Flooding is the UK’s biggest natural hazard, and nowhere in the country has suffered more from flooding than Cumbria.
Severe floods in 2005 and 2009 were followed by Storm Desmond in December 2015, which brought catastrophic disruption to Appleby, Carlisle, Cockermouth, Kendal and Keswick, and many smaller communities.
It wasn’t only businesses whose premises were under water that suffered losses. Others were hit indirectly by road closures – the A591 was closed at Dunmail Raise until May – or because their customers or suppliers were flooded and many tourists stayed away.
Researchers at the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy are keen to hear from businesses that were affected to find out what support they received and what strategies they are using to reduce the impact of flooding.
Chamber Deputy Chief Executive Suzanne Caldwell has led the business support response to every flooding crisis in the county.
She said: “This is a significant issue for large numbers of Cumbrian businesses so we are really keen to support this research, and to encourage SMEs in the county to feed in their experiences.”
Click here to complete the researchers’ online survey.
Replies will be treated in confidence – individual businesses will not be identified in published material.
Dr Paola Sakai, a research fellow at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, is leading the research.
She said: “I am inviting businesses in Cumbria to help me understand the type of damages they have experienced, and which flood risk reduction strategies – including insurance – are or are not working.”
The survey responses will form a report that feeds into a workshop involving the Government, the National Flood Forum, the insurance industry and other organisations that help business to recover from or plan for a flood.
Meanwhile, the Environment Agency says it is making progress in implementing improvements to the county’s flood defences.
It has spent £27.6m in Cumbria since 2010, including a £5.4m scheme in Keswick, a £3.7m project in Cockermouth and a £5.5m investment at Thacka Beck, Penrith. It plans to invest up to £72m over the next four years including £58m allocated to Cumbria by the Government in response to Storm Desmond.
Townbeck Flood Alleviation Scheme, a £9.3m project to help protect 407 homes and 118 businesses in Ulverston town centre, was completed last winter and will be opened officially in May.
Other major flood-defence projects in the pipeline include a £20.3m scheme in Kendal, a £24.9m investment in Carlisle, a £5.1m project in Egremont and a £2.2m investment in Appleby.
We are concerned that failure to bolster defences is delaying investment decisions.
A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: “These projects are currently in the appraisal stage.
“We have carried out modelling to find locations and schemes for those communities where additional defences are proven based on strong scientific evidence to provide better flood water management and resilience and are working with communities to select the preferred options.
“A series of community meetings will be held to share the shorter list of options from which the preferred options will be selected.
“Once the preferred options have been selected, work will start in those areas which have already secured funding.
“Typically, it can take three years to go through the full process to starting works but we are looking to reduce timelines by streamlining processes, and where possible start work on less complicated options as soon as possible.”
Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, is frustrated that it is taking so long.
He said: “While we understand that the Environment Agency needs to take time to ensure that it implements the right measures, that are effective, businesses are becoming exasperated by the slow pace of progress.
“It is disappointing that enhancements to flood defences are still years away, given that it’s now more than two years since Storm Desmond.
“We are concerned that failure to bolster defences is delaying investment decisions. National and multi-national companies may divert investment away from Cumbria to sites elsewhere with a lower perceived flood risk.”
Rob is proud of the role played by the Chamber and its Cumbria Business Growth Hub in helping businesses recover from flooding.
We sent out teams of advisers to work one-to-one with flooded businesses and offer co-ordinated packages of support, including help with grant applications.
We worked alongside other agencies to co-ordinate the response and acted as a clearing house for offers of support.
We provided a huge amount of information online including a business continuity checklist, business recovery factsheet and business survival toolkit.
And we accessed government funding to provide recovery grants of up to £10,000 to businesses that were flooded or affected indirectly.
A total of 648 businesses received these grants, which could be used for buying in specialist expertise, marketing, interest relief, staff training and revenue expenditure to support business recovery, as well as flood resilience measures.
Among them was Tony Harrison Butchers in Main Street, Cockermouth.
He said: “We received a £5,000 grant through the Growth Hub that enabled us to put in flood barriers and a pump and generator in the cellar.
“The water goes to the cellar first. As soon as it starts to fill up the pump will kick-in and the generator is there as back up in case the electricity goes off.”
His shop was closed for 12 weeks after the 2009 flood but measures implemented afterwards – including makeshift barriers which kept the water level low – meant it was closed for only three days in 2015.
He said: “We had debris to clean out but our insurance claim was much lower, £15,000 compared with £280,000 in 2009, so the premium hasn’t shot up.”
The Chamber has used the know-how built up in responding to flood events to advise agencies supporting other areas affected by flooding, so they can learn from our experience in Cumbria.
Suzanne Caldwell said: “Tony Harrison is a good example of a business that applied the lessons of the 2009 flood and so mitigated the effects when the flood waters returned in 2015.
“It’s important that businesses at risk of flooding are prepared and take steps to minimise the impacts.
“That might involve making sure that important documents and IT systems are out of harm’s way and making contingency plans for business interruption.
“It’s better to make these decisions now, rather than in haste when a crisis hit. Flooding is a very stressful experience for business owners, especially when many of them have been flooded at home as well.”
She added: “It’s equally important that the Government and local authorities have contingency plans they can implement quickly if key infrastructure is knocked out as happened when Northside Bridge in Workington was swept away in 2009 and the A591 was closed by a landslip at Dunmail Raise in 2015.”
The Government has published guidance on how to determine if your business is at risk of flooding. Details on its website provide a number of checks, based on individual post codes, including whether your business is at immediate risk, at risk over the next five days, or in the future.
The website also provides details of flooding history, advice on managing potential risks and an option to sign up for flood warnings.