A COUPLE have been left homeless after an incident on the River Thames in which a weir was emptied, causing their boat to sink.
Two other boats on residential moorings also sank after the weir gate was opened at the Sandford weir structure, causing the water level to plummet rapidly.
The incident happened near the hydro-electric plant at Sandford-upon-Thames in May.
The hydro-electric site was first operational in 2017, built as a result of a community fundraising effort led by the Low Carbon Hub – “a social enterprise that’s out to prove we can meet our energy needs in a way that’s good for people and good for the planet”, according to its website. The facility was designed to power almost 500 homes in the area per year.
Tim Wiseman’s narrowboat Tallis was one of the trio that sank despite the efforts of Oxfordshire fire and rescue crews to try and save the craft from submerging. He and his wife Charlotte were not on board at the time.
He said: “One of the large weir structures at the site used to manage water levels on the river was opened, rapidly draining a channel of the river as millions of litres of water flooded over the open gates. It remains unclear why the gates were opened, but it is believed to have been a fault, not an act of vandalism.”
As a result of the water levels dropping so suddenly, three houseboats sank, causing thousands of pounds’ damage and leaving people homeless.
Mr Wiseman said he and his wife have lived on board Tallis for 14 years but due to the damage caused during the incident they remain without a home after they “lost everything due to the sinking”.
They have been left living with neighbours while they try to refit their boat, which was raised but had suffered serious water damage.
Since the incident, it is understood that the Environment Agency, which granted a licence to operate the power plant, has closed the site until the cause of the incident can be determined.
Mr Wiseman has been pressing Sandford Hydro Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Low Carbon Hub, and the Environment Agency for answers and for someone to take responsibility for the incident.
However, nearly three months on, there is still no information available, he said. Local MP Anneliese Dodds and city councillors have also intervened to demand a quicker response.
Mr Wiseman commented: “Nearly three months have now passed and we are still without answers or anyone taking responsibility.
“We have lost our home, possessions and spent thousands on alternative accommodation.
“It is fortunate that no one was seriously hurt when the boats were sunk, which happened in the middle of the night. When will someone take responsibility?”
Low Carbon Hub’s CEO, Dr Barbara Hammond, explained that the incident occurred at Sandford weir, not Sandford hydro-electric plant, which was not operational at the time due to the dry summer.
The weir is operated by the Environment Agency and is used to manage water levels on the Thames south of Oxford. The Sandford-on-Thames hydro-electric plant was built as an extension to the weir.
Dr Hammond added: “The incident is in the hands of insurers, as is normal in these situations and so I am afraid all I can tell you is that investigations are not yet complete. With regard to compensation, my understanding is that boaters’ insurers will have paid out directly to them and will then reclaim those sums from the insurers of those whose liability is established.
“I therefore don’t have any details of any insurance claims paid out and am not aware that any other type of compensation has been paid.”
She went on to apologise that she was unable to give a more detailed response.
The Low Carbon Hub’s website states: “Following a fall in river levels in the Sandford reach on Sunday, May 29, 2022 we are working with Environment Agency staff and insurers to support the ongoing investigation as to the cause.
“Due to seasonal river conditions at the time, the hydro generators were switched off and not operational when the incident occurred.”
Towpath Talk also contacted the Environment Agency, which said it was unable to comment on this issue at the moment.