'Intermittent maintenance' blamed for Whaley Bridge disaster

Published: Wednesday, 18 March 2020

THE failure of Toddbrook Reservoir at Whaley Bridge was due to 'poor design' and 'intermittent maintenance' over the years.

The damning report found that Canal & River Trust failed in its maintenance of the dam that resulted in the evacuation of more than 1,500 residents from their homes in August last year owing to fears that the dam would collapse after a section had given way after heavy rain.

WhaleyBridgeDamEmergency services rush to the scene

The crumbling dam, which separated the reservoir from the town below, saw emergency services rush to the scene to pump out the water to ease the pressure on the dam wall and shore-up the wall with RAF helicopters dumping tons of stone that had been washed away due to neglected maintenance, and a 'danger to life' warning issued.

A review of the incident, conducted by Professor David Balmforth, has called for inspections of the dam to be carried out as a 'matter of routine' a report has stated.

Heavy criticism

Yet despite heavy criticism of the design and maintenance, Canal and River Trust, that maintains the dam, previously told it was 'happy' with how it was built and maintained and described the incident as an 'anomaly'.

Toddbrook VegThe report, released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on Monday, stated:

'The cause of failure at Toddbrook Reservoir on August 1st 2019 was the poor design of the spillway, exacerbated by intermittent maintenance over the years which would have caused the spillway to deteriorate.

It has not been possible to say whether it was the poor design or the intermittent maintenance that was the primary cause of failure on the day.

With consistent good quality maintenance over the years leading up to the event the spillway may not have failed.' 

[The photograph clearly shows the lack of maintenance of the dam with vegetation growing through cracks in the dam wall leading to its failure.]

Important lessons

On the findings of the report, Environment Secretary George Eustice stated

"This review provides the whole reservoir industry with important lessons following the incident that took place at Toddbrook Reservoir last year, and I hope it also reassures the public that we remain committed to ensuring the safety of reservoirs across the country.

"There is nothing more important than the safety of our communities, and I expect the Environment Agency and reservoir owners to immediately take action on these recommendations in order to ensure the continued safety of those living and working near reservoirs."

Environment Agency CEO Sir James Bevan explained:

"The Environment Agency will act quickly to implement these recommendations, and we will continue to work closely with all reservoir owners to ensure they are maintaining and monitoring their reservoirs in line with our high safety standards."

As yet there has been no comment from Richard Parry, Chief Executive Officer of Canal & River Trust, but writing for ITV, Jennifer Buck commented:

"I have met Richard Parry at an AWCC meeting in Manchester last year. He could certainly walk the walk, talk the talk, but had little overall knowledge of the waterways.  He had brought his usual henchman with him and was spouting about 'wellbeing'.  There was a guy with him called Daniel Greenhalgh—Regional Director for the North-West. He actually saw the situation for what it was and we were all very impressed with him."