First look at new 2,300m Lancaster flood wall as riverside path set to re-open by Christmas 2020

Most of the 1,438 pieces of pre-cast concrete weighing up to four tonnes each have now been installed along the route - protecting businesses along Caton Road and in Lancaster city centre from flooding.

By Nick Lakin
Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 12:33 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 12:36 pm

The £11m project is a partnership between Lancaster City Council and the Environment Agency, who are working with VolkerStevin, Boskalis Westminster and Atkins (VBA Joint Venture Limited).

The work started in January 2020 and on completion will help to protect up to 40 homes and 1,174 local businesses.

Richard Walsh, project manager for VBA, said he was hopeful the path will re-open to cyclists and pedestrians before Christmas.

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The pre-cast concrete pieces in situ along the river Lune.

The Lancaster Guardian joined him, along with Lancaster City Council project manager Gary Bowker, on a tour of part of the route, from the project's site office in Nelson's Way, off Caton Road.

As we climbed temporary stairs over the wall and onto the path, huge metal piles were being driven into the ground close to the Lune Aqueduct.

The wall around the scheduled monument will be clad in natural stone, and will stop short of the aqueduct itself, merging into the gradient of the landscape.

Mr Walsh said: "The structure is made from pre-cast concrete of varying heights, weighing three to four tonnes each.

The wall varies in height along the route.

"There is 2,300m of wall on the left bank, and we'll be starting work on a further 80m of flood protection on the right bank next week.

"We've installed 1,438 pieces, which are made in Northern Ireland, and shipped over via Heysham Port.

"They've all now been delivered, and around 95 per cent have been installed.

"A lot of the structure is buried underground, and the height along the route varies between 60cm and 1.7m."

Heavy machinery used to push steel girders deep into the ground.

At the Holiday Inn end of the wall, the scale of the project is evident.

The path widens here to allow an "up and over" for access to the hotel and to Caton Road.

Previously, access to the path has been open, but there will be a permanent defence here to protect against future flooding.

Gary Bowker, project manager, from Lancaster City Council: "After all the pieces are in we'll start to re-instate the cycle way.

The route close to The Holiday Inn.

"We intend to improve the path along a lot of the route.

"There are eight up and overs altogether along the route, with around a one in 21 gradient, similar to Morecambe Promenade.

"Then there will be the landscaping work, with a one to one ratio of replacement trees - so 900 altogether, and three to one off site, with 2,000 planted off site already."

Mr Bowker said the flood management scheme had been on the cards for a long time prior to Storm Desmond in December 2015, which wreaked havoc across the Lancaster district and caused serious damage to businesses along Caton Road and in Lancaster city centre.

"The challenge has been finding the funding to make it work and protect the businesses and jobs along Caton Road," he said.

"We've had a wide mix of funding, and the EU funding was essential in this case."

End of the line - the final section of flood wall up to the lower part of the Holiday Inn.

The project also recently received an additional £1.4m from central government.Lancaster flooded extensively on December 5 and 6 2015 from Storm Desmond and again in 2017, 2018, and on February 9 2020 from Storm Ciara.

Dozens of homes, businesses and shops were severely impacted, leaving many with multi-million pound losses.

The Caton Road electricity substation also flooded, resulting in power cuts for around 55,000 homes for up to three days.

In 2017 Electricity North West invested millions into improving protection for electricity substations - including in Lancaster, where the height of the site was raised to safe levels.

Mr Walsh, from VBA, said some of the challenges of the project have included buried services and contamination.

He said: "It used to be a railway line so there's all kinds of electrical cables, which aren't on any drawings.

"We have to treat them all as live when we find them, so it can take a while to ensure they're safe.

"There's also a lot of contamination along the route, like asbestos, so a lot of ground investigation work has taken place too.

"We're working long hours to get it completed and aim to finish by mid-January or early February.

We hope to have the cycleway open before Christmas. There'll be some soft works and seeding into next year."