Toddbrook Dam crisis cost Derbyshire County Council £700,000

The broken section of the slipway at Toddbrook Reservoir
The broken section of the slipway at Toddbrook Reservoir

The Toddbrook Dam crisis in Whaley Bridge has cost Derbyshire County Council £700,000.

And the authority’s finance chief has said that it must get a hold of its finances to ensure its ability to combat similar emergencies does not decrease.

It had to fund its response to the potential disaster from its pot of money for rainy days – its reserves.

Peter Handford, the council’s director of finance, had originally estimated that the authority would have to draw £2 million from its reserves to pay for its Toddbrook Dam response – listed in its five-year plan to be agreed next week.

This, it is thought, has now been reduced to £700,000 due to the estimate being forecast “before we (the council) knew that the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was paying for the helicopter,” the council says.

The helicopter referred to was a Chinook from RAF Odiham which was commissioned for a combined 72 hours over several days to drop more than 600 tonnes of sand, gravel and stone on the damaged Toddbrook Dam to prevent it from breaching.

The council’s reduced estimate suggests that the cost of the Chinook could be £1.3 million – a cost which neither Defra, the Ministry of Defence or Derbyshire Police has confirmed, with each saying that other agencies would be able to give the cost.

The RAF is thought to have 60 Chinooks in active service as of 2015 and placed an order to the USA for an additional 16 in 2018.

It says that five different helicopters were deployed across four days of service – with only one operating at any given time.

Each Chinook has an estimated cost of £60.1 million – at 2012 prices.

During the Whaley Bridge incident, around 1,500 residents had to be evacuated from their homes after damage was caused to the dam spillway during heavy rainfall.

Residents were evacuated from the town for six nights.

Over the course of a week, emergency, voluntary and armed services from all over the UK helped to tackle the incident, with way over 1,000 people involved in total.

Disaster was avoided after emergency services, using water pumps from a wide range of fire services, brought the water level in the 300-million-gallon Toddbrook Reservoir down to just a fraction.

Mr Handford says in a five-year forecast of the council’s finances that the authority will currently have to use £39 million of its rainy-day reserves to balance its budgets.

This would take its rainy-day fund from £64.5 million to £18.3 million by 2023.

The council has previously been advised not to allow its reserves to fall below £20-25 million.

It is this emergency fund which helps the authority combat incidents such as the Toddbrook Dam crisis in Whaley Bridge last month.

The county council was one of many agencies which helped to combat the potential disaster and set up a helpline for residents wishing to lend a hand or supplies.

It received around 800 calls to this helpline.

Mr Handford says that a drop in the authority’s reserves decrease “its ability to meet short term, unforeseeable expenditure, such as occurred recently at Toddbrook Reservoir”.

Leader of the county council’s opposition, Labour’s Coun Anne Western, said that she has not known a forecast of reserves to be so low since she joined the authority in 1997.

She said that the forecast reserves is “far below the level that is safe”.

Coun Western said: “£18 million might seem like a lot of money, and it is, but when you have incidents like Whaley Bridge – we wouldn’t have had the money to fund our response.

“It is rainy-day money and what we know about the climate – there will be more of this to come and more frequently.”

A Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “We had planned to use up to £39m of reserves to ensure that we could meet our savings targets over the next five years and reduce the impact on residents, and were confident that this would have still left them at an acceptable level to deal with any unexpected issues.

“However, our call on reserves may not be as great following this week’s Government Spending Review, where we are expecting to get extra money for areas which are facing significant pressures, like social care and special educational needs.

“We are waiting for the detail and exact amounts we may receive following this announcement, but it is likely to see us needing to take a lot less from our reserves over the next five years, leaving them in a more robust position. Therefore, there would be a larger amount to call on if another situation, like we saw at Toddbrook Reservoir, presented itself.”

Chancellor Sajid Javid has announced £1.5 billion in extra funding to councils for adults’ and children’s social care.

However, £500 million of this (a third) is thought to be conditional on local authorities raising their council tax precept for adult social care.

Derbyshire County Council is due to have a council tax freeze for the next two years.

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service