One year on from Storm Desmond – are we better prepared?

David Morris MP (centre) visits the Caton Road electricity substation.
David Morris MP (centre) visits the Caton Road electricity substation.

When Storm Desmond struck on the night of Saturday, December 5, the levels of water entering the River Lune caused devastating impact.

Aside from the widespread flooding, the loss of power from the Caton Road substation meant most people in Lancaster, Morecambe, Carnforth and the coastal strip suffered a total electricity blackout – with only certain parts of Heysham on different circuits retaining power.

Much of the communications network was also lost.

Mobile phone masts and internet did not function and with no power the public had no access to television news or, where wireless phones were used, normal land line coverage.

Meanwhile a shipping container being used as a store at Halton Camp struck the Skerton and Greyhound bridges. They were closed for a couple of days while damage could be assessed.

Later, three reasons for the floods were identified.

These were 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.

Multi-million pound flood protection work is now being planned to deal with these issues.

Repairs and modifications to the Millrace will be led by Lancashire County Council and improved riverside defences along Caton Road will be led by the Environment Agency, with Lancaster City Council project managing both schemes.

The Government published its own National Flood Resilience Review in September and has committed to spending £2.3bn over the next six years to strengthen the country’s flood and coastal defences.

But local business leaders said in October they feared a scheduled 2018 start and 2020 completion date for the Caton Road scheme could be too late, after the Environment Agency said it had only half the £12m of Government funding it needs.

Meanwhile Electricity North West has invested £2m in improving the substation to now cope with a 1.7m rise in water, significantly higher than previously.

Also as a result of the floods, Lancaster City Council updated its Emergency Plan for the district in August 2016, set up a special task force to look at flood resilience, and helped homes and businesses claim grants to aid quicker recovery from flooding in 
future.

Rural communities have also formed their own flood plans in the wake of Desmond with eight parishes receiving almost £60,000 through Government grants.

A Lancaster City Council report has warned residents to ensure they have a plug in land line for emergency use and keep battery or wind-up torches and radios.

It also praised the Bay Gateway which, should both Lancaster bridges be flooded in future, will allow an alternative route between Lancaster and Morecambe.

Lancashire County Council will launch its own major investigation in January but published initial findings in September. This said we are now much better prepared for flooding because of households signing up to receive direct flood warnings, new community Flood Action Groups, better communication and information during and after a flood event, flood grants helping to protect properties and a new insurance scheme for domestic properties known to be at risk.