After the Flood: Higher Coach Road and Salts Sports

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This was the scene this morning in Roberts Park, Saltaire. The Cricket Pitch is no longer a lake, with the river having returned to its normal boundaries… There’s just a great big puddle on the slightly lower ground nearer the footbridge. Much the same is true to the west of the park, on the Higher Coach Road estate…

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Saltaire 28 Dec 15 013All of the pictures in this post were taken by Eddie Lawler, who asked me if there was anything I’d particularly like pictures of. I said that, amongst all the images I’d gathered for this blog in the last couple of days, I hadn’t really seen any from Higher Coach Road… so off he went! Thanks Eddie. (I’m in Manchester and it hasn’t really been safe to travel to do my own eye-witnessing…)

The high watermark for the flood is pretty clear from the lines of light debris left behind on the banking up to the estate’s houses…

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Thankfully, it looks like the water didn’t get as far as the houses, although at the far end, the houses on Bowland Avenue (physically the lowest on the estate) had a close shave…

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Note the line of mole hills that appear immediately above the waterline… The moles have clearly been pushed uphill by the water! And that water keeps on coming… The river is back within its bounds, but look at the flow rate over Hirst Weir…

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Note the debris in the tree here, and the snapped fence post…

Crossing the footbridge to the other side of the river, Eddie made his way back to his home in Saltaire via Salts Sports. This is the view back to the Coach Road estate from the far side… again, lots of debris in trees.

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But turning around,  and looking up towards the canal, just look at what’s been left on the Salts Sports Cricket Pitch!

Saltaire 28 Dec 15 010That’ll clearly take some time and expense to clear up, but the more serious damage for Salts Sports has been done to the harder infrastructure. I’ll let the following images speak for themselves, noting only that the first one shows concrete slabs having been lifted off the wall and then dumped by the river…Saltaire 28 Dec 15 009Saltaire 28 Dec 15 001Saltaire 28 Dec 15 008

Of course, Shipley/Saltaire has got off lightly by comparison with some other places in this week’s flooding (Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd just keep suffering over and over, it seems). But for everybody’s sake let’s  just hope that the further rain forecast for the next couple of days doesn’t bring a reprise of the Christmas chaos.



More on the Aire in flood (inc. selected video links)

IMG_0243This was the scene last night, looking across the Aire from Roberts Park towards Saltaire… And then this morning, this strangely beautiful image of Cricket Pitch Lake in the sunshine was tweeted by Saltaire Festival. Note that the path in the foreground, in front of the Boathouse Inn, is no longer under water was it was yesterday…

IMG_0254It’s been reasonably dry today (Dec 27th), so the water has receded a bit, but it looks bad for Tuesday with more rain forecast to fall on already sodden ground. Fingers crossed.

Geoff Tynan posted this short video edit of the flooding in Shipley and Saltaire yesterday on Youtube. It really captures something of what was going on in the area. Begins with footage of Baildon Bridge’s arches completed obscured by water.

Another striking bit of video is this widely-screened BBC clip (I can’t paste it in as it doesn’t have an embed code… but you just have to click on the link). This shows the Aire just east of Baildon Bridge, flowing past the back of Wickes and up to the footbridge that runs between Dockfields and Lower Holme. A massive something is carried rapidly downstream until it crashes into the bridge with an almighty noise: the BBC say it’s a caravan but it looks to me more like a mobile burger stall or something of that sort? Anyway, this incident recalls residents’ memories of the exact same thing happening with a skip back in 2000… the fact that the river in flood flows north across the Green Lane cricket pitch and then back into the main channel via commercial/industrial properties means that some pretty big pieces of debris find their way into the river at this point. (Very dangerous!!) It can’t have come from any further upstream, because Baildon Bridge forms a barrier for large debris… as this next clip clearly demonstrates! Thanks to Rob Walsh for drawing my attention to this incident…

The area around Baildon Bridge was a bit calmer today, but here is an eerily silent Otley Road, at the junction with Green Lane, still covered by water in the sunshine…

IMG_0257And here was the scene just to the right of here, going west up Green Lane to junction with Coach Road…

IMG_0255As you can see, the area outside Baildon Rec is still a lake, and the four riverside houses of Aire Close are cut off completely. We send best wishes and hope for speedy return to normal for the residents there.

Downstream in Leeds, the Aire was at the highest level anyone can remember, but interestingly the new flood walls that have been being constructed this year as part of the Leeds FAS (Flood Alleviation Scheme) seem to have been doing their job. In this next video from Moss Travel TV, look particularly at the low wall in the foreground between 2.23 and 2.31 in the time coding… that’s been built recently around the edge of the Direct Line building (across the river from Granary Wharf, south of Leeds Station) and it seems to have been just high enough…?

The more severe flooding problems in Leeds were further downstream, it seems, in the area between Leeds Bridge and Clarence Dock, where the new defences have not yet been completed… (they’re scheduled for completion early next year). This video by Laurie Cooper-Murray captures that area after dark last night. It’s powerful not just for the visual footage but also for the eerie quietness of the soundtrack. There’s no added music or commentary, you just hear wind and water… 

This still aerial image captures the extent of the flooding last night on East Street — a major link road just adjacent to the river on the north side (acr

IMG_0238Perhaps most startling for many Leeds residents, though, was the way that Kirkstall Road turned into a river last night. This is captured in full by Lauren Potts in her twitter feed… Look especially for the eerie “morning after” video she’s posted under the heading “Unbelievable scenes down here on Kirkstall Rd – it’s like something from an apocalypse film.” Many people were perhaps unaware that Kirkstall Road runs directly parallel with the Aire at valley bottom, since you can’t usually see the river for all the buildings. Not so last night… (Random fact: Lauren Potts is a BBC journalist based in Leeds, but also coincidentally a graduate of Manchester University’s Drama department, where I teach)

Finally for now, a couple of very artistically composed shots of the extent of flooding around Clarence Dock – and Leeds Lock adjacent to it. That’s the Knights Way Bridge in both shots. (Grabbed these off twitter… hope the photographer doesn’t mind!)



Today (Boxing Day 2015): River Aire in Flood

Just a few days ago I blogged about recent high water on the Aire through Shipley, and concerns about Baildon Bridge getting flooded. Well, here is a photo taken on Baildon Bridge today, looking across to the Baildon side and Otley Road’s junction with Green Lane… The whole place is underwater.


I haven’t been in the area today (I’m safe and dry in Manchester), but what follows is a collection of images that – like the one above – have been culled from twitter feeds (if anybody wishes to assert copyright, please let me know!). This next one is from a resident of Victoria Mills – immediately upstream on the Shipley side of the river. Here, the courtyard area at ground level has become a lake (with the bar completely submerged)…


A lot of the most spectacular images have, unsurprisingly, been taken in the Saltaire area, where there’s a clear view of the river from the park… Here is the park viewed from the roof of Half Moon Cafe… as in October 2000, the cricket pitch is completely submerged, and has become a lake… The ornamental llama looks like some kind of Loch Ness Monster parody… (this picture courtesy of my good friend Eddie Lawler)

Saltaire 26 Dec 15 007The cricket pavilion, visible in the distance of the shot above, as seen more directly…


And just across the river at the same point, of course, the Boathouse Inn…

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IMG_0225Note, in the shot of the Boathouse below, a little triangular flood warning sign… this is the same one visible in the shot of the park directly beneath. You really can’t tell where the river ends and the park begins. It’s all one.




But note also that there is a distinct difference between the relatively static water lapping around the edges of the park, and the main flow of the river under the footbridge… See the blue litter bin in the foreground of the last but one image…? Here it is again in the foreground of the shot below, taken a little later in the day (again by Eddie Lawler).

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And here’s the same litter bin yet again, a little further under…This really gives a sense of the force of the water going by…


Another image of Eddie’s gives us the view of Salts Mill, looking back across from the park…

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And here is the entrance to Salt’s New Mill, completely underwater… (Eddie again)

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It’s quite a spectacle, of course, and who can blame people for turning out to look at it … (Although the safety warnings would advise against getting too close to fast flowing flood water.)


Meanwhile, downstream at Apperley Bridge, this was the view of the Aire…


Coming into Leeds, where the railway runs alongside the river through Kirkstall, the flood defences are better but the river was just barely contained…


And in the city centre, at the iconic Royal Armouries, this was the scene… The Leeds Lock in the foreground (and in the next picture), which is the first lock on the Aire/Calder Navigation, is completely submerged — as is the island that runs between the lock cut and the main river…



xThis next, aerial image, shows the same location from the other side of the river.. entrance to Clarence Dock in the top of the shot, the river and (submerged to left) island, and in the foreground the Canal and River Trust building at Fearns Wharf, with its car park totally submerged. So too was much of Neptune Street leading up to it…


Just upstream from here, looking back towards Crown Point Bridge (and the Armourites beyond it) you can see that the riverside pathway outside Brewery Wharf, to the right, is completely submerged also.


This next shot is from more or less the same spot, but looking upstream, underneath Centenary Bridge. Let’s hope those new flood defences at this spot were doing their job.


Just upstream again, the Aire at the highest I’ve ever seen it through Leeds…note how the drop that normally exists between the main river and the pond (former dock) in Victoria Quays, to the left, has been wiped out…


And this is a close up shot from Victoria Quays, with the footpath visible under the water, but no identifiable line between path, pond and river…


Finally, a shot from inside the Aire Bar, just across on the north side of the river from Victoria Quays… As you can see, the staff have improvised a flood marker on the window for the level the water had reached at 1pm this afternoon — at which point they abandoned the bar to the river, because the sandbags against the window were achieving little…


Tomorrow I’ll collate some more. Let’s hope the river will have subsided a little by then…

Season’s Soakings

Well it’s less than a week until Christmas, and it is mercifully dry outside… and oddly mild for this time of year. The whole country is enjoying a little welcome respite from the seemingly relentless onslaught of rain and storms over the last few weeks, that resulted in particular devastation in Cumbria just 2 weeks ago. The town of Cockermouth, we learned, has now experienced “1 in 100 year floods” a total of three times in the last ten years. Something up with the maths there… and all this as “climate change” was again in the news as the nations of the world met in Paris at “COP21” to try to agree how to apply a sticking plaster to a self-inflicted wound.

Closer to home, here’s a picture I snapped on my way to Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club (for a Christmas party for Higher Coach Road residents — of which, more in a minute). Note how high the River Aire was, under Baildon Bridge right beside the club… (what you can’t tell, in a still photo, is just how FAST the water was moving!)

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For the purposes of comparison, here’s an earlier photo of the river at normal flow levels, where a whole extra layer of the bridge stanchions is visible…

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But club secretary Philip Moncaster assured me that the water level last Sunday had actually receded from where it was at the end of November. Here’s a shot of his own from back then, kindly donated for this blog…

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As Philip says, as soon as the river gets as high as the main bridge, there is big trouble, because that solid concrete wall acts as a kind of dam, forcing the river elsewhere. This was the major flooding pinch point in the Shipley area, in both 2000 and 1947 (the big historical flood incidents in living memory). And circumstances could have been worse, recently, if the debris in the river had been in greater quantity– as this can contribute to the damming effect across the archways. In heavy rain, of course, the softening of the riverbanks upstream contributes to the risk of older trees becoming dislodged and falling into the river…

Philip is a real “hydro citizen” (to use the term attached to our current research project) because he has taken upon himself the responsibility of trying to get the (supposedly) “responsible agencies” to, er, take responsibility for clearing debris from the bridge… He copied to me a series of emails he has sent recently, from which the following are the edited highlights:

NOVEMBER 30 (to John Anderson at Bradford Council): For several years now I have had problems contacting Bradford Council regarding clearing of debris from under Baildon Bridge Otley Road. Your staff are unaware that the council are responsible for this problem and I am constantly told to contact The Rivers Authority or Yorkshire Water or The Environment Agency. Your emergency planning team told me to contact The friends of The River Aire. I rang cleansing today who told me to ring Yorkshire Water but I was not prepared to be fobbed off again so I asked to speak to a supervisor. I was connected to Sarah Clark who told me The council were not responsible but I insisted she was wrong and eventually I was given your name (Sarah Clark was very helpful and very pleasant to deal with and she returned my call as promised). I was told that you have had ‘Jaggers’ of Halifax recently to clear trees from the bridge although I have been watching since my club flooded on 22nd November and nothing has moved since then. A large tree is wedged under one of the three tunnels of the bridge and is collecting debris all the time. This obviously restricts the flow of the river and causes me sleepless nights at this time of year.

Philip had clearly been given the run-around by ill-informed Council staff, although to his credit, John Anderson replied the same day:

NOVEMBER 30: Philip, The responsibility for clearing debris off bridges is not clear. Responsibility lies somewhere between the riparian owner (Bradford Council if debris is under the bridge) and Environment Agency (responsible for ensuring free flow). That said, Bradford Council’s Highway Structures Unit do clear the bridges on the River Aire and have done so for many years. I have asked our Bridge Inspector to visit the bridge and have arranged with Jaggers to remove the tree as soon as it is safe to do so.

Understandably concerned at Mr. Anderson’s admission that “the responsibility . . . is not clear”, Philip wrote to Shipley’s three Green councillors about this, and received the following from one of them, Kevin Warnes:

DECEMBER 11: I agree that the lack of clarity about who is responsible is ridiculous. We’ll check with officers and come back to you.

Meanwhile, Philip also wrote to the Area Manager at the Environment Agency:

DECEMBER 7:  FAO  Mark Scott Heres a copy of John Anderson’s reply to the email I sent last week. Is it true that the environment agency are responsible for ensuring free flow ?

No response…

DECEMBER 10:  Did you receive my email sent monday 7th dec? Your comments would be helpful.

This prompted a response of sorts…

DECEMBER 10: Dear Mr Moncaster, thankyou for your emails to Yorkshire Area Manager Mark Scott dated 7 and 10 December 2015. He is looking into your email and you will receive a response within 10 working days, which will be by Monday 21 December 2015. Many thanks, Deborah Broughton, Customer and Engagement Officer

To be fair to Mark Scott, of course, if he is the EA’s Area Manager for “Yorkshire” as a whole, then he has probably had bigger crises to address than Baildon Bridge in the last couple of weeks! But part of the problem here is the question of accountability and communication. A concerned citizen such as Philip should be able to establish more easily who to contact about such locally significant issues, and the EA surely needs public-facing staff who are promptly responsive to such enquiries (in the way that a local councillor like Kevin Warnes is).

DECEMBER 15:  F.A.O. Mark Scott. I understand from your admin’ people that you intend to reply to my emails by 21st Dec. I guess you must be busy. While you consider your response I would like to share with you my thoughts regarding flooding at Baildon Bridge on the river Aire. Last week’s floods in the North West prompted great T.V. coverage and interviews with plenty of experts who all shared the opinion that water cannot be compressed and therefore flood defences in one area, causes problems further down stream. Blocking flood plains with large walls must in my novice opinion cause water to flow faster and deeper down stream (which is what all the experts were saying about Carlisle). Your office told me this was not the case on the river Aire! What about all the defence work at Stocksbridge etc? We have in recent years experienced a much more common ‘near flood’ experience and I suggest the above work has had some influence on that very worrying problem. Recent high water levels have seen Baildon Bridge almost at capacity, at the point where it becomes a dam. I would like my proposal to remove the wier at Baildon Bridge to be considered as a flood defence scheme that would have no detrimental effect down stream as regards causing potential flooding elsewhere.

This is, I think, an important instance of what they call “citizen science”: Philip’s personal observation, living beside the river, is that near-flood incidences have risen over recent years — for whatever reason (and he proposes one — the Stocksbridge flood defences). He also reiterates his conviction, previously discussed on this blog, that the removal of the weir immediately downstream of the bridge might help reduce flood risk by lowering the flow level of the river going through the bridge (since a weir is a low-level dam).

Now then, is there any scientific validity in either of these suggestions? We might be about to find out, because I have finally found a water engineer who is willing to assess the flow data for us… He’s a colleague of mine at Manchester University, and is doing this assessment “pro bono”, as it were (given that professional consultancy fees are exorbitant). The raw data, I’m pleased to say, has been provided to our project free of charge by the EA. This is thanks to the fact that I now have built up personal contact with some very responsive, very helpful people there… Let’s see what happens… (report ready around February)

[update: as of December 22nd, Philip had still received no reply from Mark Scott]

And meanwhile, let’s take a look at some of the EA’s newly installed flood defences downstream in Leeds (picture taken at the beginning of this month)…

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That’s right, folks… along this stretch of the Aire, just outside the big Asda headquarters east of the Neville Street bridge, they have built a new flood wall that’s about, um, 10 inches high? And as you can see, they’ve put new railing on this new wall, without removing the old railings … so that when someone comes to do that, they’ll have to work around the new fence (or hang off the river wall…?). I came across a workman scrubbing mortar off the walkway by the new wall, who worked for “Heritage Masonry” – subcontracted to install true Yorkshire stone along this stretch (at no small cost), whose private opinion was that the costs of building this very low wall seem disproportionate to any potential benefits it might provide… Now, admittedly I’m being a bit naughty here… if you follow the walkway a bit further down, you get a better perspective:

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As you can see here, the top of the new wall stays at a constant level, while the walkway itself does not. Hence the very low bit, as well as the more respectably “wall-like” bit here. What you really notice, though, touring the works along this city centre stretch of the river, is that the priority areas for defence seem to have been outside major corporations like Asda and Direct Line (whose new bit of wall is pictured below)… I expect that the City Council has been lobbied by these major players for better future defences… but that again begs the question of just who is listening to the concerns of ordinary citizens and riverside residents (especially those downstream of these works).

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Back in Shipley…. Here’s the very swollen-looking River Aire immediately upstream of Baildon Bridge, looking across towards Woodbottom club just before last Sunday’s party…  The club’s basement had again been flooded just the night before….

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On a wet, cold, dark winter’s evening we were pleased that so many people made the effort to come down Coach Road to join our community party. We were also joined by some friends from some other areas such as Hirst Wood and Lower Holme. Our oldest guest was Margaret, who recently turned 90, our youngest was Maisie, at 4. The entertainment included a pub quiz, brilliantly hosted by Philip, and a short, well-received, perfectly-judged set by singer-songwriter Eddie Lawler (note the seasonal decor!):

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Thanks to everyone who turned out, thanks to Philip and the club for hosting us, thanks to the Rocking Rudolph seasonal beer for – um – rocking us… and hats off especially to Stewart and Pat Gledhill, and to Pam Ruppe, the hardworking organisers behind both the party and the evolving Higher Coach Road Residents’ Action Group (H-CRAG!). Stewart told me that there are a number of new volunteers for the group and its committee, and we’re hoping this community initiative will continue to develop in the new year. Meanwhile, merry Christmas to all!

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Stewart, Pat and Pam, pictured last month at the H-CRAG meeting hosted at St. Hughs, to which all 3 of the local Green councillors turned up in support!