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Michael Moynihan: If flood relief is worth doing in Blackpool, it’s worth doing right

Covering the river isn’t the only solution. Upstream storage was and is a possibility, Michael Moynihan is told.

Chris Moody on the Bride: “I and other people have spent countless hours cleaning it. It’s a disgusting job.”

by Michael Moynihan

HERE’S how my conversation with Chris Moody started.

I asked him where his interest in the river Bride came from, and he gave the most obvious answer you could think of: “The Bride flows at the bottom of my garden in Blackpool, where I moved to around 12 years ago.

“I didn’t pay huge attention to it, but I could always tell how it was flowing by the sound.” Since he moved to Blackpool, Chris has become increasingly interested in the Bride, a waterway that appears in parts of Blackpool — but in fewer parts now than it did when your columnist was meandering home from school in the ’80s and wondering if girls were waving at him from the country bus. (A: They weren’t.)

Chris maintains the Save Our Bride Otters website and keeps an eye on how the Bride is gradually disappeared from view.

“There was flooding in Blackpool in 2002 and again in 2010, a major flood in 2012 and another reasonably serious flood in 2013.

“On foot of that, the OPW decided to put a flood relief scheme in place, which will effectively remove the traces of the Bride in Blackpool village, a 350m stretch of river.

“It’s been described by some as ‘short’, but 350m is not a short stretch of river. The stretch of the river in Blackpool village has been isolated from the public the way planning has gone.

People don’t walk by it, despite references in the original plans back in the ’90s for a river walk. Development has cut it off and the remaining stretch is very neglected and littered.

So there are two issues. One is littering, which we’ll return to. The other is flooding, which Chris blames on “really bad planning decisions, and I don’t say that lightly".

“There have been at least four major diversions of the river — and when I say ‘major’, I mean the course of the river was changed in a very short space of time.

“The last serious river work was done in 2006. It’s funnelled a lot of water into the village and, though there’s a kilometre of culvert system between Blackpool and the city, there’s no way it can accommodate the increased amount of water. The river has been straightened and that’s resulted in a lot of water coming in.

“In addition, structures have been placed in the river without engineering appraisal, it seems, according to Freedom of Information requests I’ve made.

“Those structures all got blocked and, because so much water was coming in, little blockages became big blockages very quickly.

“A lot of the new developments are emptying surface water into the river also.

All of this has led to flooding, and the only solution seems to be to remove the river from Blackpool village.

And the littering?

“I and other people have spent countless hours cleaning it. It’s a disgusting job...but if we don’t [do it], the stuff will just get washed into the Lee, and we try to keep it as clean as we can.

“But the dumping on the northside just seems to be out of control. This morning, I passed a barbecue just left at the side of the road. People seem to have regular dumping spots they use, and the Bride is one.”

The obvious question begs to be asked: What can be done about it?

An example of some of the items dumped in the River Bride. "People seem to have regular dumping spots they use, and the Bride is one.” Photo: Chris Moody.

In fairness to Chris, he wasn’t in the business of complaining as much as providing alternatives.

“Covering the river isn’t the only solution,” he told me.

“Upstream storage was and is a possibility, but my guess is covering the river seems attractive perhaps because it’s the quickest and would stop people throwing stuff in the river — the covering can act as a trash screen.

“There may be engineering reasons put forward, but you can compare the plans for Blackpool with somewhere like Douglas, which flooded on the same night as Blackpool in 2012, in a very similar scenario.

“Douglas filled with water that night but, if you look at it, serious efforts have been made to leave the people of Douglas with something.”

This was an interesting point to me. In a previous column here, Brendan O’Sullivan of University College Cork described Blackpool village as being “in a way... destroyed” by the roadway that zooms through the centre of the neighbourhood; it seems doubly unfair that Blackpool hasn’t been treated with the same sensitivity as a suburb south of the river.

For all that, however, there hasn’t been a serious flooding situation in Blackpool in some time.

Chris Moody on one of his walks up the Bride close to his house. “There may be a short-term solution to flooding, but, in the long term, we’ll have lost something. Something that you can’t just dig up again."

“The trash screens have been removed, apart from one on Spring Lane, on a small tributary of the Bride,” Chris pointed out.

“There’s been no flooding since then in Blackpool. My research points to those screens being the immediate cause for the flooding, but I don’t think the cause of flooding in Blackpool has been examined properly and, until you’re prepared to look at the causes properly, how can you fix something?”

So there’s a temporary alleviation, but a long-term approach is needed?

“Exactly, which is why upstream storage is a workable solution.

“It’s been used in Clonakilty, for instance, where it’s my understanding that upstream storage reduced the amount of hard engineering needed downstream: walls in the town would have been much higher if it wasn’t for that storage.”

The covering-the-river option isn’t a guaranteed solution, he added: “Insurance is a big issue, but there’s no guarantee that insurance will come with a flood scheme either.

“It could happen that the river is entirely covered over and yet people still can’t get insured, which is something to bear in mind.”

Local wildlife

Very well. But what about the river’s inhabitants?

“The otters? The argument is always made that the otters can go elsewhere, but I’ve seen them in that stretch of river in Blackpool, I’ve documented them all the way up to the Commons Inn.

“You can argue that they could move upriver, but the river used to flow all the way to the Lee and it’s been gradually culverted over. Where will that end?”

This is a key point. You can go back and forth on the efficacy of flood prevention measures, which are matters of engineering, but why smother a sliver of nature in the middle of the city, a narrow zone stubbornly holding on to existence?

An otter sighted in Cork city. Photo: Chris Moody.

The value of the natural world to people is so well established as to be a cliche — for their mental health; to connect with animals, birds, fish; to even hear water running freely; and for a thousand other reasons.

Why the desire, then, to pancake that corridor of countryside and entomb it in cement when there are alternatives?

“There may be a short-term solution to flooding, assuming this works,” Chris summed up, “but, in the long term, we’ll have lost something. Something that you can’t just dig up again.

“So why not do the right thing in the first place?”

Why not indeed?

Article published by Irish Examiner:



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