How To Deal With Flooding : --

We had floods last year, and were told not to expect them this year. This year we had floods too, and have been told that, due to Global Warming, the once in a fifty year storm might happen more frequently. Of course, last year the government agencies concerned had programmed flood prevention work on the River Derwent for 2002. Now they are hoping to bring their programme forward, and say they know what they need to do.

These agencies may deserve little sympathy, but it is not their fault that they have inadequate powers to do their job, and are under-funded. Like all government agencies, their programmes will be determined according to competing priorities and the works they propose to do will be designed to make the best use of the limited resources at their disposal - which is not necessarily the same thing as providing the best solution.

Many people will say that there is no solution: some people live in homes which used to be flooded regularly in the past, and the answer was to have stone floors and scanty furniture downstairs; others say that there is no point in doing flood prevention works upstream, as that is bound to make flooding worse downstream. This may indeed happen, if the Derwent is dredged upstream and not downstream, but there may be other solutions. For example, if the river channel were to be constricted, the water is more likely to back up upstream than to flood downstream. A series of constricted points and flood banks might then contain the flooding within open farmland. The flood banks could also benefit the farmers concerned by restricting the area of farm land which is flooded to the water retention area between the flood banks. Then, of course, there are other possibilities: there is already one sea cut: should there be others? There is the suggestion that the River Hertford could be diverted back onto its original course.

All these ideas and many more need to be evaluated. The question is: can we leave this to government agencies, with their limited resources and competing priorities? Are Ryedale people satisfied with what they have been told by them in the past? The public needs to be able to challenge in a constructive way the expert advice given by these agencies, and the only way to do so is to employ other experts, who are responsible to the local community and not to a government agency, and who can verify and report on the advice of the agency's experts, negotiate with them and come up with recommendations and a range of options of their own - from the cheapest to the best and most cost effective.

I can hear the doubting Thomases shout in chorus: "No way, Paul Andrews! What's the use of consultants? They always tell you what you already know, and, if they don't, nobody takes any notice of them anyway. They've got their own interest to look after, and they'll make sure we end up spending more money than we need to.The floods have caused enough financial grief. We don't want to throw away good brass after bad!"

The trouble is that Land Drainage is a highly specialised subject for specialist civil engineers. They alone know how to calculate the volumes of water that can be anticipated, and the relative effectiveness of the various methods of controlling it or holding it back. They alone know how to draw contract plans and tight specifications, which have the least number of loopholes which contractors can exploit to maximise their profit - and, if they get it wrong, their insurance company can be sued for their negligence. I have read many letters in your columns from people who seem to have excellent ideas - but, as they are not experts, their views have very little weight unless supported by the government agencies' experts. So, if Ryedale wants to seriously challenge a government agency in a constructive way, we must employ our own experts - otherwise we have no choice but to accept what the agency says.

And the cost? Ryedale District Council has 7M in reserves. The fees of a first class firm of civil engineers would be a small fraction of the annual interest earnt on this. If Consultants are appointed, and come up with a solution which is better than the agency's, the District will have the option of contributing part of its reserves to the agency's money, and proceeding with a joint scheme. And the cost benefit? The value for money? A few extra million pounds spent now would probably save many more millions of pounds otherwise likely to be lost by ordinary people in the immediate future.

But isn't this work we should leave to the government agencies? What do we pay our taxes for? In my view, we have become far too dependent on government departments and agencies - the Whitehall mandarin who always knows best. We should think less about what government should be doing for our district, and more about what our District Council can do for us.

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