"It is not possible to prevent flooding of this nature happening again, although it is possible to minimise and mitigate the risk" Salford Council report
You wait ages for a report into the Salford Boxing Day Flood and then three come at once... On the coat-tails of the Government's National Flood Review and the Greater Manchester Flood Investigation, finally comes the Salford City Council report, which uncovers many of the cock-ups that actually occurred on the day...
The 48 page report begins with what actually caused the flood, angrily refutes community `misconceptions' and, at the very end, after stating what worked well, has a Lessons Learnt section, which amounts to a damning indictment of the response to the flood by the emergency services, the Environment Agency and Salford Council itself.
In bullet point...
* Some vulnerable people were left to fend for themselves... "It was difficult to access information about potentially vulnerable residents making it difficult to prioritise the response", the report states, adding that "The limited numbers of emergency service officers in the borough hindered the decision to evacuate areas"; that "normal staffing levels for out of hours services is not sufficient to manage this type of emergency" and that "There was a lack of knowledge of Council volunteer list and how to access it if required".
* The report concedes that "Given the extreme nature of the incident, changes to
forecast and the rapid onset of flooding meant some warnings were not issued" and that "there were too few resources available or accessible as the incident developed". It concludes that "The incident has highlighted the lack of dedicated Emergency Planning resources within the Council".
* "Communication between EA [Environment Agency] officers and responders was poor and the real potential for a major incident wasn't communicated until it was too late".
* Greater Manchester Police officers unfamiliar with the local area were drafted in and gave "incorrect locations to residents" of where to go... "Issues were experienced when residents were sent to Riverview School given its proximity to the river" the report states, while others "presented themselves at St. Boniface's and the Rendezvous Point off Lower Broughton Road. As both areas were within the flood risk area it meant that they were potentially putting themselves at greater risk".
* There was a Forward Incident Officer present on the day from early on (it's not clear from the report whether he was from the Council or Environment Agency), and while he is commended in the report, it adds that "Communication was lost between the Forward Incident Officer and the emergency services as the situation developed" and that he was "unaware of Rendezvous Points or the evacuation processes being undertaken".
The report adds that "The initial decision for the location of the Rest Centre was made by the FIO without the consultation of the other emergency services or having the wider understanding of the developing situation. The second FIO was able to correct the decision and relocate the rest centre to the Beacon Centre. However, the initial communication was already made and this created some confusion with residents".
* There was also confusion about the issuing of sandbags... "During the main incident the communication regarding sandbags and how to get them was difficult to interpret". The report recommends that "an impromptu policy of providing Sandbags not be implemented in the future"...
* There was almost a divide between Salix and non-Salix residents in terms of help in dealing with the flood, the report finds ... "It was felt that there was a lack of consistency in response and service between Salix and non-Salix residents"...
The report concludes that a "significant flood risk remains for this area" but details of what is being done at the moment should another flooding incident happen tomorrow are sketchy to say the least...
The Environment Agency and Salford Council are still investigating "the relative merits and practicalities" of having a siren to warn the community of flooding. Discussions are "ongoing" between the Environment Agency and Salford Council "to discuss the feasibility of installing temporary barriers along the length of River Wall adjacent to Heath Avenue prior to flooding occurring"...
The report adds that the completion of the second Castle Irwell Flood Basin "will
further increase the standard of protection to the properties affected by this event
in the future".
Meanwhile the report recommends the development of "clear communications to communities around preparedness and readiness to evacuate following the activation of the flood basin"; to "Promote the EA flood warning scheme to increase take up, BUT ensure all communications are centralised and consistent"; to "develop evacuation plans for each community at risk, including personal evacuation plans for identified vulnerable people", with a single register of all vulnerable people.
Other recommendations include "Review the location of reception centres in relation to areas known to be liable to flooding"; "Review and update the Salford Flood Management Plan to include information around evacuation routes and response to the business community"; "Review staffing and communication arrangements during public holidays"...and, perhaps most damning, to "Review the Council's current Emergency Planning and Response capacity to ensure it is fit for purpose and relevant to the nature of the work involved"...
In terms of the causes of the flood, Salford Council agrees with the Greater Manchester report that it was a "rainfall event". The report states that in the upper Irwell regions (Bacup etc) rainfall was assessed as "occurring only once in 50 to 100 years", and that because it was falling on already saturated ground (December rainfall was twice the normal average) "catchment responses were more extreme".
Meanwhile, the Meteorological Office got its forecasts wrong as "excessive rainfall" didn't follow expected patterns on Boxing Day... "This unpredicted change left emergency responders little time to co-ordinate pre-emptive activities" states the report.... "Salford was forecast as not at risk for the 26th December on the 24th December. When it became apparent that there was going to be a significant rainfall event it was believed that Salford would remain unaffected..."
The `perfect storm' of heavy rainfall and saturated ground "resulted in increased flow in the River Irwell", which, in turn, led to the "inundation of the Castle Irwell basin" and the flooding of Lower Broughton, resulting in 500 homes and 198 businesses affected.
Unfortunately, the report begins with an angry tone, attacking various theories put forward by the community as to the cause of the flood... "there have been a number of accusations and statements made which are not true, with some repeated by a number of different parties" it states, before listing the "misconceptions" which include...
1)`It is possible to prevent flooding' – "Unfortunately, it not possible to guarantee that flooding will not occur in any location" the report states "...Salford is protected to a high standard with two flood basins and river walls that offer protection from most events.
2) `Salford was allowed to flood to protect other places' – "This is not the case" insists the report "There is no facility in place which enables flooding to be held back within Salford to protect other places."
3) `There are sluice gates at Salford Quays which can be closed to protect Media City' – "This is not the case" states the report "There are no sluice gates at Salford Quays which can be used for this purpose".
4) `The river wall is defective/failed and that is what caused the flooding' – "This is not the case" states the report "The wall did not fail or collapse, the level of water within the Irwell became so high that it passed over the top of the wall". It adds later that the water seen actually going through the wall was `negligible'.
5) `Dredging of the River Irwell would have prevented flooding' – "This is a common misconception" states the report "...numerous studies dating back to the 1980s have shown that dredging can actually speed up the travel of water along rivers increasing the impact of flooding... If dredging or gravel removal isn't the right solution, or costs more than the flood risk benefit it provides to properties, we work together with communities and partners to look at other options to manage the risk of flooding."
6) `New housing developments within Broughton, built on raised ground levels
increased the flooding to existing housing' – "This is not the case" states the report "National Guidance... is in place to ensure that developments cannot have a detrimental effect in terms of flooding to any other property....
"Furthermore" it insists "...not only did these new developments not have a negative impact, they actually had a positive impact on flooding incorporating the lowered area around Riverview School to provide additional flood storage and oversized pipes with their drainage networks to reduce the flows contributed to sewer networks and ultimately the River Irwell by 50%."
7) `The David Lewis playing fields should have flooded to protect property but this did not happen' – "This is not the case" states the report "Due to the level of the ground the playing fields were not expected to flood in an event of this severity. The playing fields are within land classed as Flood Zone 2, the area which did flood on Boxing Day was mostly classed as Flood Zone 3 (Flood Zone 3 is higher risk)."
8) `Boulders have been dumped in the Irwell which had an impact on the flooding' – "These boulders, commonly referred to as 'Rip Rap' or 'Rock Armour', were placed in the Irwell to act as protection to the river bank" the report states "It is common practice to place Rock Armour in rivers where there is a chance that erosion could occur. It is not likely that this Rick Armour would have had a negative impact on river levels."
Both the list of `misconceptions' and the Greater Manchester Flood Report exonerate the role of Peel Holdings and its Manchester Ship Canal, or MSC... "The sluice gates on the MSC operate automatically; therefore it is not possible to use them to purposefully hold flood waters" states the Council report, while the Greater Manchester adds "How the Canal was operated...did not affect those communities that flooded upstream..."
However, the Council report sows an element of doubt later on in the text... "Modelling of the flood event is ongoing to determine the mechanisms which occurred during the event" it states "However, it is not expected that the sluice gates of the Manchester Ship Canal were a cause of the flooding." `Not expected' to be a cause of flooding and `did not affect flooded communities' are two distinct statements.
Whatever, people from the Lower Broughton community will be able to respond to the Greater Manchester and Salford Council reports next Thursday 22nd September at River View Primary School from 6:30pm – for full details see previous Salford Star article – click here
To read the full Salford Council report – click here
See also previous Salford Star articles on the Greater Manchester report (click here) and the Government's National Flood Review (click here)