United Utilities quizzed on future Lancashire flooding risks

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Enough is enough. Frustrated Lancashire county councillors have run out of patience over the issue of possible flooding from surface water run-off from new developments.

This week they voted to send a message to central government, asking that the law is changed to ensure water companies such as United Utilities get an automatic legal right to be consulted about such issues on new sites.

Floods in Lancashire in 2015

Floods in Lancashire in 2015

The council’s External Scrutiny Committee had met to consider future flooding risks in the county and how well its Flood Risk Management Partnership is working.

In the last decade 2,930 properties within Lancashire’s boundaries have flooded causing devastation, homelessness and heartbreak for those worst affected and temporary inconvenience for others.

From Croston to Garstang, Lancaster to Ribchester residents and insurance companies have been left counting the cost.

It is accepted the reasons for such floods can be various and sometimes unexpected - from stormy weather bringing flash floods, to coastal flooding, ongoing water leaks, blocked drains and culverts, and changing surface water drainage.

Floods in Lancashire in 2015

Floods in Lancashire in 2015

Concerns that future larger scale housing and industrial development could further put the county at risk led councillors to agree it was time to write to the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, to appeal for a change in the law regarding consultations on new developments.

County Coun Azhar Ali successfully proposed that the Government departments be asked “to seriously reconsider making the water companies a statutory consulted body for major infrastructure development.”

The recurring issue of planning permission had been raised by councillors, including independent Fylde councillor Liz Oades, who wanted to know just how much or little consideration is given to drainage issues as new developments are proposed and approved.

Tony Griffiths from United Utilities told councillors that surface water from new developments could be connected to the drainage network and said: “There is nothing we can do about it.

Couns Azhar Ali

Couns Azhar Ali

“It’s very frustrating that’s the way it is at the moment.

“I detect very little appetite in central government for that to change.”

His colleague Tim Armour said new developments could put existing properties at extra flooding risk as well as the new properties.

Stressing the importance of “working collaboratively” at an early stage with planners and developers on how to deal with surface water run off he said one sustainable way to cope was to incorporate green spaces, which were also good for the mental health of residents.

Erica Lewis

Erica Lewis

County Coun Erica Lewis raised the plight of residents in the Lancaster and district area affected by flooding and challenged United Utilities on the level of its profits and its spend on flooding issues.

Mr Griffiths said the company hoped to increase its spending three fold and recognised it needed to improve its performance.

But the councillor was also reminded that United Utilities is a private company which had to give shareholders a return on their money and had also to raise capital to finance major schemes.

Rachel Crompton, the county council’s Flood Risk Manager stressed that “effective and sustainable solutions” to flood risk around Lancashire were being sought with consultations with partners ranging from the River Trust and local flood action groups to the National Farmers Union and CLA, councils, the Environment Agency and United Utilities.

Of 2,930 properties flooded in the last decade 372 have had anti-flooding “mitigation measures” fitted and 170 had “major scheme work”.

Liz Oades

Liz Oades