Action needs to be taken urgently to prevent further flooding 30th August 2007


There can be no doubt that climate change is a very significant factor which has contributed to this Summer’s flooding. However, there are other factors which have nothing to do with climate change.


After the last war, there was a political consensus that Britain would never again have to rely on convoys of food to feed the nation in times of acute emergency. The Ministry of Agriculture adopted a policy of making the UK self-sufficient in terms of food production. Farmers were given incentives to work the land intensively, and, in flat land, like the Vale of Pickering,  a complex system of flood defences was built – to protect agricultural as well as residential land.


National policies and priorities change and the lessons of the 1940’s were soon forgotten. In 1985 the Government formally abandoned this policy.


It was a time of restraint when government accountants were looking for economies to reduce the burden of taxation and keep inflation under control. At that time the exchange rate of the pound was high and this made it cheaper to buy food from abroad than from the home market. The fact that British agriculture was one of the most efficient in the world was entirely irrelevant, particularly as container and refrigeration technology had made it possible to transport large quantities of perishable goods all  over the world.


So, when the policy of making the country self-sufficient in terms of food production was abandoned, there was a knock on effect on other policies. Clearly, if food production had ceased to be a priority, there was no longer the same need (in terms of government policy) to maintain and dredge all the rivers.


The River Derwent was last dredged in about 1985. This is clear from a report by David Noble dated 2000, which states that the evidence indicated that the river had not then been dredged for 15 years.


Now it takes a while for a river to become thoroughly silted up and choked, and it was not until 1999 that we had the first of the great floods which were the inevitable consequence of this lack of maintenance.


By now we had another government, which took over the policy of the previous government, and was more than any previous government dedicated to defend and promote its vote within the cities.


At first they felt sorry for North Yorkshire and built new flood defences for Malton and Norton.


Then the government imposed its “value for money” test, and, of course, it will always be more economical to provide any service in a city where the population is dense than in sparsely populated rural areas. So Pickering received no help.


The Environment Agency has never been prepared to accept that failure to dredge the rivers was a cause of flooding. As both Conservative and Labour Governments have managed the Agency since 1985, the chances that Government will admit to their mistakes are not good.


I have long argued that, in these circumstances, the Council should engage a specialist water engineer  to talk to the Agency and see if there was any action which they could be persuaded to take which would not be inconsistent with their own policies. I even obtained a £5,000 quotation which is exhibited on my website (click on “Articles” and then on “Land Drainage and Flooding.”)


However, the Council chose to have direct meetings with the Environment Agency instead.


Regrettably these direct talks  have achieved nothing, and  the Agency are doing less maintenance work on existing flood defences now than before.


We cannot afford another flood like this year’s. The Council should now reconsider my earlier suggestion.



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