Did you know that about 3.2 million properties in England are at risk from surface water flooding? You ought to by now, if the relentless campaigning by the Burscough Flooding Group against the lack lustre and untrustworthy “Flood Authorities” is being noted, because residents have been reporting that Burscough has suffered from steadily worsening significant surface water and groundwater flooding events for over 20 years.
Little information about the problems was being shared by the Flood Risk Management Authorities (FRMA) with residents or Burscough Parish Council, leading to a lack of trust in the authorities and the belief that they could be under recording flooding events. Ultimately Burscough Parish Council requested residents set up Burscough Flooding Group (BFG) and tasked it to create an accurate, independent register of flooding events from all sources.
Its Secretary Gavin Rattray
has been in regular contact with Burscough Parish Council collecting information and making enquiries regarding Flood events since it was set up in 2016. BFG have collected data which has been voluntarily provided by residents and information provided through Freedom of Information Legislation from the FRMAs. The data formed the basis of Burscough Flood Records Report first published in 2016. This includes evidence for the December 2015 Boxing Day Flood (Storm Desmond) and other historical flooding events.
Gavin writes “Amongst other things the Burscough Flood Records Report found that in most years there was a significant difference between the actual number of flooding events and the records held by the FRMAs; the latter appearing to be a drastic under recording of events.
“Unfortunately, Storm Desmond caused surface water flooding from sewers and watercourses, affecting most streets in Burscough, including blocking nearly every route in and out, on the 25/26th December 2015 and groundwater flooding in several areas. Conversely, the storm gave us an opportunity to witness how some of the FRMAs collected flooding information.
“I took some of the collected information about sewer flooding and tried to provide it to UU the day after the main flooding event, but was unable because I couldn’t get past UUs automatic telephone messaging system, which misdirected me to another agency, which didn’t answer the telephone.
“Ultimately through the intervention of MP Rosie Cooper I was able to get some of UUs sewer floods recorded by UU and discover that on the 26th December UU had sent telephone operators home and all callers received the same recorded message; shockingly this situation remained in place for a week. UU made and continue to make excuses for setting the message, such as ‘our operators were exhausted after the Cumbrian floods’ or ‘there was a shift change’. However, it is easy to imagine that their actions significantly reduced the number of floods reported and recorded by UU.
“As a result of the same storm LCC began compiling an S19 report. Both Burscough Parish Council and myself asked if BFG could provide its flooding data to them. LCC refused and, like UU, provided a variety of different reasons ranging from ‘they had good information themselves’, to ‘our information was too late’ and in Council Chambers that ‘our information would be used anyway’ (it wasn’t).
“That action meant that the S19 report ignored the large number of external floods (near misses for houses and failures of UU assets such as the sewage pumping station at New Lane WWTW) which occurred in Burscough; it also came to an unsupported (and incorrect ) conclusion that there weren’t any ground water problems in Burscough. Conversely BFG found that groundwater flooding occurs around Martin Mere and Yew Tree Farm and that the infiltration of groundwater into watercourses and sewers is highly likely to be a negative factor in the severity of flooding.
“As a result of BFG experiences, some of which are outlined above, we believe the primary weaknesses within UU and LCC is in their collection, use and management of flooding information. In addition, Burscough Flood Records concluded that the same problems exist in WLBC, who also appear to be making mistakes in their management of flooding information which they use to inform their Strategic Flood Risk Assessments (SFRA).
“For example, In 2017 WLBC revised the SFRA in preparation for the next local plan and the document already has fundamental problems: It does not include the flooding evidence supplied to them by BFG; It does not include the flooding evidence supplied to them by a 2010 report on Burscough’s drainage problems (this was publicly funded by either LCC or the EA); It does not mention the extensive surface water flooding that occurs in Burscough’s downstream areas during storms.
“We also found that in 2017, that all four FRMAs had passed a motion not to take minutes of their private ‘Making Space for Water’ meetings adding another level of secrecy making any public oversight impossible.
“BFGs experiences of working with Burscough’s FRMAs make it hard to envisage a situation in which anyone could ever be positive that the best interests of flood victims and the wider Burscough community are being served by them. In addition, our FRMAs meet rarely in private, do not keep notes or minutes and as we have also discovered, have almost no effective independent complaints procedures.
“If the actions of the FRMAs were coordinated, during the occasions when we found they were working against the best interests of flood victims and Burscough’s wider community, then we should be very concerned”.
Recent floods in England have been described as unprecedented or even “biblical” events, often with the misguided assumption that they were unavoidable or unpredictable. That is not the case. Over the past few decades, development practice in England has led to more than 300,000 homes being built in high flood risk areas. In this sense, the planning system has actually created (not reduced) flood risk.
Since 1989 the continued “free-market” development of flood plains in England has had an unexpected effect. Developers have increasingly been using flood plains to build social housing for low income families, homes for the elderly/disabled as well as schools and hospitals. One 2009 study identified 2,374 schools and 89 hospitals in flood prone areas of England. Planning policy has thus caused some of the most vulnerable members of society to occupy highly flood-prone areas.
Flood-hit homes and businesses will be able to receive up to £5,000 to help protect them from future flooding. On the 19th November, the government announced that flood-hit homes and businesses will be able to receive up to £5,000 to help protect them from future flooding.
From the end of November, grants will be made available through local authorities to help homes and businesses become more flood resilient by helping to pay for a range of property improvements. The funding will go towards the additional costs of installing fittings and materials that increase resistance to damage from water in the future, such as installing flood doors and raising electrics off ground level.
The Lancashire Partnership is one of five Flood & Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) Partnerships reporting to the North West RFCC alongside Cumbria, Merseyside, Cheshire Mid-Mersey and The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA). All the FCERM Partnerships in the North West bring together the key agencies/authorities and other organisations/stakeholders to deliver an integrated and collaborative approach to manage flood risk.
The Lancashire partnership includes all Risk Management Authorities (RMA) as defined in the Flood and Water Management Act; the Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs), the Environment Agency, United Utilities, and in Lancashire, the twelve district authorities. The Lead Local Flood Authorities in Lancashire are Lancashire County Council, Blackpool Council and Blackburn-with-Darwen Council, who also have duties as the highway authority with regard to the management of flood risk.
With luck, action groups like Burscough will keep UU, LCC, and WLBC honest about flood risks, but don’t hold your breath!