Mersey flood, 2000 [pic: Aidan O'Rourke]
Dry in the Rainy City
For a city with a reputation for rain, it seems remarkable that Manchester has escaped the extreme flooding that has devastated other parts of England. So are we better prepared? Or just lucky? We asked the experts:
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According to the Environment Agency’s own maps of the region, areas of South Manchester are either at ‘moderate’ or ‘significant’ risk of flooding should the River Mersey burst its banks.
Radar: recent heavy rain
These include parts of Irlam, Flixton, Carrington, Ashton-on-Mersey, Streford, Chorlton, Didsbury, Northenden, Gatley, Cheadle and Stockport.
So should people in these areas be worried? And how has Manchester escaped the flooding?
Richard Macilwaine is the Environment Agency’s Flood Risk Manager for the south area which includes Manchester and Cheshire. He believes it’s largely down to investment in flood defences, good planning and a lot of work behind the scenes.
Flood defences at Parrs Wood, Didsbury
“There are places like Didsbury, for instance, where there are number of properties at risk. But we’ve not long completed a project to improve flood protection on the Mersey between Stockport and Northenden.”
It works like this: if river levels rise rapidly, sluice gates can be opened at Sale Ees and at Fielden Park in Didsbury. "Basically, what that is doing is taking the peak of the flood wave and directing it safely into Sale Water Park and onto Withington Golf Course."
Mr Macilwaine also praised the vigilance of Agency staff who are constantly monitoring our waterways and removing blockages. “Even domestic waste can cause problems. A tarpaulin blocking a storm drain could result in rising water levels. It’s a constant battle to keep on top of it.”
The big ditch
One theory is that the Manchester Ship Canal acts as a ‘big ditch’ draining the floodwater across the region. But is that true?
APEM Ltd is an environmental consultancy firm based at Manchester Science Park with 20 years' experience surveying the region’s rivers and waterways.
Ship on Manchester Ship Canal
Jon Hillary, their Senior Fisheries Scientist has seen at first hand the scale of the recent flooding after flying their Cessna plane over Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire to photograph the scenes that have dominated the news.
He knows the Ship Canal well and believes it does have a part to play in protecting the region. "It’s a very useful piece of flood defence in this area," he said.
“When you look at it, we’ve got this huge water course running through the region and while the levels of the Mersey are higher as they are at the moment, the Ship Canal definitely helps to control this.”
So what about the weather? Manchester has seen a lot of rain, but no flooding. Alan Goodman is North West Regional Advisor for the Met Office. He believes it’s down to the Pennines - and a good portion of luck.
"The North West has been quite fortunate,” he said. “For instance, on the 25th June when there was widespread flooding across central England, it just rained steadily in Manchester and Cheshire. In that instance, the weather system was coming from the South so they got the worst of it, simply because it hit them first.
"But we’re also protected by the hills. We know that when copious amounts of warm, moist air is forced upwards, it results in rainfall. Recently, the wind has been coming from the East/ North East, so when it’s reached the Pennines, it’s fallen on the Yorkshire side," he said.
"Having said that, in terms of last Friday, the geography wouldn’t have counted one iota if we’d had the sort of rain system that hit Oxfordshire and that area. So we’ve been lucky in that respect."
last updated: 27/07/07