Everyone pulled together to make sure Whaley Bridge residents were safe

20 Aug 19

About 1,500 residents were evacuated from the small town of Whaley Bridge on 1 August over fears a dam at Toddbrook Reservoir would collapse after heavy rains. Derbyshire Council leader Barry Lewis writes about the relief effort. 

Whaley Bridge pics


At the beginning of August Derbyshire County Council found itself at the heart of an emergency, multi-agency response to secure a breached dam in Whaley Bridge. This was an unprecedented incident and presented enormous challenges to all involved.

Had the dam given way, millions of gallons of water would have caused untold damage to homes and businesses, posing an obvious threat to life and catastrophic consequences for the town and surrounding areas for years to come.

From evacuating 1,500 residents at a moment’s notice to getting work started on securing the dam, all agencies pulled together to get the job done as quickly as possible while ensuring residents remained safe and as comfortable as possible.

It was inevitable that the evacuation not only caused anxiety to everyone who had to leave the town but was extremely disruptive too. 

Friends, families and locals outside the evacuation zone opened their doors to those who were displaced and rallied round, and the community spirit was there for all to see.

Many of the council’s services, led by our emergency planning team, were called upon and stepped up immediately to work with other local agencies creating a support hub that intrinsically linked to the command on site, all with the common goal of saving the town.  

We stepped in to support those with nowhere to go, and accommodation and essentials were provided by us and district and borough councils.

Our committed Derbyshire Emergency Volunteers, trained to deal with emergency situations, jumped at the opportunity to help. They provided vital assistance where it was desperately needed, helping inform and support local people and directing them to our emergency helpline which over a week dealt with nearly 900 calls.

'The remarkable community spirit, and offers of practical, physical and financial support, came in not just from local people but from across the county. It was overwhelming, and never have I felt so proud of our county or to be leading Derbyshire County Council.'

The remarkable community spirit, and offers of practical, physical and financial support, came in not just from local people but from across the county. It was overwhelming, and never have I felt so proud of our county or to be leading Derbyshire County Council.

Now the immediate danger has passed and the people of Whaley Bridge have returned to their homes, it is just as vital that we keep on with our efforts to support the town as it works to return to normality.

This is our focus and we’ll do all we can to help the community get back on its feet after a very unsettling and anxious time.

We’ve ensured there is financial support in place for those residents and businesses who have faced hardship as a result of the incident.

More than 60 payments have already been made to residents from the hardship fund, into which the council put an extra £60,000 in response to the incident.

In addition, the council has set aside £100,000 to support businesses through an immediate Emergency Business Support Grant of £300 which is available to each affected business, and a further Business Recovery Loan of up to £1,500.

More than 100 businesses have benefitted from this support already and we have welcomed the fact that the government has matched our efforts with a £100,000 grant.

As with all the agencies involved, we’re still assessing the costs involved, including commissioning an RAF Chinook which doesn’t happen every day. 

Central government has offered its support and we’re assessing whether we’ll be able to recover some costs through the Bellwin Scheme.

During the height of the emergency people due to visit the area contacted us via social media asking if they should still come. It was difficult to know what to say in those early days, but we can shout from the rooftops now that Whaley Bridge and the Goyt Valley is most definitely open for business.

I visited on numerous occasions during the incident and continue to do so. Now, instead of visiting the rest centre or the information hub, or talking to residents, engineers, emergency services personnel or volunteers, I’m visiting the shops and cafes, making sure that I don’t come away empty-handed. And I implore others to do the same.

What has really hit home during the last few weeks is how all local agencies have a specific and vital role to perform, and it is essential they have the structures and resources in place to respond immediately in times of crisis.

Fair funding and the ability to plan for the long-term bring stability and certainty, which are absolutely necessary. 

The demonstration of great partnership working, resilience and community spirit helped to save a valley – and in my opinion brought about one of the finest emergency responses in recent times.

I’m proud to have played a small part and to lead a council that pulled out all the stops to protect its residents and businesses when they needed us most.

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