PROBLEMS blighted a trial pumping scheme at a Basingstoke electricity sub-station last week after the project was targeted by vandals and had to be suspended because of heavy rain.

The high-volume pump was used to reduce the floodwater around the West Ham sub-station, in Worting Road, last Thursday, with the hope that if the trial is a success, it will be used to remove floodwater from Buckskin.

However, less than 24 hours after the trial started, it had to be halted after a pipe, transporting the water to the River Loddon, was thought to have been slashed in a subway connecting Basingstoke Leisure Park and a BP petrol station, in Churchill Way.

Borough council leader Councillor Clive Sanders said: “I am saddened and disappoin-ted by the mindless act. It is unbelievable that after all the effort and planning that went into getting this pumping arranged that it was put at risk.

“I cannot praise the fire service highly enough on the way they worked tirelessly to get the pipe repaired, and the pumping started again as quickly as possible.”

Pumping resumed at 12.20am, but was then temporarily suspended by the borough council, because of heavy rainfall.

Tony Curtis, chief executive of the borough council, said: “Residents living downstream can be reassured we are being deliberately cautious, especially when there has been heavy rain, to make sure what we are doing does not put extra pressure on the Loddon.

“The good news is that the pumping has seen the level of water around the pumping station go down by 225mm despite the groundwater continually replenishing, which shows we are making progress.”

The pilot pumping scheme was developed by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Coun-cil, Hampshire Fire and Rescue, the Environ-ment Agency and Hamp-shire County Council.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue’s high-volume pump drained floodwater from around the sub-station, taking it along more than one kilometre of hose to reach the River Loddon.

Specialist high-volume pump teams from the New Forest worked with Basingstoke firefighters and the military to deploy the equipment and continually monitor it.

The pumps, which have been deployed around the country to help relieve flood-hit areas, can move 7,000 litres of water per minute. The pumping trial continued once the river levels dropped.

At a meeting last Friday, Mr Curtis asked Buckskin residents to be patient while the details of using the pump in the area are finalised. This would see floodwater filtered to ensure the River Loddon is not contaminated.

Although flooding in Buckskin has stabilised, the water levels are not going down. Groundwater experts have predicted that doing nothing could mean water levels might not reduce until April.

Mr Curtis said: “We have committed to doing everything we can to help people in Buckskin who are living in appalling conditions, or have been forced to leave their houses and live in temporary accommodation.

“The water will not go down by itself as the water table is so high and the ground is saturated. Tankering the water away is only having limited benefit. We hope that the pumping trial will be successful so that we can look at how it could be used to help give residents more hope of water levels going down in the near future.”

The chief executive met with Thames Water staff last Friday, and the water company has agreed to help with deep cleaning in Buckskin.

Cllr Sanders said: “This marks the important next step in trying to return Buckskin to normal so that the residents can begin to rebuild their lives after what is proving to be one of the most persistent and harrowing situations which a community could have to face. I have every admiration for the resilience and fortitude of the people of Buckskin.”