CHRISTCHURCH council has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown and has pledged to refund flood-hit residents who bought their own sandbags.

After initially refusing to provide residents of Conifer Close with free sandbags or plastic sheeting because the threat of flooding was not serious enough, the council is now offering to help them protect their properties.

The council’s senior emergency planning officer will visit residents in the Stourbanks flats this afternoon to discuss what measures are needed to protect residents and property in the event of a deterioration in the weather.

Residents are being assured they will not have to pay for any additional measures and they will be reimbursed for the emergency measures they have already put in place.

The u-turn comes after Prime Minister David Cameron publicly stated that no councils should be charging for sandbags. Representatives from the local UK Independence Party offered to raise funds for residents and Christchurch council’s stance was criticised in the national media.

Resident Paul Richards said: “The council has now agreed to obey the Government orders not to charge for sandbags but we’re in a situation where the council still make it as hard as possible for us to get them.

“They iniitially told us they could not deliver sandbags and we would have to get them from Furzehill ourselves, which bearing in mind we are an elderly community is not that easy. We are now waiting to hear a definite decision on whether they will deliver them or not.

“It’s just very frustrating that we have had to wait this long to get the most basic help.”

The council said Cllr Sue Spittle visited residents of Conifer Close last night and they would be returning today "to investigate whether any further defences are needed to protect their properties."

Cllr Spittle said: “We understand that, having suffered a flood at Christmas, the residents are concerned that it could happen again. Although river levels are currently much lower than they were at Christmas, as a gesture of goodwill we will be reimbursing them for the emergency prevention measures they have put in place themselves.

“Our senior emergency planning officer has been in touch with a representative of the residents and is meeting him today.

"The purpose of the meeting is to plan what action will be taken to further protect residents and property in the event of a deterioration in current conditions.

"If additional measures need to be put in place, there will be no cost to the residents.”

Cllr Ray Nottage, Leader of Christchurch Council, added: “With the current bad weather there is a possibility of flooding in the Borough.

"We will be providing sandbags to our residents free of charge where flooding may be imminent. If anyone is concerned about a possible flooding, they should contact our customer services officers on 01202 405000 and we will give them the latest advice.

"If necessary, people will be able to collect sandbags from the Civic Offices with no charge.”