Prime Minister David Cameron has visited the site where flood and coastal specialist VBA, on behalf of the Environment Agency, is helping life get back to normal for residents in Croston.
The joint venture which comprises VolkerStevin, Boskalis Westminster and Atkins were instructed to complete emergency repair works by the Environment Agency. They have been at the Lancashire village for the last month pumping out millions of cubic metres of water and repairing the river breach which caused severe flooding in the area.
Mr Cameron said: “I was very keen to come here because obviously there were a lot of visits during the crisis period by ministers, but I wanted to come now and see the ongoing operations to try and build the resilience and put in place better flood protection and hear how that is going.
“There are always lessons to learn, but my sense is this time the Environment Agency were very quick off the mark. We recognise that the response to flooding is not a matter of a few days and a few weeks. We want to stay with it for the long course.
“My message (to the people of Croston) is we will do everything we can to help. I think if you look at what is happening you will see that the flood protection that has been put in has protected thousands of houses that would otherwise have been flooded. But we have still had many thousands of other houses flooded and to me that says that we shouldn’t accept that this is not just a natural thing that happens.
“We have got to think all the time what can we do to improve our resilience and improve our flood defences. I am committed to doing that and the money is there to spend on that. The public rightly expect us to take more action. Part of that are engineering solutions like dredging, like higher flood barriers and more protection and we need to put these things in place.”
VBA senior project manager, Steve Hamer, said: “We were delighted to have the Prime Minister visit us and see the continued work we have been doing. The breach we are repairing is on the River Douglas where the sheer weight of the water washed away trees, sand and lumps of peat across the entire embankment creating a hole that was 25m wide and 7m deep. The VBA team are also reinstating scour damage caused by the breach, which left a crater 150m long, 75m wide and 7m deep.
“We had a team on site from 29th December throughout the New Year period and installed pumps to put water back into the river. We had six 300mm diameter submersible pumps working around the clock and then a few days later installed another six. We have been removing 259 million litres of water each day, which is the equivalent of 2,280 Olympic size swimming pools – that’s more than 5.6 billion litres since we started.”
Also included in the works is the installation of more than one thousand extra tonne bags, repairs to the river bank plus the provision of diesel and security for Environment Agency equipment.
Steve continued: “Colleagues and suppliers were pulled from across the country to react to this emergency and the team has done a fantastic job under severe weather conditions and intense pressure. They have kept the site running 24 hours a day since the breach happened. Many have also given up their holiday time over New Year and the weekends to help. Within 12 hours of the call we had plant, machinery and personnel on site working.
“There were challenges to getting machinery on site as the access point is a mile away from the breach so logistically it wasn’t easy. VolkerStevin’s sister company, VolkerBrooks, provided some of the plant and equipment and we’ve managed to utilise free issued clay from another VolkerStevin site nearby.
“The local community has been really grateful and extremely supportive of the work we are doing. They have had it really tough with this flooding so anything we can do to help we are obviously happy to do. We have also engaged local farmers using their tractors to help us out so there has been a real community feel in what was a very difficult situation.”
The environmental aspects of the work have been considered with a bridge being built down the river so as to not disturb habitats for the likes of grey crested newts, frogs and water voles.
The Environment Agency and their Dutch counterparts have also been to the site to learn what they can from the VBA flood response.
While in Croston, Mr Cameron announced two million pounds in funding for repairs and the promotion of tourist attractions to help bring business back to flood-affected areas.
The money will be used to fix bridges, walls and footpaths in time for school holidays.