Richard Spencer: Flooding blog

Find out from Richard Spencer, our senior project manager what's been happening in the aftermath of the flooding in the Manchester & Pennine region.

Landslide after works completed

10 October 2016

After a long, hard year, and a Herculean effort from volunteers, contractors and staff, we’re delighted to be able to say that the Rochdale Canal is now fully open.

It’s hard to overestimate the trail of damage and destruction that was left behind by the Boxing Day floods. Almost overnight we were faced with a massive clean-up operation and some major engineering works to get our waterways in the Calder Valley back up and running.

Helped by hundreds of volunteers we worked hard to clear thick layers of mud and silt from popular walking routes, rebuild damaged canal walls, repair scoured towpaths and remove litter and other debris dumped on paths, lock sides and even in trees.

Whilst this was going on much of my time as a project manager was focussed on the canal’s two big engineering projects near Todmorden – repairing the breach and clearing the landslip.

I’m pleased to say that the breach repairs were completed at the end of September and the landslip cleared this week. In each case we’ve gradually and carefully refilled the canal and are now in a position to reopen to boats. This is fantastic news and will give a real boost to boaters, local residents and waterside businesses.

It’s not really possible in a blog to express how grateful we are to local people for their patience, understanding and support. Whether it’s allowing us access onto their land, supporting the clean-up or rolling their sleeves up to help fix damaged towpaths, their contribution has been invaluable.

There are still some works that need completing to get the canal looking it’s best in certain places but it’s great to reopen this important waterway link.

Of course, works are ongoing at Elland Bridge, where a concrete arch has been lifted into place which will effectively form the backbone of the new bridge. On this section of the Calder & Hebble we’ll also be carrying out some works as part of our regular winter maintenance programme. When we reopened the canal here in July we’d completed as much as needed to enable boaters to enjoy as much summer cruising as possible. There were some outstanding repairs still needed on the canal walls and we’ll now take the opportunity during our regular winter maintenance programme to drain the canal and go back to complete these works. The works will take place between 31st October and 11 March.

It’s been a really challenging year dealing with some particularly complex engineering projects but we’re glad that there’s now light at the end of the tunnel and life on our waterways can start to get back to normal.


20 September 2016

The next major milestone in our flood recovery is approaching with works to repair a section of failed canal wall on the Rochdale Canal near Todmorden nearing completion. The force of the floodwaters had caused the wall to breach allowing water to flow out of the canal onto nearby allotments.

We’ve been busy filling the void in the bank, repairing the canal walls, relining the bed of the canal and reinstating the towpath. We’re also pleased that we’ve been able to restore the allotments so that they can be enjoyed once more. You may have seen the photos in the immediate aftermath of the breach where members of the allotment group came out and helped shore up the bank with sandbags, preventing any further loss of water. Their efforts were invaluable and so it’s especially pleasing that we’ve been able to put things right for them.

The breach project has been slightly delayed as the damage to the canal bed was worse than first thought but we’ll be finished on site later this week. We’ll then start the careful job of refilling the canal – it’s not as simple as just turning on the taps. We’ll gradually refill the canal over the course of two days to make sure that everything is nice and watertight. When it’s full we’ll monitor for a further two days before we reopen the canal to boats.

Works are also progressing to remove the landslip that is blocking part of the Rochdale Canal. Specialist contractors have been driving metal sheet piles into the ground to hold the bank in position. We can then begin work to remove the debris within the canal. We’re anticipating that this will be completed, enabling the entire length of the canal to be reopened, in early October. You can watch a time-lapse video of the piling works at

While we’re not quite there yet in terms of having the whole length of canal back open for boats we are certainly in the final straight. At the risk of sounding like an acceptance speech at the Oscars we couldn’t have achieved what we have as quickly without the support of local people – whether that’s rolling up their sleeves like the allotment group or, particularly at the landslip site, allowing us to access their land to enable us to get on with the important works. We’ve had fantastic support and we’re incredibly grateful.

Whilst we’re nearing the point where we can have all affected waterways open to boats once again there is still a little way to go on works to rebuild Elland Bridge but here too we’re reaching an important milestone.

In the next few weeks the concrete arch which will form the basic structure of the new bridge will be lifted into position. The arch, which will be craned into position in seven sections, will sit within the middle of the bridge ensuring that it is much stronger and meets modern standards.

Skilled craftsmen will then begin rebuilding the bridge around the concrete arch using stone recovered from the old bridge for the outer walls. The good news is that enough good quality stone has been recovered and no new stone will be needed so the bridge will have a familiar look to local people. The bridge remains on course to be completed by the end of the year.

27 July 2016

Last week was the hottest of the year and as a project manager there’s nothing quite like spending your working day in 30 degree heat whilst wearing high vis jacket, trousers and a plastic hard hat.

The heatwave hasn’t, however, had any effect on our flood recovery projects and things are really moving forward.

Over the past week works have started to take shape at the landslip site on the Rochdale Canal. We’ve been working on a temporary access road which will enable us to get all the machinery and other materials to where they’re needed. The repairs will involve driving metal sheet piling into the ground which will hold the bank in position but first we’ve got to remove any remaining loose material and install netting to make sure that those working at the foot of the slope are safe. We anticipate that the sheet piling works will begin in early August and the aim is to reopen the canal by the end of September.

Good progress is also being made along the way at the breach site and, as you can see, we’ve made great strides in rebuilding the waterway walls. We’ve also completely rebuilt a boundary wall and the breach void will be filled with stone and clay over the coming weeks. We’ve found that the damage to the canal lining is slightly worse than we thought and so some more extensive repairs will be needed. We still hope to be completed by the end of August but we’ll be able to give more detail shortly.

We’ve been receiving reports of water supply problems on the Rochdale Canal in recent weeks. We’re limited in the amount of water that can be sent through the breach site and we recognise that at times things have become stretched and difficult for boaters. We’re very grateful for their patience and I’m pleased to say that we’ve received consent from the Environment Agency to take water from the river immediately below the breach area. Pumps were put in place over the weekend and we’ll keep an eye on it to see what effect it has on water supply but we anticipate that things should get a bit easier.

Over at Elland Bridge works have continued on the abutments for the new bridge. In the meantime we’ve been working on the technical details of the concrete arches which will sit inside the bridge and give it greater strength. The arches will be pre-cast and then brought to site in around six weeks’ time to be lifted into position by crane. 

Specialist stone masons have been busy inspecting the stone from the original bridge which has been logged and is being stored off site. It will take real skill to carefully reuse the stone in the new bridge and we hope to organise a special open day in the autumn giving people the chance to see the stonework up close and meet the craftsmen involved. 

Our contractors are out carrying out important dredging along the section of canal between Elland Bridge and Crowther Bridge which had been closed up until a few weeks ago. We’ve had loads of positive comments from boaters who are now able to use that section of canal once more and the dredging will help to make their lives that bit easier. We’ll be removing any remaining silt and debris left on the bed of the canal by the floodwaters.

So while the weather’s been hot, our staff, contractors and volunteers have stayed cool, calm and collected to keep things on track in our recovery from the floods.

July 2016

Works are progressing well on our flood response and slowly but surely the muddy waters are clearing and we’re getting a better picture of when all of our waterways should be back open.

The great news is that the Calder & Hebble Navigation at Elland has reopened this week. The canal had to be closed while we carefully dismantled Elland Bridge and the nearby Crowther Bridge after both suffered serious structural damage as a result of the floodwaters.

Our contractors have completed the foundation works at each site meaning that we’ve been able to remove the temporary dams and it’s a fantastic sight to see boats moving on the canal once again. It’s a really symbolic moment for everyone involved in the works and a great motivator to push on and get the remaining sections of canal reopened. You can take a video boat trip through the works at

At the Rochdale Canal breach site, we’ve been busy removing silt from the canal, clearing material that had been dumped on the nearby allotments and relaying around 100 metres of damaged wash wall. We’ve also been able to start rebuilding the actual void caused by the breach, filling it with stone and clay so that the towpath can be re-laid on the top. Things are on track and we aim to be finished towards the end of August.

With a relatively certain programme for the breach repair now set, the only remaining blockage to navigation across the summit is at the landslip. Specialist contractors have recently completed detailed modelling to get a clearer picture of whether there’s any further movement and we’ll be soon be getting onto site to carry out preparatory works.

The timescales on this complicated project are slightly less clear but we’re currently aiming to reopen the canal by the end of September. In the meantime, we’re exploring options for enabling access to the remainder of the Rochdale Canal and will be able to provide an update in the next couple of weeks.

This week we’re holding a thank you event for the amazing volunteers that have helped – and continue to help – our clean-up efforts. Volunteers have given a staggering 5,000 hours to clear rubbish and debris, reopen towpaths and help survey the damage from the water. Personally, I’d like to shake each and every one of them by the hand as their efforts have been invaluable and so I’m pleased that we’re taking some time to thank them and celebrate their achievements.

It’s been a busy few weeks and it’s great to see life steadily getting back to normal on our waterways with businesses and communities enjoying having their local canal back in action. It demonstrates how important our canals are to local people and we’ll be working hard to reopen the remaining sections as quickly as possible.

June 2016

We may be approaching holiday season but there’s no let-up in our efforts to reopen flood hit waterways in the Calder Valley.

Our contractors are pulling out all the stops and we’re seeing real progress on some of our biggest repair jobs.

On target

Despite some pretty awful weather we’re on track to begin rebuilding the breached canal wall on the Rochdale Canal near Todmorden shortly. Our contractors have been installing an access road and building a temporary clay dam around the actual breach. This will give us a nice dry area – once it stops raining - to be able to work in as we rebuild the canal wall and we’re on target to complete these works by mid-August.

Just along the canal, we’re also making some encouraging progress on works to remove the landslip that’s blocking part of the Rochdale Canal. Our aim is to install piling – large metal sheets – that will hold back the earth and enable us to clear the canal.

One slight difficulty is the number of large boulders – some the size of small cars – which are littered around the area. These could make it difficult to drive the piling into the ground and so we’ve had a specialist contractor come out to take a look. We’ll have a better idea of what’s involved over the next week and will then be able to give some details about when the canal is likely to reopen. 

Reaching milestones

Flooding worksOn the Calder & Hebble Navigation works to build foundations for the replacement bridges at Elland and Crowther are ongoing. We’re still on course to reopen the canal here by July 4 which will reconnect Sowerby Bridge to the rest of the waterway network.

This will be a real milestone and we’re really looking forward to opening the canal once again. It will enable life to get back to normal on this particular stretch of waterway with boaters once more able to access Sowerby Bridge and make use of the services and businesses there. Boaters should be aware that from this point the usual rules regarding continuous cruising will apply.

Please don't leave paddles open

We have had some frustrating instances recently of paddles being left open and sections of canal being drained. This has been a bit of a headache as it’s meant I haven’t been able to get dredgers and other floating machinery to the areas that we need them. It’s not clear whether this has been a genuine mistake by a boater or vandalism but please can I ask any boaters passing through to double check that everything’s closed up after use.

So it’s been a busy few weeks and we’re not being deterred by torrential rain, boulders the size of cars or drained sections of canal. None of these challenges are ‘make or break’ but they can cause the odd delay or change the way we’re doing things. Thankfully our contractors are doing a great job, working twelve hours a day seven days a week to stay on programme and get things back open as quickly as possible.

Richard Spencer, senior project manager, Canal & River Trust

Last date edited: 11 October 2016