Lancashire and the Lake District clearing up after the floods

Flooding in Billington © WARREN SMITH 2015.

Flooding in Billington © WARREN SMITH 2015. - Credit: © WARREN SMITH 2015

People across the North West showed tremendous community spirit in the face of unprecedented floods

Rescued residents on a flooded King St, Whalley © WARREN SMITH 2015.

Rescued residents on a flooded King St, Whalley © WARREN SMITH 2015. - Credit: © WARREN SMITH 2015

If ever one picture summed up the present and future problems facing some of Lancashire’s loveliest countryside, it’s the image at the top of the page.

The view of submerged land for sale – complete with planning permission – in the village of Billington was taken at the height of the Christmas floods. No doubt it will prey on many minds whenever new proposals for housing developments in the Ribble Valley arrive on the desk of local planners.

While the dash to develop more houses in some areas may have been temporarily stalled by the floods, the immediate challenge in areas around Whalley, Billington, Waddington and Ribchester is to repair the estimated 250 damaged homes so families can start piecing together their lives.

Many locals spent Boxing Day armed with mops and buckets displaying the sort of camaraderie normally reserved for wartime. Shopkeepers in Whalley did a phenomenal job getting back in business so soon after the River Calder paid them such an unwelcome call.

Joyce Holgate, a ward councillor for Whalley, told Lancashire Life: ‘I’ve lived here for 60 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. While everyone is terribly upset, many people just accept that nothing could have stopped it. The rainfall levels were just exceptional. Then again, there are others who feel someone is to blame.’

Joyce paid tribute to Ribble Valley Council. ‘They did an exceptional job with officers working through the holiday,’ she said. ‘I can’t say the same for the county council. We all felt their response was disappointing – quite annoying because it was really their responsibility to help those most in need.’

She said the commuity had shown remarkable spirit. ‘The Army played their part brilliantly and the Lions club did sterling work coordinating things. They were very impressive. We had messages of support from across the country and many people and businesses provided food, clothing, heaters and mops and buckets.

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‘We even had a group of young Asian men who travelled from the south of England to help. The priority now is to get people back in their homes – there isn’t an empty B&B in the area. We live in an area that relies heavily on tourism so we need to get the message out that the Ribble Valley is open for business.’

Joyce added: ‘The Environment Agency is going to call a meeting in the village and we will no double discuss whether dredging the river will help prevent it from happening again.’

John Twinn

John Twinn - Credit: Archant

Croston hopes for a dry future

John Twinn was one of the Croston residents who formed the lower Yarrow Flood Action Group after the village flooded in 2012. They lobbied for a barrier to be installed upstream near Eccleston but the work was not completed in time to save homeowners from more misery this Christmas.

About 150 homes in the village were flooded but John said: ‘We’re hoping the barrier will be in place in the summer and that this will be the last flood Croston has to put up with.’

He has lived near the Yarrow in Croston for more than 30 years and his home has flooded three times – and twice in the last three years.

In the latest incident, on Boxing Day, there was a metre of water in his house and since then John has been living in a friend’s home. ‘I expect to be out of my house for about for or five months this time,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, the flood barrier is not due to be completed until this summer but that should hold the water back. There’s a massive concrete pipe, high banking and hydraulic gates which should stop the surge coming down the river and bursting its banks.’

As the waters rose on Boxing Day John, a technician in the design and technology department at Bishop Rawstorne High School, was helping to co-ordinate working groups to fill sandbags and keep people safe.

‘There was a great response from the people of Croston,’ he said. ‘All the services who came in to help were superb. I really can’t speak highly enough of them all.’

Anne Peet is the chair of the parish council and had about 18 inches of water in her riverside home. She said: ‘I think the real shock on Boxing Day was the amount of water there was, it was the worst anyone had ever known. Places that would never have thought they would come anywhere near flooding were affected this time.

Foulridge Ford by John Wood, Earby

Foulridge Ford by John Wood, Earby - Credit: Archant

‘A lot of people were not insured for flooding and I think that will be a problem in the future. People will still want to move here because it’s a lovely place to live but the insurance costs will be very high.’

Anne echoed John’s praise for the people of the village and the services who came to.

‘Electricity North West had a burger van giving free food, a Sikh charity from Surrey came and cooked hot meals for people and one man drove from Cornwall with pasties and beer! We even had a parcel from the people of Cumbria and when that arrived it was a very emotional moment for the volunteers, given everything that that part of the world has been through.’

Farmers bear the brunt

The impact of the flooding will be felt long after the waters have receded, particularly by those who make a living from the land.

Alice Richards is the environment and land use advisor for the National Farmers’ Union in the North West and she said: ‘The more low lying areas were more affected by flooding, one farmer in west Lancashire had 50 acres under at least nine feet of water.

‘A lot of farmers have lost crops and therefore income as a result of the flooding and it will take a long time for things to return to normal.’

Don’t forget Cumbria

Heavy rain and a landslide have closed the M25 motorway near Heathrow Airport. Government sources say they expect to have the road open again some time later this spring. Meanwhile, the main London to Brighton rail line has been closed due to flood damage south of Clapham Junction. A replacement bus service will be in operation for two months.

Yes, that’s a fantasy news report. But what if it were true? Would a collapsed road in Greater London really take four months to repair? That’s the gist of questions being asked in the Lakes on a daily basis, weeks after the devastation caused by storm Desmond and the December floods.

No one talks about anything else. The damage to the infrastructure and the psychological trauma that followed are inescapable. And it’s not only the fact that Cumbria has been split in two by the Gap north of Grasmere which has closed the A591, the main trunk road between north and south Lakes.

All around is the evidence of nature’s destructive force. Of the 18,000 properties across the UK flooded in December, more than 2,500 were left under water in South Lakeland, 1800 of them in Kendal, and 500 businesses were affected too.

Kendal fought back with a spirited campaign to prove that the town was still open for business and buzzing – while the matrix signs on the M6 maintained wrongly (for an entire week in the build-up to Christmas) that there was no access beyond the town.

The road to Rydal Hall and Rydal Mount (yes, Wordsworth’s house, one of the region’s top tourist attracations) was closed. Grasmere became a dead end. And there were no trains north from Carlisle.

After the initial shock came the anger. Business people who saw their busiest month collapse and their bookings cancelled needed more than political platitudes. The tourist board and county council were natural targets but they were doing everything within their power to help. The creation of a temporary footpath linked to shuttle buses at either end of the Gap, so that children could travel between Keswick and Grasmere to school, was a minor engineering miracle and a tribute to hard work and hard lobbying by some local heroes.

‘This would not be allowed to happen in the south east,’ was the pivotal sentence in every conversation across the region. The rain has eased. The fells are looking glorious. The daffodils are trying to flower. But the scars and the anger remain. Promises about a northern powerhouse are looking totally empty when the north feels forgotten and abandoned.

Journalist Eileen Jones, a regular contributor, lives in Ambleside.