Paul Andrews: Sinister plan to sacrifice fields to floods

Yorkshire Post October 2007

EVERYBODY needs to be aware of the latest sinister development on the subject of flooding. The Environment Agency, after neglecting to dredge the rivers, has adopted a policy of "managing" flooding instead of preventing it.

This policy will benefit the cities and harm the countryside. The Agency is currently producing a number of "Catchment Flood Management Plans".

The one for the River Derwent is the first for our region, and if it goes through in its present form, we can expect the same principles to apply throughout Yorkshire.

So, it is worth looking at the facts and examining this document very carefully – especially after the Agency's chief executive, Baroness Young, warned this week that Gordon Brown's pledge of an additional £200m for flood defences by 2001 was inadequate.

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. It is understood that the River Derwent is not on its own – very few rivers have been maintained properly since 1985.

The failure to dredge the rivers was part of a short-sighted Whitehall economy drive, following a decision to abandon the post-war policy of trying to make the UK self-sufficient in terms of food production.

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. The first
area to suffer was North Yorkshire, particularly Malton, Norton, Pickering and Stamford

At first, the Government felt sorry for North Yorkshire. They would not accept that the river needed dredging, but instead spent millions building new flood defences for Malton, Norton and Stamford Bridge.

Then the Government imposed its notorious "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 was too late to receive help.

In January 2006, the Environment Agency told the local drainage boards of the Derwent Catchment Area that they were preparing a Flood "management" Plan. The Plan was at last published early this month. We have seen the 31 pages of text, but , so far, not the 22 appendices, which presumably account for its overall cost of £250,000 – money which could have been better spent on clearing the rivers.

As the Agency is not prepared to accept that failure to dredge and clear the rivers has anything to do with increasing the risk of flooding, some other remedy had to be found.

One of the actions recommended by the plan is to "identify and abandon floodbanks that do not provide a reduction in flood risk to property", followed by a "restoration of natural floodplain".

On inquiry, it appears that the word "property" is taken to mean "the built environment" – including the built environment in the cities and conurbations of the region. In other words, the strategy of the plan is to use
the countryside to hold back
flood water from cities like York, Hull, or the West Yorkshire conurbation.

In Ryedale, the impact would be a disaster. Much of the Derwent and its tributaries are flanked by flood banks, and this has enabled farmers to claim back land from flood plain marsh and turn it into productive farmland.

So now our masters in the Agency's ivory tower quango have decided that most of these defences will have to go. The plan is not marked "draft". So the consultation, which will end on December 31, can be taken as little more than a formality.

Once again, our farmers are expected to make yet another huge sacrifice, without getting anything in return. No wonder their morale is so low.

The situation would not be quite so bad if the impact of the plan could be limited to Ryedale or North Yorkshire, but clearly this would not work on its own.

The Derwent Catchment Flood Management Plan is only the first of many plans. Once it is accepted, a precedent will have been set for the whole of the region – and, presumably, afterwards, for the whole of the country.

So far, nobody seems prepared to obtain professional evidence to challenge the Environment Agency.

For evil to prevail, all it takes is for good people to do nothing.


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