd and spent a not inconsiderable time reviewing the information on display. I have the following points.

  • The important information was generally presented in large quantities of complex graphs and tables.
  • The graphics displaying the extent of the 2003 event were incorrect. Based on areas that I personally witnessed and photographed, the flood has been underestimated.
  • The only real point of interest to residents below the Jubilee river was the relative levels before and after the introduction of the Jubilee River. This was presented on two graphs, one on the Jubilee River stand. This used such a ridiculous scale that the 3 lines indicating the floods of 1947, 2000, and 2003 where almost overlaid on top of each other. Indeed, if you did look carefully, something strange was occurring around the Old Windsor/Datchet region of the graph. The second graph was hand drawn and indicated peak river levels in metres from above the Jubilee River through to Chertsey for the three floods. This graph was drawn at a sensible scale and clearly shows that the peak levels prior to the Jubilee River for 2003 are fractionally above the 2000 flood i.e. approx. 10-20mm and the level, where it exits the Jubilee River, is 300-400mm greater (12 to 16 inches).
  • A colleague of mine who was at the forum with me returned in the evening to find the above graph had been removed and the EA didn't know by who or why. Don't worry I took a photo of the relevant part.
  • Despite the EA quoting that November and December 2002 had twice their average rainfall, there was no comparison available of 2000 and 1947. My research indicates that the rainfall in November and December 2000 was almost identical to 2002 and the 4 month period from September to December 2000 was one of the wettest recorded, second only to 1947.

In conclusion I do not feel the EA has gone any way to proving that the Jubilee River is operating as per their model in any respect other than defending the Maidenhead and Windsor area. It doesn't take a genius to review the data and realise their claims that the flood event was comparable with 1947 only refers to the water levels and flooding of Datchet, Wraysbury and Runnymede. Reading, Kingston, Teddington, Hackney, Tottenham, Barking, etc certainly didn't see a repeat of 1947.
  I apologise if this sounds like a bit of a rant, I commend the EA for having the nerve to stand up and present their case, but I trust them less now, having heard their spin, than when the water was lapping at my door.
  P.C. from Staines

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An Open Letter from Mr Lawrence, the Leader of the Council
to the Environment Agency

9 January 2003

Sir John Hannan
Environment Agency
25th Floor
Millbank Tower
21-24 Millbank

Flooding in The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead

We are now in the process of dealing with the aftermath of recent flooding. As you are aware, various areas within the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead were adversely affected by the flooding, and the area of Wraysbury was the eventual subject of a severe warning. Our initial analysis suggests that areas that have been the subject of flooding were not in your 1: 100 year Post Scheme floodplain.
A large number of the residents within the Wraysbury area are now seeking the assistance of the Council in helping them return their homes and the local area back to normal.
Viscount Mills, South East Regional Chairman, has advised Cookham residents today that an investigation will now take place within the Environment Agency. We would like the investigation to cover our whole area and include:

i. Why properties either previously not affected by flooding, or not previously affected to this extent, suffered in the way that they did;
ii. How much the flood alleviation works completed in 2002 have contributed to the severe flooding experienced, and
iii. Why there was a significant delay in issuing a severe warning in respect of the Wraysbury area when the situation was quickly becoming more serious than suggested by the flood watch warning and when the more timely issue of a severe warning would have permitted better preventative measures to be taken.

Such an investigation is clearly needed but we would advocate that this should be carried out by an expert independent of the Environment Agency. We would expect to be consulted over the terms of reference and who will conduct the review.
We would also expect such an investigation to address other important issues such as those set out below, although an initial response to these issues is requested:

a. What assistance is the Environment Agency willing and able to offer to homeowners whose properties were affected by the flooding both in terms of immediate relief, and to address the possible difficulties such owners will now face when attempting to sell or insure their properties in the future?
b. Does the Environment Agency accept that it has inadequately modeled the affect of the flood alleviation works to areas downstream of Windsor to such an extent that no adequate steps were taken to protect those properties affected from flooding, and that therefore the Environment Agency is liable for the extent of the flooding that has occurred?
c. What action is the Environment Agency proposing to take in respect of potential future flooding in the area?

Given the urgency of this matter and the degree of public concern it would be very helpful to have a response to the issues raised within the next 7 days.
It is intended that this letter will me made publicly available, including circulation to those residents affected by the flooding.

cc Mrs T May MP
Mr M Trend
MP Viscount Mills

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Royal Borough Asks Questions too


Thursday, 09 January 2003
Cabinet Calls For Independent Investigation Into Flooding

The Royal Borough is taking up the cudgels on behalf of beleaguered residents by calling for an independent investigation into the cause of this week's flooding in areas like Cookham and Wraysbury.
  As hundreds of local people struggle to recover from severe water damage to their homes and businesses, council leader Cllr Michael Lawrence has written to Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, making it clear that any investigation must cover the questions currently being asked by despairing flood victims:

    • Why have properties never before affected by flooding ­ or not to such a great degree ­ suffered this time?
    • To what extent has the Jubilee River contributed to the situation?
    • Why was there a significant delay in issuing a severe flood warning for Wraysbury ­ an earlier alert would have given residents more time to take preventative action.

Cllr Lawrence said it was time for the council to champion the cause of local people who were coming to terms with the damage and the financial implications for them and their families. 
  He said:  "We cannot speculate at this stage about why these floods were so severe but questions need to be answered.  Many people are left wondering if the Environment Agency got its calculations wrong about the effects of the flood alleviation scheme, leaving Wraysbury and other areas downstream of Windsor completely unprotected and vulnerable as never before.
  "Not only must there be a high level investigation but it should be completely independent of the Environment Agency so that Royal Borough residents can feel confident of an objective review and outcome."
  Cllr Lawrence has also asked the chairman what assistance the Environment Agency will be offering to people whose homes were hit by the floods, not only to help them with the immediate clear-up but also with potential problems ahead when they try to insure or sell their homes. 
  He said:  "These are very real concerns and I share the view that the Environment Agency must be asked to come forward with much-needed support and, indeed, what action they propose to take to make sure this week's fiasco doesn't happen again."
  Flooding was discussed as an urgent item during this evening's cabinet when members were given a review of the council's 24-hour-a-day response to residents' calls for help and advice throughout the emergency.


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Where has all the water gone??

Extract from Cookham News (29th November 2000)

"Mr R Powling, Project Manager for the Agency, described the work now in progress on the flood relief channel and its projected effect on river levels, an anticipated reduction of water height above Boulters Lock of 1' 6" reducing to 1" by Cookham Bridge. Full report "

This is most strange. An official claims in November 2000 that river levels will be reduced by 45cm (1' 6") upstream of The Flood Relief Channel intake at Boulters Weir, that river levels will remain below flood level throughout the river from Maidenhead to downstream of Windsor, and that residents in these downstream areas will not be adversely affected by a rise in river levels as a result of the opening of The Flood Relief Channel. It seems that somewhere there is an awful lot of water left unaccounted for...

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Environment Agency Report

On 13th January 2003 The Environment Agency reported that the Thames Barrier at Woolwich had been closed a record 14 consecutive times between New Years' Day and 8 January 2003 as the combination of high incoming tides, coupled with increased flows from upstream meant there was a real risk of flooding within the London area, especially underground transport and low lying residential areas.
The EA also reported that rainfall along the Thames Valley since 1st November 2002 at 261mm [over 5"] was 'more than double the average [136mm - 2.6"] and from 21 December to 31 December, 86mm [almost 3.5"] of rain fell in the region, more than the average for the whole month. This heavy rainfall pushed river levels on the Thames to their highest since 1947, and the third highest in 120 years'.
  'At their peak, river levels flowing over Teddington Weir were three times greater than average winter levels with over 9,000 million gallons of water a day flowing through the weir ­ the equivalent in volume of 220,000 Olympic swimming pools of water flowing through Teddington a day.'
  'High flows moving downstream combined with tidal flows over 3 feet (1 metre) higher than a regular high tide, meant river levels in London rose 4 feet (1.2 metres) above what would normally have been expected.'

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Previous floods - water volume data

We have researched the following figures for volumes of flood water during previous floods. (Source Maidenhead Flood Study 1986) These figures will be similar or slightly greater downstream where additional watercourses join the river.


Return Period

Min. Peak Flow

Max. Peak Flow
November 1894



March 1947 *



January 1959



November 1974




* This resulted in a peak flood height in Windsor of 6' 8"

Environment Agency Web Site

See also

Report on the Floods of 2003

The RWWS Thames Forum

River Thames

Flood Relief Scheme

Royal Windsor Home Page

The Daily Telegraph, Wednesday January 8th 2003 Page 3
As of January 2003 this story is available following a search for 'Jubilee River'. However, you will need to register with the web site to read the story. It is titled "We warned them it would happen but they believed their computer"
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor.


To contact us, email Thamesweb.