Sam O’Brien reports from Rochdale, one of the towns in northern England devastated by the Boxing Day floods
The River Roch burst its banks on Boxing day and Rochdale experienced the worst flooding in a generation. Water flowed through the town centre flooding shops and businesses. When the new £50 million council office and library was built in 2011 hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on flood defences. These defences could not hold back the sheer volume of water that began to seep into the library on Saturday.
An electricity substation was flooded, causing 20,000 properties to lose power. The substation was upgraded in 2010 to withstand a 1 in 200 year flood at a cost of £468,000. These defences were not enough. Hundreds of people were still without power on Sunday evening.
Residents of Littleborough experienced some of the worst of the flooding and a local sheltered housing scheme for older people had to be evacuated. Houses on Gower Street were also flooded.
Almost immediately local people began to react. A pub in the town centre offered free accommodation to people. The Al Quba mosque and Bilal mosques opened their doors to provide hot food and shelter. The Golden Mosque put out an appeal for candles for those with no power. When I arrived at about 7pm the friendly volunteers inside had already gathered a pile ready to distribute.
In Littleborough, the Wheatsheaf pub operated as a base for over 100 volunteers helping to clean up the mess and St Barnabas Church offered refuge to elderly people.
The Fire Service, mountain rescue, electrical engineers, housing workers, social services and other council workers worked flat out. Without the dedication of public service workers and volunteers this could have been so much worse.
Now we are left with the aftermath.
Rochdale Council has lost half of its funding from central Government since 2010. We now face a further £37 million cuts. Because of the way George Osborne has changed local government funding making councils rely on business rates to pay for services the floods will have a further impact the council’s budget.
There are discussions about merging services with neighbouring towns such as Bury and Oldham. How will these workers possibly be able to cope across huge geographical areas in the middle of a crisis?
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is having its budget cut by £20 million. Will the heroes of Boxing day face redundancy notices in the new year? We have to hope the FBU and wider community can fight to stop that from happening.
Rochdale’s A&E was shut in 2011. If people are seriously injured ,as they could have been on Saturday, they have to travel miles to Bury or Oldham.
The cuts will make it harder to respond to these crises in future.
And it is likely that we will have another incident of flooding so how should we respond?
Do we need more flood defences? The fact that flood defence spending has been cut by 8% will not help. But as Joe Sabatini argued, in his article about the Cumbria floods, an engineering solution may not be sufficient.
Management of the land further upstream to slow the flow of water coming off the Pennines when it rains heavily needs to be looked at.
It is perhaps too early to conclude that climate change is the cause. But if you want to know what a warming world and climate chaos looks like then take at look at the videos of Rochdale town centre. If greenhouse gas emissions are not dramatically reduced then these events will become more common and more devastating. One of the best flood defences for the future would be a massive increase in investment in green energy.
But instead the Tories are slashing spending on renewables and pushing ahead with fracking. Just days before the floods the Oil and Gas Authority granted licenses for exploratory drilling for gas in the Rochdale area.
Easily the worst response to the flooding has come from our local MP Simon Danczuk. While people from all backgrounds were working together to help out in the crisis Danczuk thought it would be a good idea to take to the airwaves and come out with this filth:
Why do we spend money in Bangladesh when it needs spending in Great Britain? What we need to do is to sort out the problems which are occurring here and not focus so much on developing countries. That has to be our priority
This is calculated racism intended to play to a particular audience. There is a large Bangladeshi community in Rochdale and he cannot be unaware of this.
The people of Bangladesh are living in one of the poorest countries in the world and frequently experience catastrophic flooding. They are in the frontline when it comes to the threat from global warming are not to blame for the cutbacks in the UK. It will not help flooded pensioners in Littleborough one little bit if the overseas aid budget gets cut.