Rickerby Park area of Carlisle with the River Eden still in flood
Temporary flood barriers will be brought in to protect Carlisle this winter, but a business case for the city’s improved flood defences is still 14 months away.
A new flood protection plan for Cumbria, unveiled by Floods Minister Rory Stewart, has been largely welcomed, albeit amid fears that Carlisle will remain vulnerable for at least two more winters.
The Carlisle Floods Action Group is also worried that Mr Stewart’s long-term plan – which includes measures they have been calling for to address problems upstream – could be shelved if the Cumbrian MP loses his position in a future Government reshuffle.
Mr Stewart said: “This plan is what Cumbria needs to help protect its businesses, people and infrastructure from flooding – now and over the longer term.
“This is largely thanks to the incredible spirit of the Cumbrian people, with local groups, local authorities, the Environment Agency and landowners all working with us to find the best answers for every area.”
Carlisle action group chairman Stephen Gibbs, whose Eldred Street home was flooded, said the plan was a positive step forward, but remained concerned about what he described as a “lack of urgency”.
The group is fighting for a local rivers catchment authority to be set up, which would take the lead on flood protection. The latest report has been drawn up by Mr Stewart’s Cumbria Floods Partnership in partnership with the Environment Agency.
Short term plans include removing gravel from rivers – including at Glenridding – and bringing in portable temporary defences, water pumps and sandbags.
The plan also says that up to £25 million will be available for new flood defences in Carlisle and upstream water storage – but the business case for this scheme will not be completed until September 2017.
As a result, the city is unlikely to be fully protected this winter or next.
Longer term, measures will be brought in to slow the flow of water to the rivers, such as restoring peatland upstream of the Eden and introducing woody debris dams and floodplain storage upstream of Gamblesby, Cumrew and Stockdalewath.
The way United Utilities manages reservoirs such as Thirlmere will also change, while local authorities will review their planning policies around new developments to learn from Storm Desmond.
However, while there is an additional £25m to improve Carlisle flood defences and £2m to improve those at Appleby, the plan says there is no additional cash earmarked to build upon flood defences in either Keswick or Glenridding.
The community action table for each area admits there is no funding identified currently but said there are plans to submit a bid for funding for viable projects following a review of the recommendations at the earliest opportunity.
Mr Gibbs praised the Penrith and the Border MP for coming up with a “coherent” long term plan but questioned what would happen if he was no longer there.
“He has shown some very smart leadership. It’s a long-term vision he is championing and we applaud that, but is it really owned by the EA?” asked Mr Gibbs.
“When Rory Stewart moves on in a future reshuffle, what will happen? Is it their vision? I fear it will be shelved and they will go back to rewilding, which will just cause more flooding.”
Mr Gibbs hopes that, if the catchment authority they have proposed gets the go ahead, it will be able to continue pushing forward with the vision even if Mr Stewart moves to a new Government post.
In terms of the short term plan, he does not believe it goes far enough.
“It’s relatively low level and doesn’t have a sense of urgency,” he said.
Anthony Little is president of Court Field Bowling Club in River Street, off Warwick Road, which was badly flooded. He is also concerned.
“You just never know when it’s going to happen again. It’s good that they are putting plans forward but it’s the short term that’s the biggest issue,” Mr Little said.
“Yes, it’s hard when it affects the bowling club, but it’s the people whose houses are affected that really suffer.
“There’s a member of our club who was flooded and work only started on his property last week. It’s going to be another three months before he’s in, then it will be winter again. I’m not sure why they need all this time.”