The Lanchester Flood of 2012: A study of the community’s reaction to the event

Laura Dobson

This is an edited version of a dissertation that was a component of my BSc (Hons) Geography studies at the University of Hull (2010-13).

Executive Summary

The aims of this research were twofold:

 1. To determine what the Lanchester community did to ameliorate the effects of flooding;
 2. To suggest ideas to improve future flood management schemes for Lanchester.

The opinions of Lanchester businesses, residents and action groups were obtained through semi-structured interviews. Research findings suggest that while the local community was impressed with the reaction of the County Council after the flooding event they believe more could have been done to prepare residents for the effects of the flooding. The local community believes that more interaction and communication between local residents, local community groups and official flood management agencies such as The Environment Agency, could reduce the damaging effects of flooding. They also believe that their experiences and knowledge of flooding in the village would be positive contributions to flood management plans. The study concludes that although people are somewhat aware of the risks of flooding, more still needs to be done to provide information and a more robust flood management plan needs to be formulated and made aware to the local residents.

Introduction

“Around 5.2 million properties in England, or one in six properties, are at risk of flooding” (Environment Agency, 2009). As flood events appear to have increased in number and scale in the past few years, places which have not previously experienced them seem to be becoming more prone to flooding. There is now a growing need for governance groups, scientists and the public, to work together to create a better flood management schemes which the public can be aware of so that they are prepared for flood events in the future. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 suggested that environmental issues are best handled by using all people concerned in the flood (United Nations Environment Programme, undated). Many have argued that further involvement with affected people would lead to a better understanding and better preparation, before, during and after a flood event.  The UNCED also specified that communities should have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes regarding flooding in their area. It is important to study: who gets involved in flood management, who makes the final decisions and how much communication there is between the different groups of people. The level of communication and further involvement of the public can affect the amount of preparation before a flood and how useful this preparation is in the event of flooding.

The research conducted between September 2012 and March 2013 focused on flooding in Lanchester on the 28th June 2012. On this date the North- East of England suffered multiple thunderstorms and periods of heavy rain resulting in a huge deluge of water falling in a short period of time. Affected residents and business owners in Lanchester were given the opportunity to discuss the effectiveness of the Environment Agency, the Council and the local community in dealing with this and previous flood events.
Research questions included:

1.    How much communication has there been between agencies/councils and the public prior to the 28 June 2012 flood?
2.    Can communication between councils/agencies and the public through the use of Flood Action Groups lead to a more successful flood management plan?
3.    Can scientific knowledge (from professionals) and local knowledge go together to provide a successful flood management plan?
4.    What additional effective methods could be used?
5.    Should agencies/councils do more after flood events to help the community?

Lanchester is a very community-based village, with many organised groups such as the Lanchester Partnership which discusses flooding issues within the village. Also, Lanchester has a Flood Action Group which was set up by the residents themselves, who work together with County Councillors, a Community Flood Engagement Officer, members of the Partnership, Red Cross, Lions, Parish Council and the three churches in the village. It was set up shortly after the flood event to help those affected. Since then the group has provided support with the physical side of the aftermath of flooding such as clearing out flood- damaged items, but they also provide support through just being there to support one another; things for which the councils and agencies are less well adapted. The Flood Action Group is an important aspect to look at when studying the communication between local people and other governmental groups (Environment Agency and the Councils (Durham County Council and the Parish Council). These groups play an important part in flood management, especially in small villages like Lanchester.

Results

Face-to-face interviews were used to collect the data. Responses to the discussion questions are summarised as follows:

1.    How much communication has there been between agencies/councils and the public prior to the 28 June 2012 flood?

Despite Durham County Council being given more responsibility in managing local flood management, the data indicated that there has been a lack of communication between agencies and the public to provide a successful flood management plan. There has been some communication between the two groups; however it does not seem to have been enough for it to be successful as residents were still unaware of what to do in the event of a flood. Leaflets have been distributed to flood-prone properties, but it was found that the majority of people interviewed did not read the leaflets or even keep them for future reference. Another means of communication was provided via flood warnings from the Environment Agency. The interviews concluded however that these warnings came too late to do anything about it. It can also be concluded that there will never be enough warning and preparation from agencies to the public when it comes to flash floods. This is because they are too unexpected and any flood warning will never be early enough for people to act upon it. To solve this issue of lack of communication for normal flood events, responses to interview questions indicated that the community would like to have the opportunity to attend flood management meetings, where a clear flood plan is set out to make sure the whole community knows what to do when a flood event happens again.

2.    Can communication between councils/agencies and the public through the use of Flood Action Groups lead to a more successful flood management plan?

The work of the Flood Action Group had a very positive response from the interviewees who said that the group was particularly helpful with the aftermath of the floods as they helped people who had had difficulty in accessing help from family and friends. In particular the Flood Action Group was said to be very useful for helping the elderly, who felt a sense of trust in a group which consisted of fellow-community members. The Group’s effectiveness could be enhanced through publicising flood management plans and involving the community more through meetings with other agencies such as the Environment Agency, Durham County Council and the Parish Council. Greater engagement between the public, professionals and governance would be engender trust.
In conclusion, there needs to be a better way of communicating with the public. The Flood Action Group provides an appropriate avenue for improved communication as the community seems to have trust in them. However, the Group needs to be given more responsibility for flood management before this can happen.

3.    Can scientific knowledge (from professionals) and local knowledge go together to provide a more effective flood management plan?

Scientific knowledge and local knowledge could go hand-in-hand in a place like Lanchester. People suggested the need for more involvement so that they are more aware of any flood plans in place. A lot of people said locals knew exactly what to do in a flood event so the Council and agencies need to take note of this when planning for the future. From the professional’s point of view, they need to acknowledge the public and their views on how flooding should be dealt with, but also learn from past experiences to help formulate a more effective flood management plan.

4.    What additional effective methods could be used?

Consultation meetings between community members and professionals (council representatives, emergency services, Environment Agency and so on) were suggested. Interviewees said that meetings would provide them with the knowledge and enough information they need to prepare effectively for the next flood event. Also, further publicity about flood warnings was important so that more people are made aware that there is a risk and danger to their belongings and lives.

5.    Should agencies/councils do more after flood events to help the community?

The interviews showed that in general, everyone was relatively impressed with the overall reaction from the County Council after the flood. County Council workers came out the next day to clear the main street and take away flood-damaged items. However, some people were not happy with the speed of the reaction from the County Council and emergency services. They did not respond until the day after the event, which from the public’s point of view is too late to do anything that will help them. They also did not receive sandbags until after the flood, which they argued was pointless. To improve this, the County Council could be made more aware of the flood forecast so that they are well-prepared and can distribute sandbags prior to the event, therefore reducing the amount of damage done by flood water. This cannot be done in the case of flash flooding, so the County Council could leave sandbags with the property owners for future flood events.

Conclusion

Altogether, the responses of the community indicated that there is a need for increased communication through meetings between the public and the professional and governance/agencies to thus create a more effective flood management plan. The Flood Action Group was considered to have potential as an important mediator between the public and the professional and governance agencies. In this way, the collaboration of the community and professionals could provide opportunities to create a more robust management plan that reduces the risk of flood damage and effectively deals with the after-effects.

Laura Dobson

December 2013

Addendum: Actions of the various agencies since the 2012 flood

Durham County Council

The County Council has been active in the following ways in reducing the possibility of flooding in Lanchester:

•    In recent months it has rectified problems at Ford Road, Victoria Terrace and the Valley Walk and is currently reducing the likelihood of flooding on the A691 between Lanchester and Kaysburn.
•    It has developed an outline scheme to improve the drainage of Front Street by piping water from the Alderdene Culvert straight into Smallhope Burn downstream of the Smallhope Burn Culvert. It has applied to the Environment Agency for funding for this ambitious scheme and hopes to learn the outcome of this application late this year.
•    It has installed a “speed table” that will intercept some of the flood flow down Newbiggen Lane.
•    It is taking steps to repair a partially collapsed culvert that is thought to have contributed to flooding from water flow down Maiden Law Bank.

The cost of the work in-hand and planned is estimated to be about £1.3 million.

Emergency equipment stores

Funding from Exercise Valencia and the Flood Action Group has been used to provide two sheds to store emergency equipment that includes hydrosacks, hydrosnakes, wheelbarrows, high-visibility jackets, drainage rods, emergency blankets and emergency medical kit. The sheds are located in the Social Club grounds (through the kind permission of Councillor Young) and behind the Methodist Church (through the kind agreement of Reverend Hume).

Community Emergency Plan

Another spin-off from Exercise Valencia is that a Community Flood Plan is being developed jointly by County Hall and Sally Laverick (Parish Council Clerk). It will include arrangements for accessing the emergency equipment and a “telephone tree” to facilitate informing residents when there is a flood risk.

Message of Thanks

Much of the impetus for these works has come from our MP, Pat Glass, our County Councillors, Ossie Johnson and Richie Young, and the Lanchester Flood Action Group.