Underpass flooding to be investigated


THE WORK of a company that built a multimillion-pound motorway underpass which flooded, trapping motorists, is to be investigated, it was announced yesterday.

An independent team of consultants will examine how the underpass on Belfast's Westlink thoroughfare disappeared below flood waters on Saturday, just a month after it was opened as part of a major building project.

The plans for an independent inquiry emerged at a special sitting of Stormont's Committee for Regional Development, where politicians questioned civil servants about the flooding.

Motorists had to be rescued from their cars as vehicles disappeared under 20ft of water. It was the first time the road scheme had to cope with a serious downpour.

A spokesman for construction firm HMC said it had worked closely with the public sector in designing the underpass and would co-operate with the inquiry.

The Northern Ireland Roads Service, Northern Ireland Water and the Rivers Agency faced accusations that the response to the flooding, which also hit households, was poorly organised.

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Fred Cobain, who chaired the special committee sitting, claimed local politicians co-ordinated activity to help families with flooded homes in parts of Belfast.The civil servants confirmed plans for a dedicated telephone line for flooding emergencies would be completed by October.

Democratic Unionist Assembly member Jim Wells said lives could have been lost if the flooding had happened at night. "People were allowed to drive into that situation," he said. "Right up until the water was two metres high and nobody stopped them . . . something went seriously wrong."

Carrying some 70,000 vehicles a day, the underpass is a central part of a £115 million (€145 million) upgrade of the Westlink route through Belfast.

Committee members spent two hours questioning officials and said householders felt let down by the response to the floods.

Northern Ireland Road Service said they received weather warnings on Friday. By Saturday, they had 200 staff and 100 vehicles on the ground when 122 roads were closed.

Rivers agency operations director Philip Mehaffey said illegal dumping in waterways was contributing to unexpected floods.

Politicians have also come under pressure to help farmers who lost livestock and crops. Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesman Tom Elliott said: "I would propose that the Minister of Agriculture should urgently consider an aid package for the farming community who have suffered due to the flooding." - ( PA)