One month on – Flood recovery in Lower Baildon (pt. 2)

So part 1 of this blog entry (posted yesterday) was mainly concerned with the area just upstream of Baildon Bridge. This one moves further upstream to the Higher Coach Road area — where tomorrow, Sunday 31st January, weather permitting, the “Aire Debris Removal Initiative” will be leading a clean-up along the riverbank…

ADRI jpeg

One of the really remarkable things about the public response to last month’s flooding has been the way people have used social media to self-organise support groups and now clean-up groups. And the riverbank on this stretch certainly needs some TLC. At present it is littered with debris that was carried by floodwater and caught on trees and bushes — in fact you can clearly see the line that the water came up to…IMG_0507The tricky part here, of course, is that a lot of the debris is caught in branches and suspended out over the river itself, making safe retrieval quite challenging. Let’s hope that AireDRI has some appropriate picking equipment (possibly loaned by the Council, who are also keen to support these voluntary initiatives with appropriate resources). I’ll be keen to talk to some of the organisers of this initiative, as part of Multi-Story Water‘s gathering of thoughts and reflections on the flooding (a process we’ve begun over the last week or so — see previous blog post). There is also some excellent reporting going on elsewhere of course, such as this “one-month on” piece in the Saltaire-run Bradford Review (which features the thoughts of, among others, the wonderful Billy Ricketts, volunteer groundsman at Saltaire Cricket Club… starting point for tomorrow’s clean-up).


There is still quite a substantial quantity of water sitting on the grassy flood-plain area next to the river at Higher Coach Road. The field was looking like this through much of December though, so this water is not – as such – a remnant of the Boxing Day flood. Rather, it’s indicative of just how wet the ground was, and remains, and why the excess water at Christmas thus had nowhere to go but places it wasn’t wanted. This is, of course, still a risk if we have further severe weather.

Thankfully, though, the residents of the HCR estate remain pretty confident that they won’t be directly affected in their homes, at least. On Boxing Day, just as during the last major floods of October 2000, the water came up almost as far as the fronts of people’s houses on Bowland Avenue — at the furthest, westerly end of the estate — but did not actually make it to their front doors. And since these houses were built, quite deliberately, with no basements, there is no damage there either. As Ruth Bartlett, who lives in one of the houses on Bowland, remarks: “I’m really very grateful to the people who built these houses [in the 1950s], because they knew what they were doing. The water stays where it’s meant to — on the field.” This was the view from Ruth’s bedroom window at 1.45pm on Boxing Day, when the water level was still rising…(with many thanks to her for sharing)

Like others I’ve spoken to, Ruth had been away for Christmas Day and returned to her home on Boxing Day, unaware of the chaos awaiting her. Her first indication of trouble was when she found Baildon Bridge closed to traffic, and had to go all the way round via Apperley Bridge (which was also later closed) in order to get home. On Boxing Day evening she simply went to bed upstairs hoping for the best, and woke up the next morning to find the waters, thankfully, receding…


This was the view from a few doors further along Bowland Avenue — taken by resident Martin Spiers. You can see just how close the water was coming to the front gate… In the background is the dome base and curving structure of the Barden Aqueduct, which pumps water over the River Aire towards Bradford. This closer-up shot of the dome really captures the force of the water…


And this wider shot from Martin’s house also shows how Barden Aqueduct, the adjacent Graincliffe Aqueduct, and indeed the footbridge across the Aire had all become simply structures sticking out of one huge, swollen mass of water…


By the following morning, the sun had come out rather beautifully over the same spot… Here Martin is looking back to the houses on Bowland, from the path to the footbridge.



In this next shot, we’re looking back towards the same buildings (and the ones behind them), but this time from the opposite direction — over at Bradford Rowing Club. Just look at this fence, thick with flood debris…

DSC_0116Tomorrow’s clean-up is much needed (and further work will be still be needed), but interestingly Ruth has quite mixed feelings about the volunteer groups that have been sprung up to address the various effects of the flood. The pro-active community spirit, she says, is brilliant (and Ruth is herself an organiser in other voluntary causes), but she also worries that it might be allowed to simply substitute for action that local and central government should be taking to protect and support communities at risk. Is this what David Cameron’s “Big Society” looks like? Will flood-threatened areas simply be expected to rely on their own initiative and resilience in future…?


One month on… Flood recovery in Lower Baildon (pt. 1)

Over the last week, I’ve spent quite a bit of time interviewing people affected in various ways by last month’s Boxing Day floods. These have ranged across the spectrum from flooded homeowners to senior Environment Agency staff… Take the following clip, for example, pirated from BBC North’s Inside Out programme on the floods…

Both Philip Moncaster and Jonathan Moxon, featured in this clip, are among the people I’ve been talking to — and what is most immediately clear is just how stressful this period has been for people on both ends of this situation. Phil’s frustration at the Environment Agency, articulated in the BBC clip, is completely understandable given what had happened to his home — and given the difficulties he had had contacting them in December, even before the floods hit. The EA are, after all, the people charged with a primary responsibility to the public in situations like this. But equally, Jonathan is quite sincere when he says in the clip that he is disappointed to hear of Philip’s case. The EA, which suffered significant cuts to its staff base post-2010 thanks to the government’s austerity drives, was stretched well beyond capacity by the extent of the flooding across Northern England … and this includes the situation in Cumbria dating back to November, where Jonathan was redeployed for a while himself. Staff were working literally around the clock in the days and weeks following the Christmas deluge, and this has had a significant impact on their own wellbeing and their contact with their families. (As one EA flood manager noted to me, she hasn’t really been “present” for her children since Boxing Day.) Things are only just starting to calm down sufficiently that staff can spare the time to talk to a researcher like me… and every time the weather forecast has predicted further rain over the last month, fingers have been nervously crossed that we won’t see a quick repeat of the devastation…

Philip no doubt shares that anxiety. He lives in one of the four houses of Aire Close, right next to the River Aire off Coach Road (Lower Baildon), and he had to wade out of his home on Boxing Day as the waters rose. In this Youtube video (which is the most comprehensive compilation of flood footage in the Shipley/Saltaire/Baildon area I’ve seen), Aire Close is featured between minutes 9 and 12 — in which there’s dramatic footage of a rescue boat attempting to get close enough to these houses to help Philip’s neighbours, but being swept off course by the sheer force of the current…

Philip himself features in this next YouTube clip, documenting “The Aftermath” of the flooding. The first minute or so of footage here vividly documents the devastation in his home immediately after the water subsided (the piece then goes on to document some of the community-led flood relief efforts that had quickly sprung up in the area):

Speaking with Philip now, a month on, he is back in his home but having to live upstairs while the repair work continues downstairs. His insurance company sent round some people to clean up, and they have — he says — done a tremendous job drying out the walls with specialist airing equipment. Yet salt has also been rubbed into fresh wounds by the seemingly casual way that his family’s flood-damaged belongings were thrown away into a skip… While recognising that anything touched by the floodwater was contaminated with all kinds of unpleasantness, Phil feels that more care could have been taken to salvage certain precious items for decontamination rather than them simply being trashed … Among the items gone forever are a pair of prescription glasses, passports, even a diamond ring!

Baildon Recreation Centre lies immediately to the east of Aire Close, along the riverbank, and you can still clearly see the height the floodwater came to, from the discolouration of the still-wet brickwork…


Just to the left (east) of the Rec is the Woodbottom cricket pitch — where the force of the floodwater tore down this perimeter fence and wall….


And there, on the far side of the pitch, sitting right next to the river, is Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club, where Phil is club secretary. The photo below, kindly supplied to me by Celia (from the bar staff) shows the interior of the club’s bar on December 28th, immediately after the flood. Clearly, everything you see here has had to be thrown out because it’s been contaminated by dirty water.

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In the club itself, there are two main rooms – on either side of the bar. Below you can see the games room, where all the built-in seating along the walls has had to be ripped out… Needless to say this room remains closed to members at present.


And here is the slab of bare floor where the ruined pool tables sat…


Remarkably, though, the club has got its other main space — the concert room — back up and running. It’s been open to members for a week or so now, with the well-attended bingo nights resuming… Philip tells me that the club’s organisers knew it was urgent that they reopened as quickly as possible, despite the flood damage. Following the last major flooding in October 2000, the club remained closed for a lot longer, and as a result lost about a third of their regulars, who simply got in the habit of going elsewhere. And so, while also dealing with the wreckage of his own home, Phil has worked alongside his friends to get the place open again. There’s new carpet, lots of brand new chairs, and temporary tables retrieved from the loft (they’re normally kept for outdoor events). There’s also a temporary bar, improvised out of available materials in a new spot beside the door. The beer is on tap again, so a kind of normality has been resumed — even though everyone knows that the club is now facing significant challenges to its survival. Flood insurance will be a near impossibility in future, so Phil is talking about replacing the old plywood bar carcass with a potentially more resilient structure made of stainless steel.

Upstream, I noticed, the Boathouse Inn at Saltaire — also flooded out on Boxing Day — remains closed until further notice…


Bradford Rowing Club repairs Hirst Weir

As was flagged up by this story in yesterday’s Bradford Telegraph and Argusthere was emergency repair work taking place today on Hirst Weir.

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This is Dr. Celia Hickman, current President of Bradford Amateur Rowing Club (BARC), as photographed for the T&A. The Rowing club owns and maintains the weir (through a limited liability holding company), because without the weir acting as a mini-dam for the stretch of the River Aire upstream up of it — the stretch coming down from Dowley Gap — there would be no viable rowing course. And right now, there is a pretty big hole in the dam…

Jan 20 12

As is clear from this picture, taken today under sunny blue skies, the hole in the weir – over towards the mill on the south side — means that the rest of the structure simply looks like a wall. The entire river is now flowing through the breach, as this picture (also from the T&A) shows…

rowing club 2

The weir and rowing club featured on this blog in this entry from a year ago – here I noted that the club was trying to raise money for major works on the weir that would stabilise it for the long term. Unfortunately, however, this plan has been overtaken, by the need to make emergency repairs following the Boxing Day floods… There’s an emergency bill of £85,000, according to the T&A, and the club is still £20,000 short of this target but needs to get on the with the work before more permanent damage is done. (One wonders whether the £65k they do have is actually from the fundraising efforts for the longer-term solution…?)

When the weir was last damaged, during the high water of summer 2012, an emergency repair of the resulting breach was effected by plugging it with large stones dumped in by an excavator… Today there was no water at all flowing over those stones, because of the breach further along… Instead, there was an excavator actually sitting on those stones!

Jan 20 11As you can see, though, the location of the breach makes it impossible for the heavy machinery to get anywhere near it, without risking further damage to the weir (and possibly risking the equipment and driver!).

Jan 20 9

Instead, then, it looks like the damage will need to be repaired by laboriously moving stones into position by hand… Slow and very hazardous work, given what the force of the current/undertow must be, going through the breach.

Jan 20 10 (2)

The T&A article reports on plans for installing a fish pass as part of the repair process. This is certainly part of the Rowing Club’s longer-term repair plans — as you can see in the scale model featured in my previous blog on this topic…. dec 2014 017

The ladder effect here is the fish pass, and the assembly of stones downstream of the weir is the basic idea for long term stability — creating a more gradual incline for the water, rather than a sudden drop that scours the river bottom (the central bit without stones, in black in the model, is simply to indicate the current drop – it wouldn’t be retained like this).

It seems unlikely, given the laborious patch-up work taking place today, that anything as sophisticated as a fish pass will be going in any time soon — whatever the T&A story says. But of course I’m no engineer and I could be completely wrong. Corrections gratefully welcomed…  Anyway, let’s hope the repairs are effected smoothly and the weir is functioning again soon.

Jan 20 6

I’m grateful, again, to Eddie Lawler, for furnishing me with the (non-T&A) photos above – including this pleasingly arty one here… Thanks Eddie!

And thanks also to Martin Spiers, for providing the images below of the Rowing Club on the Boxing Day itself, the day of the flood… Here it is, completely cut off by water…

DSC_0031This shot is taken from the access road that leads to the club. Turning left through about 90 degrees, Martin also got this shot of the road blurring into the adjacent Loadpit Beck, as they both run downhill to the swollen Aire…


Finally, there’s this shot, taken from Martin’s home on Bowland Avenue, looking across towards the Rowing Club via the path that would normally cross Loadpit Beck where the little railing stands…


The weir, which should lie to the left of shot here beyond the trees, was totally submerged…