The Council Can Take Action On Flooding Now : 22 January 2004

We must all regret the decision not to proceed with the flood defence works planned for Pickering, and I too have my views and observations.

The key point is the way our district has been repeatedly told by the officials how all their judgements have been made on scientific principles arrived at after research with charts and computer models, cost-benefit analyses, field studies, desk studies etc. As a result of all this work they have stood on a pedestal and roundly expected us to believe that their conclusions were not only right, but are indeed the only possible conclusions that any right minded scientist can sensibly accept.

On this basis, as I understand, they concluded not so many months ago that the construction of flood defences in Pickering was a priority. They prepared plans and consulted with local people, and eventually arrived at one which was generally accepted. According to the Gazette, they then spent 700,000 on drawing up plans for this scheme. And now? Well they’ve gone back to the drawing board, haven’t they? They’ve re-run and re-examined the same charts, computer models, cost-benefit analyses, field studies, desk studies etc., and have come to the conclusion that Pickering’s flood defences should be given low and not high priority.

Something similar can be said about the maintenance of the river beds. Now I don’t pretend to understand anything about civil engineering. So I am not qualified to judge whether or not the maintenance of our rivers would help to reduce the dangers of flooding, as most people think it would – a view which the Environment Agency’s officials strongly disagree with. What I do know is that throughout most of the last century the rivers were properly maintained. Now presumably, during the time that they were maintained, the Environment Agency and the authorities which preceded them had sound scientific knowledge which led the officials to believe that river maintenance – including dredging and clearing the river channels – was the right thing to do. Now, of course, they have run their computer models, carried out extensive scientific research, and carried out cost-benefit analyses, field studies, desk studies etc., and have come to the opposite conclusion.

Clearly there is a problem of credibility here, and perhaps people can be forgiven for thinking that the only scientific investigation which really counts is an accountancy one, and that the Environment Agency is not science led, but finance led.

Many people, who know far more about civil engineering than I do, have come up with ideas which all seem to deserve consideration, but the officials have dismissed most of them.

Clearly something has to be done. In my view, there is no point in arguing with the officials, because they always simply fall back on the scientific evaluation which they have carried out – which they treat like holy writ.

The only way to argue with them is to engage independent experts who outrank the officials’ own experts – preferably a civil engineering firm with an international reputation – and ask them to do their own analysis of what is required in Ryedale, and to check the computer models, surveys, field and desk studies carried out by the Environment Agency, and discuss and negotiate with the officials. They could also be asked to look at the many ideas which have been produced over the years by ordinary people and local experts. This would not be a futile exercise – I know only too well from experience how easy it is for two experts to come to widely different conclusions on the basis of the same data. I know that Government – particularly the mandarinate in Whitehall – is not always right.

I can sense the reaction. People will ask: how much is this going to cost, and the answer is at least 50,000. Then people will say: this is too expensive.

Of course, I could simply take the view that my ward is Malton, and that now Malton/Norton have been taken care of, I should just keep my mouth shut, and let other people worry about the rest of Ryedale. Well, I’m not like that: I want to see all of Ryedale protected as best possible against future flooding – even if that does expose me to criticism for wanting to spend the council’s money.

In fact, the council can easily afford 50,000. The Council has vast reserves – running into at least 5M. Currently this is invested, and the interest is used to keep down the Council Tax. The annual interest on 50,000, assuming an optimistic 4% yield, is 2,000 – in other words, peanuts!

In my view, it is no good coming up with idea after idea, and meeting after meeting, in these circumstances. We will get nowhere unless positive action is taken. Ryedale Council may only have a few years life left, and it would be tragic if this opportunity is allowed to slip away until our reserves are absorbed by Scarborough’s debts.

I hope the council I belong to will never be remembered as a weak and ineffective talking shop. If Ryedale Council really cares about flooding, it must put its money where its mouth is.

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