t’s official: things are going to get worse.


The Environment Agency has just released its long awaited Yorkshire Derwent Catchment Flood Management Plan. Let nobody have any illusions: this plan has very little to do with flood prevention. The plan contains what the spin men might call “new and exciting ideas” – like “identify and abandon floodbanks that do not provide a reduction in flood risk to property”; “restoration of natural flood plain”; “flood storage in Amotherby ward”; “redundant floodbanks removed from asset register”. In other words, the document is telling us we have to let the flood water out – instead of keeping it in.


Certain questions immediately arise: how many of our flood defences are going to be abandoned, and if so, where, and what kind of property is it that they have to protect in order to qualify for being retained? The answers to these questions are not explicit in the text of the plan document, but, upon further investigation and enquiry, would seem to be as follows: “All floodplain identified in the Environment Agency’s floodplain maps show a scenario with all flood defence assets already removed”. Floodbanks will only be maintained if they provide a reduction in flood risk to “the built environment” – in other words, areas of dense population in towns and cities – agricultural property is not to be protected, and some villages or parts of villages could be at risk, because the benefits and cost of “localised defences would have to be identified carefully”.


In other words, it looks as though almost the whole of the River Derwent Area (apart from the towns) is to be stripped of its defences in order to restore “the natural flood plain”. Why? Now that is a very good question. The River Derwent enters the Ouse downstream of Selby. The towns it flows through, namely Malton, Norton and Stamford Bridge, are all protected by their own flood defence systems. So, if the River Derwent is swollen with flood water, there are no towns which it could possibly flood. However, this is not the point. The point is understood to be this: it does not matter whether water from rural flood defences poses a threat to  built areas or not: the amount of money and resources available for the maintenance of  flood defences is limited, and so what is available is to be targeted at “high risk” areas – i.e. areas of dense population. As usual the villages and farms of the sparsely populated countryside will lose out.


Heaven save us from over mighty government officials! The rivers used to be maintained by locally run river boards. Responsibility was transferred to the Environment Agency in order “to place accountability for effective management of flood risk on one body”. So what have they done? Since 1985 the rivers in the Derwent Catchment have not been dredged or cleared. It took many years for these water courses to become thoroughly silted up, so that now the banks are overgrown and the channel has become constricted in several places. The result is that since 1999, Ryedale has been prone to flooding more than ever before in recent history – and this cannot be dismissed as entirely due to climate change.   


The Agency will never admit that recent catastrophic flooding has been largely due to their neglect. It is surprising that our flood defences work at all, as many of these seem to be suffering from inadequate maintenance. The devastating remedy offered by the Agency and their consultants is the opposite of what any ordinary person would have expected.


The document is out for consultation until 31st December. It must not be allowed to get government endorsement. Everybody concerned should unite to get it thrown out.


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