Preserving the quality of Blackpool’s bathing water took priority over protecting people’s homes during a disastrous night of flooding, a council meeting has been told.
Hundreds of properties were flooded after two days of heavy rain last November and the meeting, at the town hall, was told no action was taken to pump excess water into the Irish Sea – despite sewers being full to capacity.
The decision left 300 homes, mainly in Anchorsholme and other areas of north Blackpool, under water.
United Utilities said the downpours were a “one-in-64 year storm”, and said “by the time the rain occurred on the Wednesday evening, most sewer and watercourse systems were already full”. But no request was made to the Environment Agency to pump water out to sea and, without permission, the company risked being fined, the meeting heard.
But councillors said the risk to people’s homes should have taken precedence.
Coun Chris Ryan said: “The permit was restricting United Utilities from clearing tanks that were full the day before. In a case like this, couldn’t it have been breached and saved all this damage?”
Coun Maxine Callow said: “The bathing water quality is essential to our tourism industry, but you have to weigh that up against people’s fears.The bathing water should go by the wayside to protect people’s homes from being flooded.”
Coun Paul Galley added: “People’s homes and their lives have to come first. Water was up to people’s waists in some places.”
United Utilities said drainage measures in Blackpool were unique due to the number of watercourses draining into the sewers, and warned “this will continue to create a significant risk of future flooding” – made worse by climate change.
The report said “there is a need for the establishment of surface water pumping directly out the Irish Sea”, with talks now being held with the Environment Agency.
The new ‘superpipe’ at Anchorsholme will be able to discharge storm water 3.7km out to sea compared to only 1km previously, while the new Anchorsholme pumping station “should provide a more reliable long term operation.”
John Blackledge, director for community and environmental services at the council, said a strong case for discharging water in extreme conditions was being made to the Environment Agency.
He said: “In our favour we have the very long outreach pipe which means it will not affect the bathing water in the same way.”
The findings will now go into a Section 19 report which the council is legally obliged to compile following a flooding event.
Keith Haslett director of wastewater at United Utilities, said: “During the severe weather conditions our storm outfalls operated as designed and the pumping station at Anchorsholme was working. It is misleading to suggest there was any choice between protecting bathing waters and homes.
“The Blackpool area has a number of legacy issues including historic watercourses connected into the sewer system.
Such issues need to be addressed and watercourse flows taken out of the sewer system.”