Wet wipes flushed down loo made Lancaster flooding worse

Cat Smith MP tweeted this photo of Ryelands Road under water on Monday night with the comment: "Hi @unitedutilities Ryelands Road in Lancaster looks like this, I'm being asked if you're aware and able to send anyone out to fix it?"
Cat Smith MP tweeted this photo of Ryelands Road under water on Monday night with the comment: "Hi @unitedutilities Ryelands Road in Lancaster looks like this, I'm being asked if you're aware and able to send anyone out to fix it?"

A blockage caused by flushed wet wipes worsened floods in Lancaster, say United Utilities.

The water firm discovered the problem on Ryelands Road after heavy rain caused flash floods for the second time in less than a fortnight and Lancaster Police had to put out a warning about exposed manholes.

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

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

United Utilities were called out to 21 incidents in the Lancaster and Morecambe area in the early hours of Tuesday - including Ryelands Road.

A United Utilities spokeswoman said flooding was “exacerbated by a blockage of wet wipes and other sanitary products”.

“The rain was so sudden and heavy that it temporarily overwhelmed some highway drains and sewers,” she said.

“Our teams responded that same night to cases of sewer flooding and continued the clean up operation on Tuesday.

“These wipes are sometimes advertised as flushable, but in reality they do not break down in sewer systems. We want to encourage people to put bathroom rubbish in a bin, not down the toilet, to avoid these kind of problems.”

Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster, had earlier tweeted United Utilities for help, sending them a photo of Ryelands Road under water after complaints from residents.

Police had also reported manhole covers missing in Lonsdale Avenue, Lancaster Road, Torrisholme Road, Low Lane and Ryelands Road and told the public to be cautious.

A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: “The most recent incident of heavy rain started at around 5am on Tuesday and we began receiving reports from the public just after 6am, most of them about issues in the Morecambe and Carnforth area.

“Since Tuesday we have received reports of, or identified, 47 incidents of flooding to roads and property.”

Meanwhile the MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale has described the regular flooding of roads in our area as “simply unacceptable”.

David Morris has written to the leader of Lancashire County Council for the second time to ensure drains are being cleared quickly as a priority.

Both Mr Morris and Ms Smith have also spoken to United Utilities over concerns about drainage.

These most recent floods came as it was revealed that a £1.8m cash shortfall is delaying vital riverside defence work on Caton Road in Lancaster, which was badly hit by the Storm Desmond floods of December 2015.

Lancaster City Council will lead on a £9.4m project to strengthen the Caton Road defences but work can’t start until all the money is found.

An Environment Agency spokesman said money would come from the Regional Flood Committee, Government funding, European funding and hopefully, contributions from local businesses.

Coun Janice Hanson, Lancaster City Council cabinet member for regeneration and planning, said: “While potential sources, including £3.1m from the European Regional Development Fund, have been identified, there is currently a significant funding shortfall of £1.8m.

“The city council will continue to work with the Environment Agency (EA) and a number of other partners to find additional sources of funding to allow it to go ahead. The council has applied for the maximum (EA) grant available of £2.5m under this funding scheme, to be approved.”

In March 2016 the government announced a £700m flood defence funding package, on top of £2.3bn of planned spending up to 2021, but Lancaster was not included.

Cat Smith this week criticised the government for not spending “a single penny on flood defences in Lancaster” and said there was money available.

But David Morris blamed our local authorities for not bidding for government flood defence cash quickly enough in the aftermath of Storm Desmond.

“It is extremely disappointing,” he said.

“Lancaster did not apply for funding when it was available immediately after Storm Desmond and therefore was not included in the emergency budget funding in 2016 which gave money to places like York and the Lakes. I hope that now we have a new administration at county they will be more proactive in applying for funding as soon as it is available to ensure that our vital projects do not miss out on funding.”

Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council bid for government cash in the period April-June 2016 which Mr Morris said was too late.

A city council spokesman said: “As far as the council is aware the only Government funding which was available following Storms Desmond/Eva was for direct support to affected businesses in the immediate aftermath of the storms. These were called Property Level Resilience funds and not made available for local authorities to spend on ‘strategic’ schemes funded via by the Environment Agency.”

Lancaster City Council published a report into the Storm Desmond floods in December 2016.

This said there were three causes of the major flooding in Lancaster – the inability of surface water to escape into the river, overflow from the Lune beyond Skerton Weir and flood waters escaping from the millrace sewers.

Work to improve the aging millrace under Lancaster city centre won’t get under way until Lancashire County Council completes its own investigation into the December 2015 floods. The county council, who will lead on the city centre project, successfully bid for government flood defence money between April-July 2016. This was used for a study into the best ways to tackle surface water drainage in the city centre.

A county council spokesman said further bids for cash to carry out work would not be made until after their findings are published early next year.

In last week’s Guardian, city centre businesses spoke out after they were hit by floods caused by a freak 45-minute downpour on the evening of Wednesday, July 19.

James Short, boss of Go Burrito on Lower Church Street, said there were major problems with drainage in Lancaster and he was frustrated with the lack of communication from local authorities.

Mr Short said: “This will only keep happening.”

Go Burrito was one of several Lancaster businesses which shut for a lengthy period after the December 2015 floods. Others still haven’t reopened.

The Lancaster district had nearly double the average June and July rainfall, according to data from the Hazelrigg weather station at Lancaster University. The Met Office has predicted unprecedented downpours over the next decade.

The bad weather has also affected local events this week. A funfair which was due to run in Ryelands Park from August 3 to 18 had to be cancelled due to heavy ground and the weather forecast of showers for the next week.

The Lunesdale Agricultural Show at Underley Park, Kirkby Lonsdale, due to take place on Tuesday, August 8, has also been called off due to expected bad weather.

The event usually pulls 4,500 people to the home of Kirkby Lonsdale Rugby Club.