Two years on from Storm Desmond the full scale of the damage to the county’s infrastructure, and the response of Cumbria County Council, is now clear.
The December 2015 storm resulted in 7,465 properties being flooded, 3034 children unable to attend school, and almost 18,000 homes without electricity. But the impact on the county’s roads and bridges left some of the most indelible images of the floods, with the collapse of the historic Pooley Bridge and the catastrophic damage to the A591 through the centre of the Lake District.
The scale of the county council’s response has been unprecedented, with the annual volume of repair work to the county’s highways network more than doubling. Since the floods over 1600 separate surveys and inspections of bridges, roads, culverts, slopes and retaining structures were undertaken. These works identified around 1200 bridges, roads and other locations where repair work was needed to make good the flood damage.
Of these, 784 were damaged or destroyed bridges, including some of the county’s most historically significant structures. To date 278 bridges have been repaired, or rebuilt like Gowan Old Bridge, 264 are in progress and 242 are scheduled to begin work in the coming months. Two projects soon to been completed are the replacement of Bell Bridge near Sebergham and the major repair of Brougham Old Bridge near Penrith. The latter has been one of the most challenging restoration projects undertaken by the council, involving close working with English Heritage due the bridge’s Grade 1 Listed status. In addition to the work on bridges a remarkable 108 miles of road, across 162 different schemes, have been resurfaced, representing around 3% of the county’s total road network.
Overall, it is estimated that work to date has involved over 700,000 hours work.
The financial implications of this level of damage were severe and the council worked closely with the Department for Transport to secure significant additional funding for the county. So far the council has let over £70 million of contracts. Significantly, and because of our innovative approach to procurement, almost £55 million (72%) of those contracts have gone to Cumbrian suppliers. This has had a major impact in terms of employment and allowing local firms to develop skills and expertise in specialist sectors. In total the final repair bill is expected to top £120 million.
Councillor Keith Little, Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Fleet, said: “Two years on we’re still in the thick of dealing with the impact of Storm Desmond, and we will be for at least another year. The work our teams have done, side by side with local contractors, has been incredible. It’s not just the scale and quality what’s been done on the ground that’s so impressive, the work behind the scenes to project manage such a large number of schemes, across a wide area and involving numerous local communities has required real skill.
“It’s particularly pleasing that local Cumbrian contractors have been successful in securing contracts, this has been about ensuring something positive comes out of what was a difficult and traumatic period for so many of our residents.
“I’d also like to thank the public for their patience, it’s been unavoidable that there has been a lot more work on the network and we know that can sometimes cause frustration. But it is necessary and we do make every effort to minimise any disruption.”