Seven months on from the major flooding that hit Galgate, residents are becoming increasingly concerned about new building developments that could leave them even more at risk than ever before. Nick Lakin reports...
For many in Galgate, feelings of frustation, desperation and depression cling on like the mud and sludge left behind after the floodwater receded in November 2017.
Lancaster University’s weather station recorded its highest ever rainfall total on November 22.
In the 24 hours from 9am the station at Hazelrigg said 73.6mm of rain had fallen - the highest level in more than 50 years since the centre started weather observations.
Higher even than Storm Desmond in 2015.
Although Galgate has a history of flooding going back many years, the Met Office is predicting more frequent and widespread floods over the next decade, and residents are wondering when and how hard they’re going to be hit next.
The clean up effort of around 100 homes has been a long and arduous process and is still not over with.
But for Galgate residents, insult was added to injury when plans for 68 new homes on farmland in the village were given the go-ahead by Lancaster City Council’s planning committee in May.
It was a tied vote, and the planning committee chairman voted it through.
This was despite repeated warnings from residents that the land flooded, and that if it was built upon, it would further increase the problem.
Residents say that the field in question, part of Wardfield Farm, frequently floods, and that surveys done on behalf of the applicant failed to recognise the impact of Storm Desmond on the Conder catchment.
They say photographs of the site presented to the planning committee were taken 12 hours after the 2017 floods had receded, suggesting the field did not flood.
The photographs were challenged by Galgate residents who produced evidence taken at the peak of the flood showing a very different picture.
The worry doesn’t stop there.
Lancaster University’s Health Innovation Campus, and the proposed 3,500 home Bailrigg Garden Village are also causing concern.
Mary Breakell, from CLOUD (Citizens of Lancaster Opposed to Unnecessary Development), says there’s a sense that “Galgate doesn’t count”.
She said: “When you walk up Main Road, there are still skips, there are still holes in the road.
“Many people are still not back to normal.
“We now have the Wardfield Farm development, the Health Innovation Campus, Bailrigg Garden Village, run off from the motorway, and there are new plans for 32 bungalows in Chapel Lane and all of this will run off into the river Conder.
“There’s a long history of flooding here, but it has increased since 2004.
“There’s a real frustration that no-one is listening.
“This is people’s lives, people can’t get insurance.
“There’s a real sense that Galgate just doesn’t count.”
Galgate resident Maggie Wild, whose house was flooded in November, said she wished the authorities would do more to help.
She said: “It is hard to believe that one very wet day of rainfall could cause such an enormous amount of water to flood so many homes in Galgate in one night, and it is even harder to believe that six months on the repairs are ongoing and a long way from completion.
The disruption to daily life was total in the early stages. No electricity, no heating, no water, no appliances.
Trying to clean what could be salvaged when everything is covered in filthy sludge, while disposing of huge quantities of contaminated material and possessions. All when everyone affected was exhausted and shocked by the suddenness and scale of the flood.
I had to deal with an insurance policy glitch for over a month which meant that, while my neighbours were rehomed in alternative accommodation, I didn’t have that option, and had the added stress of not knowing whether I could afford the repairs.
All the while life goes on. Children to school. Me to work. Christmas.
“Now with summer holidays looming. Managing as best we can.
Gradually inch by inch improvements have been made. Electricity restored, heating returned, temporary kitchen created. Mini victories to be celebrated.
No usable washing machine for five months, no hot water to the kitchen sink for sic months.
And an entire floor of my house completely out of commission even now.
It may take several more weeks for them to complete the work, as I have asked the builders to make the space resilient to future flooding.
With 68 more houses recently granted planning permission on our doorstep, it is clear that the authorities, who have done nothing to mitigate or alleviate the situation, are prepared to increase our risk yet further with no consideration for the lives and homes of the residents, many of whom are not yet back in their homes even now.
Throughout all this, the spirit of those affected and the community rallying to help, particularly in the early stages, has been heartening. But none of us needed or wanted this. All of us are desperate to not go through it again, nor for anyone else to suffer the same.
“It is awful and puts a huge strain on all aspects of life.
“There is no provision of resilience funds to protect our homes from future flooding as with previous large scale floods.
“Anything we add on the domestic level is at our own cost and may well be insufficient when the time comes.
“Many flood protection measures only are effcective to 60cm in height whereas the water in my home was at 142cm - more than double.
I wish that the authorities would do more to help to prevent this from happening again, and yet I fear that Galgate is on our own to face whatever the next episode of really wet weather brings.”
Coun Susie Charles, who represents Ellel Ward on Lancaster City Council, said: “CLOUD are raising these concerns because of their worry about Bailrigg Garden Village and Wardfield Farm, and they are justified in making these points.
The university and Lancaster City Council should investigate the concerns, and perhaps Lancaster City Council should look again at the planning permission that was given for Wardfield Farm.”
Lancaster City Council is working on an Area Action Plan (AAP) that will set the ambitions and framework for the proposed Bailrigg Garden Village, but many are already concerned about the effect it will have on future flooding.
A recent meeting with Lancaster University about the plans for the Health Innovation Campus (HIC) did little to appease Galgate residents.
The university is currently developing the first phase of the new campus, a 5,000sqm plot, which will form part of the 35,000sqm field at Bailrigg.
The first phase is due to be completed in November 2019.
Members of CLOUD attended the meeting and were advised that attenuation tanks would be built to store rainwater before being released into Burrow Beck and then Ou Beck.
A spokeswoman for Lancaster University said that flooding in Galgate is an existing problem that relates to other issues than planned projects such as the HIC, and that the building work is not large enough to affect existing flood risks in Galgate or elsewhere.
She added: “However, the University intends to make contact with the County Council to explore with them whether the recent floods in Galgate has had any impact on their thinking as to how flood risk may be mitigated in the future.
“The surface water drainage system of HIC has been designed in accordance with requirements set out by Lancashire County Council, The Environment Agency and United Utilities and in response to the flood risk assessment that was commissioned as part of the planning application process.
“The outcome of the design includes a significant amount of on-site technology which will restrict the flow of surface water from the site into the existing systems during the times of unusually heavy rainfall. This design has received all of the necessary approvals to allow the development to progress.”
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: “As Lead Local Flood Authority we have a statutory role to comment on how national planning policy about reducing flood risk applies to new planning applications, and provide advice at the master-planning stage for larger developments.
“We have provided comments as part of the consultation process on the Health Innovation Campus, and are currently working with Lancaster City Council to provide advice at an early stage on the proposed Bailrigg Garden Village site.
“Work is ongoing as part of the statutory ‘section 19’ investigation into the flooding which affected a number of places during storms in November 2017, and the report will be published on our website as soon as it is available.
“A separate study into the causes of historical and more recent flooding in Galgate and other locations near the River Lune is due to report later this financial year, and will help to inform options to mitigate future flooding incidents.”
Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith said: “I have visited many people who were flooded and was deeply concerned by the number of constituents who were affected.
“Since the floods I have been working alongside the Shadow Environment team to call on the Government to take action to support victims of flooding, both in taking measures to prevent it happening again, and by supporting local authorities to provide Council Tax relief and creating bursaries for flood defences.
“Alongside other MPs who share my interest in flood policy, I am feeding back to government on the issues facing flood victims when it comes to insurance.
“The Government’s FloodRe scheme for insurance is working for some but clearly not everyone. I have been clear in my communications to the government that the current scheme is a good start but doesn’t go far enough.
“Last week, I asked the government to carry out a drainage survey of the M6 which could be used to develop strategies to prevent runoff into Galgate during high rainfall periods. Unfortunately, they passed off my request to Highways England, but I will continue to follow this up.
I have been frustrated by the government’s lack of response and support for my constituents and I will keep fighting in Parliament to ensure these voices are heard.”
In the meantime, there is a sense of foreboding in Galgate that any further building and paving over of the countryside in the area will only lead to more problems in the future.