Like a hurricane, catastrophe struck Wallsend a decade ago. Though the flood is mostly associated with the Pasha Bulker running aground at Nobbys Beach, residents of Newcastle’s west can’t forget their suffering during the flood and in the days and weeks after even 10 years on.
There was severe damage to Nelson Street businesses, with water breaching the second storeys of buildings. A mudslide in Boston Close, Cardiff, damaged a number of buildings. The power was out for days.
The economic costs, due to the destruction of the flood itself and the costs of repair and rebuilding in the aftermath, are well known, but this carries with it severe personal and emotional costs.
Max McCorkell, a former Wallsend business owner, is just one of the many victims of the tempest who has told me of their devastation in the aftermath.
This May, the Floodplain Management National Conference gathered in Newcastle. Experts at the conference warned of future destruction. When they visited Wallsend, experts said that stronger local flood mitigation infrastructure was needed urgently.
We’ve known about the need for this sort of infrastructure in Wallsend for a long time. In 2007, prior to the flood, Council produced a draft plan warning that Wallsend was at serious risk of catastrophic flooding – saying that floodwaters could rise to several metres in just minutes. The number of lives at risk would be measured in the thousands.
The imagined devastation of cars swept away and buildings collapsing came to pass just months later.
A major 2009 report, the Wallsend Commercial Centre Floodplain Management Plan, emphasised reducing the force of flash flood waters by rebuilding the bridges at Nelson Street, Tyrrell Street and Boscawen Street and works at Minmi Road to help water flow through Ironbark Creek.
Council has since said that flood mitigation works at Wallsend will be “prioritised and completed as a matter of urgency” due to the “significant risk to life and property” posed by major flood events in Wallsend.
Over the past 10 years my office has written countless letters, drafted Notices of Motion and Questions on Notice for the attention of the NSW Parliament and met with officials from Newcastle City Council across three administrations. Again and again I have made the case that Wallsend residents and businesses do not deserve to be at the mercy of flooding events.
The tender to provide concept designs was awarded in August 2016, and a detailed design for the Tyrrell Street bridge was expected in May 2017.
A final price has not yet been attached to the project and the actual bridge replacement work is subject to future funding arrangements.
In April 2015 and January 2016, Wallsend was again paralysed when large storm systems inundated the western suburbs and threatened lives and property.
As a flood prone zone, coupled with inclement weather, the west is vulnerable to flooding events, a concern which is ever present in the minds of the community and acts as a handbrake on Wallsend’s capacity for growth.
After a decade of reports and plans, it is time for action on flood mitigation works in Wallsend. Businesses and residents deserve better than to be at such grave risk of serious flooding. As long as they are, they’ll have reason to be worried.