Land Drainage And Flooding Scrutiny - Update and Minority Report : --

NB(i) The Council‚s Scrutiny Committee carried out a thorough investigation into Land Drainage and Flooding, but failed to make the kind of positive recommendation which would have satisfied me. I therefore wrote this "minority" report, which was submitted to the Council‚s Policy and Resources Committee in July 2004, at the same time as the Scrutiny Committee‚s main report. The outcome was that my call for the engagement of an expert civil engineer was dismissed, but the Council decided to set up a working group with representatives from the Council, the Land Drainage Boards, the Environment Agency and other bodies to consider the matter further. I do not think this arrangement would have been made if I had not submitted this Minority report.

(ii)Initially, very little progress was made by this group. It met in January 2006, and failed to meet for another 18 months.Regular meetings have taken place since the May 2007 elections.

(iii) On 26th February 2007, I again proposed a motion that the Council should instruct a firm of civil engineers to do a report, which could be used as a yardstick, against which the views of the Environment Agency might be judged. THE COUNCIL REFUSED!!!

(iV) It turned out that the Civil Engineer‚s Report which I initially thought would cost about 50,000 (see previous articles), could be done for £5,000
Click here to see the letter from a reputable firm of civil engineers. Late last year, the Council at last agreed to fund upt to £10,000 the appointment by the Drainage Boards of an independent expert to look into these matters.

v)It will be seen that, for the last three and a half year,s I have campaigned for the Council to pay for the first phase of an expert investigation into the hydrology of Ryedale. The Council eventually agreed to this (a document known as "Vale of Pickering Channel Management Assessment and Planning - Phase 1"). This should help Ryedale residents - particularly those in the farms and the villages - in their dealings with the Environment Agency.

vi) At the March 2008 Council meeting I proposed a motion which (as amended) read: "In principle, this Council opposes the blocking up of drains, the creation of river meanders and the abandonment of flood defences, and that the Environment Agency be son informed". This motion was lost by one vote (the vote was 12 against and 11 in favour - the 12 who voted against were 11 conservatives and 1 Liberal Democrat - there were some abstentions).

In refusing to endorse this motion and by amending another motion put forward by the Liaiason Group, the Council actually accepted the principle of abandoning flood defences, as proposed by the Environment Agency.

vii) In October 2008, the university sponsored Ryedale Flood Research Group published "Making Space for People". This contained a number of recommendations, including creating a series of bunds upstream in the hills to halt flood surges and prevent the flooding in towns like Pickering, and also the regular cuting back of underwater vegetation.

viii)In November 2008, the Vale of Pickering Channel Mangement Assessment and Planning - Phase 1 document (see (v) above) was produced by the Drainage Boards.This contains numerous recommendations, the main recommendation being that a Phase II study be undertaken. The purpose of the Phase II study would be to "develop a holistic, sustainable, multi-objective channel and flood plain mangement plan". This would study the hydrology of the Vale of Pickering and identify maintenance and other work that is required and the locations for such work.

ix) This will be expensive and there is a search for funding going on at this moment. Some people might say that this is unnecessary, as all that needs to be done is to dredge the rivers. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done at a local level to persuade the Environment Agency to do this, particularly as the River Derwent has been classified as a SSSI. All we can do is try and work within the policies that the Environment Agency have prescribed, and that is what the Phase II of the Study will enable. The Environment Agency say they will support this work.

x) Early 2009, Ryedale District Council accepted the recommendations of both "Making Space for People" and "The Vale of Pickering Channel Mangement Assessment and Planning - Phase 1". So Ryedale District Council is now, at last,"on side" as far as these issues are concerned.

xi)In the meantime, we are awaiting the publication by the Environment Agency of the next instalment of their "Yorkshire Derwent Catchment Flood Mangement Plan". The draft of this document clearly foresaw that, as the River Derwent continued to silt up for want of dredging, the river bed would rise and Malton's new flood defences would eventually be "overtopped". So, to prevent further flooding of Malton, they are proposing inter alia the removal of the flood banks upstream of Malton. Hopefully this draft will be heavily revised in the light of "Making Space for People" and "The Vale of Pickering Channel Management Assessment and Planning - Phase 1" documents, which they have been carefully considering.We must wait and see.

xii) An article containing a further update was published on December 30th 2009. This will be exhibited shortly.

xiii) In the meantime, please see below the Scrutiny Minority Report which I put before Council in 2004.

THE MINORITY REPORT


1.THE SCRUTINY INVESTIGATION

It should be noted that the scope of the Investigation was restricted to the villages and rural areas, and the Pickering situation was not fully considered.

1.1 THE IMPORTANT POINTS IN THE INVESTIGATION

The Committee has interviewed a number of people involved in land drainage issues and the committee’s members have also attended two public meetings, one on 25th September, when members of the drainage boards met officials from the Environment Agency, and the other, also at Pickering, on 5th February 2004, when Pickering Residents met officials from the Environment Agency, and the County Council.

It is fair to say that the following general propositions were accepted at all meetings.

Modern farming methods have increased the rate of water run off from upland farms;

Changing weather conditions brought about by climate change has increased the risk of flooding;

The recent flooding of Central Ryedale in 2002 would have happened whether or not the flood defences had been properly maintained and the rivers thoroughly dredged - because of the sheer volume of water.

At the meeting on 25th September 2003, the views of the Environment Agency can be summarised as:

It is the policy of the Environment Agency to protect residential lives and property - agricultural land ranks well behind;

The agency has limited resources, and a case has to be made for every new scheme based on evidence which Whitehall will accept – the term “Whitehall” is used loosely to include all the senior civil servant mandarins the Agency has to report to get authorisation for funding new schemes.

The Agency will not accept the evidence of ordinary landowners, because they are not qualified hydrological experts, and do not produce the kind of statistical evidence which Whitehall accepts.

The Agency will not accept the evidence of the qualified engineers who did prepare reports on behalf of the drainage boards

The Agency will not accept that dredging the main rivers will improve land drainage - although they do accept that this is beneficial for the smaller watercourses. In other words, the drainage authorities will be failing in their duties if they don’t cleanse the watercourses they are responsible for - but not the Environmental Agency, if they fail to manage the main river channels!

The Agency doesn’t accept that the employment of a few men and machines could be economical in terms of cleansing the main rivers.

The Agency will not accept that dredging and cleansing the rivers might have a beneficial effect on conservation, or be done in a way that would not be catastrophic for wildlife.

The Agency will not accept that dredging the main rivers might help floodwater to drain away more quickly.

The Agency maintained these views throughout all subsequent meetings we had with them.

On 29th September, the committee met Professor Ward. His view is that what is needed is a generally agreed water management plan for the whole of the Derwent catchment. This would have to be agreed with, amongst others, the two drainage boards in the Vale of Pickering, and the farmers who farm the upland areas.

It should be noted that this might not necessarily be seen to be in the interests of the upland farmers, and so, negotiations could go on for a very long time - unless a solution is imposed on the “stakeholders”.

At the end of the meeting, Professor Ward pointed out that the Environment Agency’s legal powers were discretionary and not mandatory. He agreed there could be an argument that every statutory authority has a duty to exercise its discretion in a proper and responsible way. He went on to say that it might be difficult to prove in a court of law that the Agency is not exercising its statutory discretion properly. He said it could be difficult to persuade the agency, and the council would need advice (which he was not prepared to give), before they could question whether or not the Agency is performing any of the tasks set by government correctly, with the appropriate allocation of resources etc.

The Committee may consider that, if this view is accepted, the council and the other parties will be faced with the choice of either having to accept what the officials tell them, or of engaging an independent expert to verify what the officials say, and, if necessary, come up with and discuss other options.

In early January, the Pickering area had its urgency status taken away from it and the Environment Agency decided not to pursue the flood prevention scheme for Pickering.

Later on in January there were rainstorms, which followed heavy snow. This almost caused another flood in Pickering.

The Scrutiny Committee interviewed Mr. Peter Homes of the Environment Agency on 20th January 2004. He was asked to comment on land drainage and flooding in Ryedale generally, and also on the decision to defer the Pickering flood defence scheme.

Mr. Holmes repeated all the agency’s arguments stated above, but interestingly, when asked why the Environment Agency were not dredging and clearing the rivers any more, he replied that, in the past, it had been government policy that the UK should be self-sufficient in food production, and therefore there had been a need to protect agricultural land: however, now that policy had changed, there was no longer any expectation that the UK should be self-sufficient in food production, and so there was no need to cleanse the rivers, and prevent the flooding of agricultural land. Mr. Bowles of the Land Drainage Boards was also present, and Mr. Holmes told the Committee that he did not see that the Agency’s task was necessarily consistent with that of the Drainage Boards: their job was to drain land (which could cause flooding, if done effectively), whereas the Agency’s job was to prevent flooding. Accordingly, the Agency was maintaining river flood defences, but not the river channels themselves!

On Pickering, Mr. Holmes explained that the scheme which the Agency had planned and spent 700,000 on could not go ahead, because Pickering’s special status was due to end at the end of March this year.

On 2nd February the Scrutiny Committee met again and interviewed the owner of the trout fish farm at Pickering, a representative from English Nature, the nature conservation officer from Ryedale Planning, Councilor Di Keal, in her capacity as representative of the National Flood Forum and Dave Sumner.

The owner of the trout farm talked about the damaging effect of recent flooding on his business, his views on the clearing of the Pickering beck, the effect of bridges on river flow, and explained that the proposed Pickering flood prevention scheme would actually harm his business.

The representatives from British nature and the council’s nature conservation officer both talked about the wildlife which lives on riverbanks. They both agreed that any adverse effect that river maintenance might have on the wildlife could be considerably reduced if the rivers were given sequential management – i.e. if there is a planned maintenance so that the work is carried out over a number of years and not done all at once. It was also agreed that much of the growth which was causing the river banks to narrow was from fast growing willow plants, and that the removal of these from important points in the river would not be catastrophic on wildlife.

Councilor Mrs. Di Keal gave a presentation on the work of the National Flood Forum, and her work for it. She said that flooding was a national problem, brought about as a result of climate change, and that the only way to obtain effective flood defences was to campaign vigorously for them.

David Sumner explained his role in dealing with flood prevention, and how well the new flood defences had worked in Malton/ Norton. He said that, once the river rises beyond a certain point, the streams that normally flow into it back up, and have to be pumped. There was no secondary electricity supply, and no point in buying a mobile generator, as the Agency was due to take over the council’s pumps. He also discussed the impact of new development, and how drainage from this could be accommodated.

On Thursday 5th February, Mr. Holmes from the agency, and members and officials from the County Council (including the County Surveyor) attended a public meeting in Pickering, called by the National Flood Forum. Members of the Scrutiny committee also attended.

Mr. Holmes went through all the options for flood prevention at Pickering, and explained at great length, why the Agency had come to the conclusion that the only viable scheme was the one they had come up with. He dismissed any cleansing of the Pickering Beck as having no benefit unless the depth of the beck was made 1.5m lower by excavating in its rock floor.

He also explained why the Agency’s scheme had been deferred. He agreed that the scheme could still go ahead if it was approved before Pickering’s urgency status ended on March 31st. However, he had been instructed not to put the scheme forward for approval by his superiors in London.



1.2 CONCLUSIONS

  • On Pickering
  • The solution is an administrative one, which can only be taken up at a national political level by our MP (who will hopefully seek all party support). Either the Urgency Period must be extended, or another solution must be found. It is understood that an alternative solution is being looked at.
  • On River Dredging cleansing, clearance and maintenance.
  • This can be done in a way that will not have a catastrophic effect on wild life, if it is done sequentially.
  • The rivers have not been properly maintained for years, and the growth of fast growing willows and other vegetation has caused narrowing and constriction in the river channel.
  • However, even if the rivers had been properly managed, this would not prevent large areas of land being submerged in floods such as occurred in 2002 – but would probably result in the floodwaters draining away more quickly.
  • The decision not to manage the river channels is a national decision taken at a national level, and so it is not possible for local people to get the Agency to agree to do locally what they have been forbidden to do nationally. So this is an issue, which should be taken up nationally, and is indeed being addressed at a national level by the National Flood Forum. On the local situation in Ryedale generally
  • The flood defences in Malton/Norton have withstood their first test successfully. However, there is no certainty that there will never be a flood which these defences will not withstand.
  • There is no protection for the villages and smaller market towns, nor for agricultural land, nor is there any such protection planned – because of the agency’s policy of building flood defences for protecting concentrations of residential property rather than countryside.

2 THE SCRUTINY REPORT

This is all right as far as it goes, but I have made it clear that I find it completely unacceptable. It seems to me that, if the Report is accepted, the Council will miss a golden opportunity to take positive action, which may never come again.

The essence of the Report is to give the Environment Agency a slap on the wrist and to tell them and the Drainage Boards to talk nicely to each other. This is the approach of the ostrich with its head in the sand, because it completely ignores the obvious fact that the Environment Agency is INSTRUCTED not to clear any main rivers as a matter of NATIONAL POLICY. It follows that no amount of polite discussion will ever break the deadlock between the Drainage Boards and the Agency.

The Report, as originally drawn, contained no recommendation for the Council to make any financial contribution towards dealing with future flooding. I find this very disappointing. After the Report had gone to committee, a paragraph was inserted suggesting that grants might be made available on request. I don’t think this goes far enough. My main criticism is that this kind of process would be piecemeal and adhoc: no council would conduct its long term Town and Country Planning on this basis, and it is equally unsatisfactory to plan flood prevention in this way, particularly bearing in mind the effect work done upstream can have on settlements downstream.

Further, the Environment Agency might have to approve the work, and refuse consent for that very reason.

3 FUTURE ACTION

3.1 THE COUNCIL’S RESOURCES

As I understand, the Council has over 7 million pounds in reserves. This is managed professionally, and, last year produced interest of 400,000. Only 100,000 of this was used to support the Council Tax.

The Council has a capital projects scheme of two and a half million pounds over the next four years. It follows that, if interest continues to accrue at about 400,000 per annum, then at the end of four years, there will still be just under 6 million pounds left, even if the Council continues to spend 100,000 from reserves to support the Council Tax, and completes its Capital Programme set for that period.

One is aware of the threat to our reserves posed by the possible future merger with Scarborough, and one has to ask: “WHAT IS THE INTENDED DESTINATION OF RYEDALE’S RESERVES?”

Clearly Ryedale can either use its reserves or lose them.

Incidentally, I am not advocating wasting these reserves. In my view, the Council should make an intelligent use of its reserves. I understand it is Council Policy that the Reserves should not be spent, but be frozen. If so, this is not an intelligent use of reserves – it is an abdication of responsibility to exercise any judgment at all.

The Council seems to want to dig a hole and bury its pot of gold, pretend it doesn’t exist, and then plead poverty and say it has no money to do the things that it would otherwise like to do!

This will not do. It cannot be called best practice. It is not good local government.

3.2 PLANS TO SPEND THE COUNCIL’S MONEY ON RURAL FLOOD PREVENTION.

There is a suggestion of a scheme to spend 100,000 over three years on dredging the main rivers within Ryedale. The amount is not an issue for me: if they were suggesting spending a million or more, I would support the idea. There is, however, one small difficulty.

23 years employment in Local Government and the Public Service (18 of them at a senior level) has taught me to be cautious, when it comes to spending large amounts of public money. The Drainage Boards reckon they could do the job with 100,000 – the Agency say it would cost millions and have very little benefit. In these circumstances, I don’t want to support the idea, unless I can be sure that the estimated cost is right, that there will be a benefit, and have some idea of what the projected outcome is likely to be. I don’t want to waste the Council’s money.

There is also the question as t whether the Agency will allow work on the main rivers within Ryedale, bearing in mind the possible impact of such works on river flows downstream from Ryedale.

The same point applies to every other idea which has been canvassed: many of them are possibly excellent, but how can the Council know if they are worth doing, unless the Council gets its own expert advice?

3.3 THE NEED FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE.

The only people who are in a position to make a sound judgment and give sound advice on what can or cannot be done are professional civil engineers who are experts in this field. One has to ask: if you were to own all the land in the Ryedale District, and decide to protect your investment against flooding and bad land drainage, would you act on your own opinion when spending your money, or would you first seek expert advice? If you would seek professional advice, why should the public expect anything less of the Council now?

In the past, the Environment Agency has dismissed and ignored the advice of competent civil engineers who have given expert opinions on the matter. So why should they take any more notice of any new independent expert the council might appoint? The answer depends on how the experts are ranked. If a firm of civil engineers of national or international rank are appointed by the Council, the Environment Agency will not be able to ignore their advice. In other words, the Council should seek the best advice and go to the top experts.

3.4 WHY SHOULD THE COUNCIL GET ITS OWN PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, AND NOT JUST RELY ON THE ADVICE OF OTHER PEOPLE’S EXPERTS?

The answer is that an independent expert appointed by the Council owes the Council a legal professional duty of care, and can be sued if he is negligent. An expert appointed by another person or body only owes a professional duty of care to the person or body appointing him – and none to the Council. An expert appointed by another body only has to advise that body of what is in the interest of that body – the interests of other bodies or of the public are not his concern – particularly if the body instructing him is acting on the instructions of a politically motivated superior – as is certainly the case in regard to the Environment agency.

3.5 WHAT CAN AN INDEPENDENT EXPERT DO? WHAT WILL THE COST BE?

I am not suggesting that an expert be appointed with a brief to design the flood defences of the whole district – that could be very expensive.

I have made some enquiries and refer to the attached correspondence from Capita. I would recommend two tasks, which can be undertaken without great expense.

Firstly, the independent expert could be instructed to check the Environment Agency’s deskwork, calculations and opinions. I believe the cost of this would be about 5,000 - 10,000.

The second task would only be required if and only if the expert reports that he disagrees with the Agency’s views, and recommends further work.

This would be a study of the water catchments of the Ryedale District, with recommendations on work that could be done to minimise the risk of flooding for the foreseeable future. It would not involve detailed design work, and, although some survey work might be required, much of the information will probably already be available. It basically involves the collection of information, feeding it into the expert’s computer model, analyzing the results, and making recommendations on the basis of such results.

The cost of such a study is likely to be in the region of 50,000.

As part of this project, the expert could be instructed to have discussions and negotiations with the Agency and its advisors on the work that could be done by the Agency without breaking any of the policies or restraints under which the Agency operates.

Depending on the success of such discussions, further work could be undertaken – either at the Agency’s expense or jointly funded – perhaps with a sizeable contribution from Ryedale’s reserves.

Such works could include the expenditure of the 100,000 over a period of three years on river cleansing, as mentioned before, provided the expert is satisfied that the work will be worth doing and the Agency can be persuaded to give consent.

3.6 RECOMMENDATIONS

The council should be recommended as follows:

a) Continue to press the MP for action on Pickering as suggested above

b) Support the National Flood Forum in their campaign to get the rivers properly managed.

c) Pursue a local solution for the villages and rural areas as follows.

i) Set up a working party or panel of officers and members with instructions to interview firms of civil engineers of national or international repute with a view to recommending the appointment of one of them to carry out an initial study into the deskwork, calculations views and opinions of the Environment Agency in regard to flood prevention and land drainage in Ryedale.

ii) Each of the three drainage boards should be invited to appoint at least one representative to be a member of the working party or panel.

iii) A budget of 10,000 be allocated from Reserves for this work


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