Letter regarding recent flooding

16 December 2015

Open letter from Carlisle & District Civic Trust
To David Cameron, Elizabeth Truss, Rory Stewart, John Stephenson and local Council leaders

Our hearts go out to all who have been seriously affected by the floods of 6 December and we wish them comfort and calm determination to cope with the difficult process of re-building their homes, businesses and lives.

Our minds reflect that such circumstances cannot be allowed to happen again. Whilst those who have suffered direct effects, particularly for a second time, have a right to be angry and inconsolable all the rest of us do not get off lightly either. Difficulties in transport and communication remind us of a broken continuity which now creates a dysfunctional city. These are not minor inconveniences and are a symptom of our inability to live alongside the natural environment. Until government, local and national, cease to apply short term solutions we in Carlisle and the other affected areas will continue to suffer the havoc and misery of the symptoms of a systemic failure to understand how to live with our river systems.

Once again human suffering has been extreme but the effects on the built environment must also not to be under estimated. We cover acres of land with largely mediocre development in order to maintain and expand employment and house a population to service these activities it is perhaps a moot point whether the community leads this seemingly non–ending expansion or is led by it – we have lost sight of the ball – we need to engage with better quality sustainable development. We need to create pleasant spaces again and resist the call that the budget does not permit it. We need to embrace, use and enjoy our rivers and wet lands by understanding them, respecting them and ultimately maintaining and controlling them in accordance with local need not straight jacketed by general environmental policies passed down by European edict. We need to plan, prepare and facilitate first not just react inadequately after failure as clearly occurred in 2005.

In particular, we need to stop finding some external source to blame for our plight. We need to lift the veil, assess the real set of circumstances before us and design our way forward positively, sustainably and with confidence.

It is the latter that has particularly sustained a knock. After the floods of 2005 the community placed significant trust in the professionals and decision makers to ensure such events would be provided for and Carlisle inhabitants could confidently invest in its re-building and resurrection. That trust and confidence has been largely now wiped away with the events of 6 December 2015.

It is no longer acceptable to hear government spokesmen and the representatives of specialist quangos blame unforeseeable “exceptional” rainfall events and global warming. Those familiar with the history of the city can direct these individuals and agencies to flood marks made on many of the older buildings over the centuries – admittedly these flood levels, whilst being of a similar order, are lower than recent levels but they occurred at a time when the city was smaller and river maintenance was a regular and essential part of city life. The confluence of the Eden, Petteril and the Caldew as it meets the Solway forms a river delta where suspended flood debris is deposited – it seems incomprehensible that traditional dredging activity no longer occurs.

Whether it is negligence, greed, disempowerment or simply disinterest that has fallen upon us in recent years is hard to say but there is no doubt our minds are going to have to turn collectively to our governance to demand not only that these events are fully and publicly understood but also that re-building will be properly funded, applied with due consideration of a sustainable long term benefit to the residents of Carlisle with support for the built environment in an acceptable balance with the natural environment. It appears essential that the existing balance of priorities will have to change to keep the city dry, fully functional with inbuilt contingency to become beautiful once again – only then can our confidence return and our hearts be content.

Carlisle and District Civic Trust

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Reply Received

We have at last received a response to our flood concern letter from Defra via Rory Stewart. There is not much unexpected in this, with a clear ‘it’s not our fault’ position highlighting exceptional rainfall as the cause, but very low flood funding in Cumbria is to be noted by comparison with other areas.

Carlisle Civic Trust is to continue the dialogue upon the basis that whilst there was a lot of rain its exceptional status has to be looked at a little more closely, and in context with farming practices. The question of draining fell bogs to plant trees and felling of forest for sheep grazing, improved field drainage speeding run-off to rivers, development without surface water attenuation and, probably most importantly, significantly reduced spending on river maintenance particularly in regard to available river space under bridges all need to be considered. This is why we cannot accept river levels as being at all indicative, or a direct result of, rainfall.

As far as Carlisle is concerned we need answers as to why the Petteril appeared to ‘in-fill’ the flood protected area around Warwick Road from the south – it appears the flood defences did succeed in respect of protecting from the perceived main threat of the Eden. However with the Petteril waters not being allowed to join the Eden by the defences, a more catastrophic result occurred. It would be interesting to know if at any point the flood level on Warwick Road was actually higher than the Eden at the relevant point across the defences to evidence this occurrence and why this eventuality did not flag up in the flood modelling of the defence design.