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Wednesday, 01 July 2015

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Town saved from £4m flood damage

WHITEHAVEN’S shopping streets were saved from £4million worth of damage as the harbour flood defence system held up against the worst storm in 60 years.

By Margaret Crosby

With repairs to the old harbour walls beginning this week, it has emerged that experts believed floodwater would have surged up King Street and filled the Market Place during recent storms.

The old walls were breached in the first storms as winds of up to 100mph and huge waves battered the historic structure. Now work has started to repair the wall and paved sections at West Pier and Old Quay worst hit, with a £324,000 Environment Agency grant.

“Though it was bad and blew a hole in the wall, it could have been a whole lot worse had we not had the lock gates and strengthened piers,” said Terry Ponting, chairman of Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners. “They did a good job in keeping us safe... and dry.”

The gates were back in action on Monday after a short period of decommissioning to check for any necessary repair work.

“Had the sea water got in, the pre-Christmas shopping period in Whitehaven would have been wiped out as £4million worth of damage and devastation to retail property and stock would have resulted,” said Mr Ponting. It was all down to north-westerly winds that drove the high tides. With south-westerlies there is no problem as there is protection from St Bees head.

Repairs began on Monday and are expected to be complete by the end of this month or early April. A team of divers and a crane will be drafted in to retrieve the old carved coping stones from the depths of the inner harbour so they can be put back in place.

The Agency agreed to provide funds to restore the flood defence scheme and the Commissioners are pleased with the support. The money is from a £130million emergency fund announced by the Government to aid flood relief across the country.

An Environment Agency spokesman said December’s severe storm, coupled with one of the highest spring tides of the year, caused “unprecedented” damage to the harbour, in particular the Old Quay, a Scheduled Ancient Monument dating from 1634.

“Repairs are urgent as additional storms would create further damage to an already weakened structure, compromising the town’s flood defence system,” he added.

ST Bees villagers affected by flooding have been asked to form a self-help group.

It would be there to take the first steps when flooding occurred, store sandbags and provide a channel of communication with Cumbria County Council.

Around 20 residents met in the village hall on Monday with county council representatives.

The officers presented a report on their investigations after the flooding of August 2012. It looked at eight areas of the village that had suffered and the differing causes.

Villagers felt a detailed action plan was needed, setting out responsibilities with a timeframe and suggesting opportunities for funding applications.

The county would like to see a Community Action Group set up in St Bees which would concern itself with local matters but would also be ready in flood response.

Copeland MP Jamie Reed has written to the Prime Minister demanding help to prevent thousands of homes from flooding.

“It is thought there are more than 3,000 homes at risk of flooding in Copeland,” said Mr Reed, “with more than 700 of these classed by the Environment Agency as being at ‘serious risk’ of flooding.

“With the Government having cut spending on flood protection by £97 million in real terms since 2010, people whose homes may be at risk are extremely worried about the damage future flooding could cause to their properties and businesses.

“Not only do we need better protections in place, our communities also need help now. I have written to the PM, urging him to ensure that our local authorities will receive sufficient funding.”

Have your say

Whilst I applaud the fact that the work is being done and hope that it successful in protecting the town, I think they may need to do some work on the south beach area. I took a look today and was shocked to see how far the "cliff" is eroded back towards the car park below the Candlestick. A new fence has been put up to exclude the public but by the looks of it the next big storm could see the car park undermined by the waves and that could expose that whole area to flooding. I would guestimate that its 20ft between the car park wall and the sea, it was a lot more before this winters storms.

Posted by Martin on 9 March 2014 at 17:43

I used to work at the District Bank on Lowther Street next to the Post Office in the mid 1960's before it became Nat West in the late 60s. Its parent bank, the National Provinical (which merged with the Westminster Bank [the Whitehaven branch was on the corner of Queen Street and Lowther Street which is probably how the Westminster Cafe got its name] to form Nat West) was located on the corner of Lowther Street and King Street (or it may have been Strand Street - I left to work in London in 1967) and the basement of the NP was prone to flooding when there were the spring and autumn high tides. As the NP is no longer there does that building's basement (is it now a Costa?) still get flooded at high tide?

Posted by Ian on 6 March 2014 at 19:49

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