rebecca till in her flooded property in galgate

Floods in north-west England prompt criticism over missing defences

rebecca till in her flooded property in galgate
Rebecca Till in her flooded property in Galgate. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Cumbria MP says government is dragging its feet, as torrential rain causes flooding in area hit by Storm Desmond in 2015

November 24, 2017 — Torrential rain has forced dozens of families from their homes and caused disruption across the north-west of England, prompting a local MP to accuse the government of dragging its feet over £25m of flood defences promised two years ago.

Lancaster and the nearby village of Galgate were the worst-affected areas, with 70 people rescued by firefighters and 27 people evacuated from their homes as rivers burst their banks and drains overflowed. Emergency services said they received 500 flood-related calls and attended 100 incidents in Lancashire overnight.

Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader whose Cumbrian constituency was affected on Thursday, said the situation had been made worse because work had not yet started on schemes promised by ministers in the aftermath of Storm Desmond in December 2015.

He said: “There’s dozens and dozens of things that ought to have been done – some of it is really easy, some of it is more complicated – and none of it has happened. It just feels like we had a load of sympathy and an offer of money when it happened two years ago and then the government has just dragged its feet, despite the fact that I’ve nagged them.”

Farron said he would write to Michael Gove, the environment secretary, after some of the same parts of Cumbria and north Lancashire that suffered in Storm Desmond were hit again on Wednesday night.

The weather monitoring station at Hazelrigg at Lancaster University recorded 73.6mm of rain in 24 hours up to 9am on Thursday. That was the highest for more than 50 years and more than in Storm Desmond, which turned main roads into rivers in the Georgian city and knocked out power for several days.

The storm this time around wasn’t strong enough to be given a name by the Met Office, but it still managed to flood at least 100 homes in Galgate, south of the university campus, which escaped Desmond largely unscathed.

On Thursday the police, fire service, council and Environment Agency officials were going door to door assessing the damage done when the river Conder breached its narrow banks.

Rebecca Till’s son had just sat down in front of the TV with a cup of tea on Wednesday evening when the water started to rush in to their cottage through an air vent. “He was screaming and crying, I called the fire service and was on hold for at least 10 minutes, they were that busy,” said Till.

A clear-up operation was under way across the region on Thursday. Hundreds of homes were without power on Lancashire’s Fylde coast, schools were closed across the county and a number of key road and rail routes were disrupted.

claire fullerton
Claire Fullerton. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

On Main Street in Galgate, Claire Fullerton was trying to salvage her belongings, relieved she’d had time to put Christmas presents for her four-year-old son upstairs when the water started to come in through the front door.

Her two-up, two-down had been left uninhabitable and the 24-year-old said she would stay with relatives while she worked out what to do.

Many residents complained that they had received no warning about the deluge and had not been offered sandbags. On Salford Road, another badly affected street, residents had improvised, filling Morrisons carrier bags and pet food sacks with soil to place at their front doors.

In Cumbria, where more than 6,400 homes were flooded in Storm Desmond two years ago, a flood warning was in place for the river Kent near Kendal – one of Britain’s fastest-flowing rivers and where ministers have previously promised to target flood defences.

The Met Office said about 43mm (1.7in) of rain had fallen in 24 hours in parts of Lancashire, while further north in Shap, Cumbria, 89mm (3.5in) – about half a month’s rain – was recorded in 36 hours.

In Carlisle, where half the town was submerged under flood water two years ago, the football club tweeted pictures showing that one corner of its Brunton Park ground had been flooded.

The 18,000-capacity stadium is close to the river Petteril and near the river Eden, which had burst its banks on Thursday morning as the Environment Agency declared a flood warning for the area.

Many Galgate residents blamed the building of two new housing estates for the flooding, which for most residents was the first in living memory. But Keith Ashcroft, the Environment Agency regional director, said unprecedented rainfall was the more likely culprit.

“I recognise people are concerned around new developments. It’s an emerging issue that people are talking about, but we talk to developers and the local authority to mitigate against any increased flood risk and we can object if we think there’s an unacceptable risk.

“Generally speaking, in the vast majority of cases if we say the risk is unacceptable, the local authorities listen,” he said. Both Galgate developments had been passed by the agency, he added.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said it had completed work on some Cumbrian flood schemes since December 2015, but confirmed that the projects in the £25m scheme were still at the planning and consultation stages.


guardian_64 by Josh Halliday, Helen Pidd | The Guardian