I know Douglas like the back of my hand. I practically grew up there. I remember the first shopping centre that opened there. It had a Quinnsworth, a butcher, a fruit and veg shop and a laundry shop that on a warm day, stank the place out of it in those days before sophisticated extraction systems.
Quinnsworth's car park was our playground. On a Saturday morning, when one of the lads had a few builder's hard hats he pilfered out of his Dad's truck, we often risked life and limb in that car park, sitting into shopping trollys, and racing them, 'Grand Prix' style, down its natural slope. Yeah, we could have been killed – but we were kids, and it was a laugh.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it's by way of illustrating that I also know very well indeed, how the river in the area, the 'Tramore', ran then, and runs now, through the shopping centre. I remember also that in the winter, when it got stormy, that tranquil little river would become a raging torrent, and how when Quinnsworth was built, they put in high walls, to prevent floods.
Mover forward 30 years or so, to when the huge new Douglas Village Shopping Centre was being developed. I remember when I heard that Tesco and an enormous car park was going to sit right slap bang on top of the river. I didn't like the sound of that. I knew from my teens that when that little stream turned nasty in bad weather, you would need somewhere for it to go, or, as sure as God made little apples, there would be trouble.
As a reporter, I remember the long planning process. I remember how the developers of the new centre, the Shipton Group, said they would build a culvert, and how that culvert would be more than sufficient to take the river in full flow. I also remember the older locals, shaking their grey or baldy heads, and predicting the worst. “It'll never work. We'll be flooded out of it”, they warned, gloomily.
Early last Thursday morning, the heavens opened. A month's rain fell in three hours. Douglas was flooded out of it. The shopping centre, as I write, is still closed, and will be, I expect, for a few weeks at least, even if they manage to get Tesco open in the meantime. Barry's has to be almost gutted and rebuilt. Driscoll's is back open but has lots more work left to do. The famous KC's will be closed for a month or more. Many other businesses and homes will struggle to get back on their feet. Some, sadly may never make it. The first thing I heard people saying, when I got there a few minutes before 6am, was “PJ, we told them that bloody culvert would overflow. We told them!”
However, the facts, as we at 96FM now know them, are different. I've seen photos and video footage which clearly shows me that the culvert did not overflow. Not only did it not overflow, but it was damn near empty at the height of the flood!
It was nearly empty, because the raging river could not get into it. A huge grille, in the local community park, which is supposed to keep rubbish and other trash out of the culvert, became totally overwhelmed. Water being water, it found another route, which turned out to be straight out into the road, instead of into the culvert, where it would have, for the most part at least, flowed away safely.
A Council worker who came from his bed, to try to help, was armed, God bless him, with only a shovel. Yes, a shovel. It's a JCB that was needed, and that came, sent by the owners of the shopping centre, around dawn, but by then, the damage was done. And what terrible damage it was.
Investigations are underway, as they should be. Answers are being demanded, as they should be. The businesspeople and the homeowners of Douglas need to know. Those of us who live in the general area, and who eat, drink and shop in those businesses, need to know. The first reaction was to blame the culvert, but at 96FM, we've seen the evidence that the culvert never had a chance to work, because its entrance, the responsibility of the County Council, does not appear to have functioned as it should.
Not only do we need to know what happened, but we need action. Not words, not hand-wringing or engineers reports, but action. This must never be allowed to happen again. Whatever the cause, and whatever the cost to deal with it, its the least that Douglas deserves.