Frustration over lack of Lancaster flooding action

The flooding in Lower Church Street on Wednesday July 19 2017.
The flooding in Lower Church Street on Wednesday July 19 2017.

Businesses and MPs are calling for action after a freak storm caused more flooding in Lancaster.

Questions are being asked about the effectiveness of drainage in the city centre, while there is frustration over an apparent lack of decisive action from local authorities and the government.

Jerry Caterina and James Short following the clean up operation in Stonewell.

Jerry Caterina and James Short following the clean up operation in Stonewell.

The 45-minute deluge on Wednesday July 19, which left roads, businesses and homes flooded, came as the Met Office predicted “unprecedented” downpours over the next decade.

Lancashire County Council said it is carrying out a full investigation which is expected to report early next year, but just 18 months after Storm Desmond wreaked havoc in the Lancaster area, many are wondering why nothing appears to have been done.

The 45-minute deluge on Wednesday July 19 resulted in businesses and homes across the district flooding in what were similar scenes to that of Storm Desmond in December 2015.

The flash flood caused widespread damage to roads across the city, with sewers flooding and storm drains unable to cope with the amount of rainfall.

An exposed grid on Meldon Road in Heysham during flash floods on Wednesday night. Photo by J-Packham Photography.

An exposed grid on Meldon Road in Heysham during flash floods on Wednesday night. Photo by J-Packham Photography.

As the water rose in Lower Church Street at around 6pm, Jerry and Rohina Caterina, landlords at The Stonewell Tavern, had to unblock public drains themselves as the flood water breached their front door.

Next door, Go Burrito boss James Short said that there are major problems with drainage in Lancaster, and he was frustrated with the lack of communication from local authorities.

Lancashire County Council said a study has been commissioned to consider the surface water drainage in the city centre, which was due to report early next year.

Lancaster MP Cat Smith has said that predictions of unprecedented winter downpours in the coming years are a “wake-up call”.

The Trimpell Club car park in Morecambe during flash floods on Wednesday evening. Photo shared by the Trimpell.

The Trimpell Club car park in Morecambe during flash floods on Wednesday evening. Photo shared by the Trimpell.

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said he has written to the leader of Lancashire County Council, urging him to ensure that any neglected or blocked drains across the district are cleared as soon as possible.

Mr Morris said residents had informed him much of the flooding was down to inadequate drainage.

Mr Short said: “It’s no coincidence we flooded after the new paving was laid in the city centre.

“All the water just flows down the hill. The drains are ridiculously old and just not up to the task.

Carnforth during flash floods on Wednesday night. Photo shared by Sean McNamara.

Carnforth during flash floods on Wednesday night. Photo shared by Sean McNamara.

“This will only keep happening.

“There’s major problems with the millrace under the city, which is not taking water away quickly enough, and the amount of rainfall is just too much for it. 
The council don’t provide sandbags any more, so we’re going to need to keep sand bags out the back.

“There are definitely solutions, but it’s going to take both councils and United Utilities to work together with businesses. We’ve not had any formal discussions with anyone. That’s the most frustrating thing.”

Rohina Caterina from The Stonewell said that “gunk” from December 2015 floods had not been cleared.

She said: “Jerry and I unblocked a drain ourselves. The drain was under water. We pulled all the sludge out in knee high water and it started to go down.

“If it had carried on raining water would have gone in the cellar and then all equipment would be damaged again.”

She said the pub opened later and customers were advised to bring a guitar and wellies for the open mic.

She added: “We are very much like that...just get on with things. No panic but it is very, very unfair.”

United Utilities said rainfall data showed that Lancaster was hit by a storm of intensity classed as one in 480 years, but Mr Short said that labels such as this give people a false sense of security.

A spokesperson for United Utilities said: “Highway drains and sewers would have been temporarily overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of the rainfall.

“Where customers have experienced flooding from sewers we have been sending our teams out to help with the clean-up. Flooding from the highway should be reported to the local authority.”

This week, the UK Met Office issued a warning that there is an increased risk of monthly rainfall records being broken in England and Wales this winter, and in the coming decade.

The estimate reflects natural variability plus changes in the UK climate as a result of global warming.

Ms Smith said: “This research makes for sobering reading for communities who are already affected by flooding and is a wakeup call for communities who have come close in the past. With predictions of increases in flash flooding, we know that now more than ever communities need to build flood resilience and government needs to step up to the plate on investing in flood defences and upland water management.

“It is reckless that since Storm Desmond we have had no government investment in flood defences in Lancaster. Last week’s localised flooding was Mother Nature’s gentle reminder that we are still vulnerable here and now is the time to act. I applaud the work of businesses like Go Burrito who have taken steps to move electrics and have slate flooring but the reality is there are many other local businesses who need to do this kind of work to be able to withstand flooding and accessing funds for that will be essential.

“Our climate is changing and we need to change the way we build our homes and businesses to be able to react to it.”

Daniel Herbert, Lancashire County Council highways group manager, said: “Following the flooding that occurred in December 2015 a study was commissioned to consider the surface water drainage in the city centre. The county council is currently working with the various agencies responsible for managing flood risk to ensure the study encompasses all relevant data and aspects relating to surface water drainage and flood protection.”

He added that an investigation will inform proposals to mitigate future flooding events.