A LONG-AWAITED report into the devastation caused by the December 2015 flooding in York has been published.

The independent flood inquiry report was commissioned by the city council, and started running public sessions for people to give evidence about their experiences.

Now, more than a year after the inundation, the results have been published in a 120-page document.

>>> Read the report here

York Press:

It makes dozens of recommendations, including:

  • A siren or loud-hailer system being installed along the Foss to warn people
  • more flood wardens in communities
  • Improved protection for the James Street travellers' site and a special evacuation plan for the site.
  • The Environment Agency should talk to other organisations before lifting the Foss Barrier, the report says, and should improve the way it predicts and models river flooding, particularly on the Foss.

The panel behind the report was led by lawyer Angharad Davies, who used a foreword to the document to praise people in York, and to warn the city it cannot avoid flooding altogether.

She wrote: "The fortitude of the people of York in the face of the adversity presented by the Boxing Day 2015 floods cannot be overstated.

"We recognise the inevitability that York will flood again and any solutions need to be forward looking. They cannot simply address the current problems."

The report said 453 York homes and 174 commercial properties flooded. 

£45 million has been allocated to make improvements to York's defences, however the Environment Agency (EA) has said that is "very unlikely to deliver all of their desired improvements”.

The report largely exonerates the Agency over its decision to raise the Foss Barrier on Boxing Day 2015, using computer modelling to show that if the barrier had failed while it was down, flooding would have been faster and deeper and potentially "catastrophic" for the city.

>>> Read the report here

However it also reveals the EA did not speak to police, the council or Silver Command before lifting the barrier, and although the decision was made in difficult circumstances it would have been better to consult with them first.

The report adds: "NYP and CYC are not alone in thinking that it would have been better practice for the agencies involved to share their situational awareness. This shared situational awareness could have informed a joint decision."

The problems caused when the BT exchange flooded and killed phone lines across the city are also singled out, with the report pointing out BT had not thought about the flood risk at the Stonebow Exchange even though it was in a Multi Agency Emergency Plan. 

When phone lines went down many people were left without proper information, and at the same time the lack of an official message on social media added to the confusion.

"The loss of the BT system emphasises the need for utility companies to continue to work with the emergency planners to share information and coordinate their actions," the report says. 

It also includes warnings about would have happened if the situation got any worse.

It says: "While York coped with the flood event, the Inquiry was concerned that the scale of this incident placed a significant strain on resources and it is unclear to the Inquiry whether some organisations had any spare capacity to cope should the flooding have escalated."

York Press:

ABOVE: A Mountain Rescue team in a flooded Walmgate Picture: Anna Gowthorpe/PA

Other recommendations include:

  • The council should work with police and others on a plan for door-knocking, so people can be warned in person if they need to evacuate
  • York should strike a deal with another council for more staff to help out by manning helplines in an emergency, or it should bring in a call centre company to make sure phones are answered
  • Silver Command needs to move from Fulford Road police station, where the facilities are cramped and IT systems are lacking
  • Both Silver Command and the council's communications team need maps, and Silver Command needs to know about vulnerable people
  • Volunteer groups need a clear command structure to help out in emergencies
  • The Environment Agency should change the "trigger levels" so flood warnings get sent out in time, and should think about a telephone warning system for everyone, including people with ex-directory numbers
  • The council needs to look at the resources it gives to flood planning, and consider upping the funding available
  • Temporary barriers for the sides of  both the Foss and the Ouse could be useful, and the council needs to recruit more sandbag volunteers and find better ways of getting the bags to people who need them.

York Press:

Cllr Andrew Waller, the city council's executive member for the environment, said the review would ensure lessons were learned, and that the council would implement changes with partners to make the city more resilient to future flooding. 

He said: “The review of what happened leading up to the events, actions around the emergency and the recovery phase have produced recommendations for future policies and investment.

"We all need to study this report in detail and quickly progress those changes which are needed. 

“Much work has been done in the year following the flood, and this needs to be built upon to ensure that the public has the confidence that all agencies and volunteers are working together in the most productive way for the future.”

>>> Read the report here

York Central MP Rachael Maskell slated the council's handling of the floods.

The Labour MP (seen below showing Shadow Floods Minister Kerry McCarthy at the Foss Barrier in December 2015) said the report had shown a 'catalogue of errors meant that teams of volunteers were left to carry out work which should have been undertaken by council staff.'

She claimed poor communication systems meant that people who turned up to help were not given any instructions and vulnerable people desperately in need of help were ignored. 

"The independent inquiry found that the council’s customer service line provided out-of-date information and failed to have basic information, such as road closures, to hand," she said.York Press:
"The report recommends that in future the council send annual letters to people in flood risk areas to help them prepare for flooding and to ensure their valuable possessions are kept safe. This did not happen after the last floods and many people lost their precious possessions as a result."

She said there was also a need for the authority to trial training reserve emergency planning officers which would offer resilience when needed. "Ensuring that all agencies know their role in the case of a flood could avert the worst aspects of flooding and ensure that the public is kept safe."

She also claimed 'poor governance of the inquiry process' by the council had meant that residents and businesses had waited over a year to learn what went wrong. 

"With so many recommendations, I trust that the council will now adopt a more robust and responsive framework to implement these, rather than letting actions drift even further in the future,” she said.