Drainage Boards to Become Less Accountable to Local Control - 21st May 2008


 If any public body has been accused of being responsible for failing to prevent or mitigate flooding, most people would say the fault lies with the Environment Agency ( for not dredging the rivers) and not the Drainage Boards, and that the best way to make improvements would be to break up the Agency into separate River Boards and make them all publicly accountable.


However, as one might expect, if there is one solution which is obviously right and another which is clearly wrong, you can be absolutely certain that the politicians, advised by their officials, will inevitably come up with the solution which is obviously wrong. So, instead of the Agency being broken up and made democratically accountable, the drainage boards are going to be amalgamated into huge public bodies which will be about as democratically unaccountable as the Agency is now. How has this come about?


There has been very little criticism of drainage boards, but like everything else, they had to be reviewed, and changes were proposed in February 2007. The recommendation was that every drainage board or consortium of drainage boards would have to have a critical mass of an operating income of £500,000. The Boards accordingly worked towards achieving this critical mass by local mergers. However, on 6th February 2008, there was a huge shift in government policy, and local drainage boards were ordered to merge into mega boards. The plan is for the three Ryedale boards to be absorbed into a huge authority stretching from Selby in the South to Scarborough in the East and Richmondshire in the north. The amalgamation will convert a total of 18 local boards with 343 members into a single super board with 21 members. This immediately raises a number of questions: How would the workforce be supervised over such a diverse area? How would the different rating, special levy arrangements and maintenance and improvement priorities of, for example, the Selby and Foss (York) Boards, which are mainly urban, be combined with the Vale of Pickering Boards, which are mainly rural and agricultural?


Is it too fanciful to suppose that this proposed “Upper Ouse Catchment IDB” would become another organisation just like the Agency, with a superabundance of administrators, wasting the tax payers’ time and money on plans and reports, while the real work “ on the ground” is neglected?


So, what is the real reason behind these unnecessary proposals? A recent DEFRA paper explains that “Government policy is for a better integrated approach to the management of catchments............The concept of water level management is based on managing water levels throughout a whole catchment to achieve a reduction in the risk of flooding to people, property, businesses, infrastructure, high quality agricultural land........”


We’ve seen these phrases before and we know that, because Ryedale has a sparse population, we are considered “low risk” – in other words, less likely to attract investment than the  more densely populated areas. This is a process which started with the Derwent Catchment “Flood Management” plan, which includes proposals for the blocking of land drains, the creation of river meanders and the abandonment of flood defences.


Once local control and accountability is removed by the creation of these huge IDB’s, the way will have been cleared for the imposition of these sinister proposals in country areas like the Vale of Pickering.


This is an important point to bear in mind at all forthcoming elections.



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