There is still much to be done to prevent floods -15th December 2012


The management of the district’s rivers has been the subject of constant government reorganisation. Up until 1965, the rivers were managed by independent boards. Subsequently, after a number of administrative changes, their functions became vested in a government QUANGO, the Regional Water Authority. Between 1989 and 1996, they transferred to another QUANGO, the National Rivers Authority, and river management has been with the Environment Agency since 1996.


Towards the end of the 19th Century, the sea cut above Scarborough was built, but otherwise there was little to stop the rivers flooding. In the days before fitted carpets, people used to moving their furniture upstairs when the water rose.


After World War II, the river boards constructed or extended the flood defence banks we know today. These were very effective and at the same time the rivers were dredged as a matter of routine. At that time the river boards were locally accountable, and flooding was very much reduced, if not entirely eliminated.


However, local accountability disappeared as soon as the river boards were absorbed into government QUANGOs. Governments always look for economies and it would seem that the River Derwent has not been dredged since 1985. Presumably this was a result of a government decision, made on the cynical assumption that if river maintenance was cut, nobody would notice until many years later.


Fifteen years later, there were the floods of 2,000 which overwhelmed Malton, Norton, Pickering and many Ryedale villages. There was an upsurge in public sympathy nationally, and fortunately this resulted in the construction of substantial new defences at Malton and Norton. Unfortunately Pickering did not benefit from this.


The reaction of the Environment Agency to the flooding was to set up a bureaucratic point scoring system for allocating scarce resources. This has always favoured the cities at the expense of country areas like Ryedale. They even tried to promote this policy by suggesting that if the rivers were not dredged, this would be environmentally to the benefit of wildlife habitats. They then produced a series of “flood management” plans. The purpose of these was to manage flooding and not to prevent it. Recommendations included the abandonment of many of the flood defences built by the old River Boards, and allowing the rivers to “return to their natural flood plain”. Country areas were to be allowed to flood in order to hold back flood water from the cities.


Farmers and village residents were infuriated with the Agency’s outright refusal to dredge the rivers, and this is when I became involved after my first election to Ryedale in 2003. As a former public service officer, I could see that there was no point in arguing with the Environment Agency’s officers unless an expert hydrologist was engaged who outranked their officials. It took me four years to win this argument, but eventually Chris Bowles was engaged by the drainage boards and paid for by Ryedale District Council. He has succeeded in persuading the Environment Agency to join in carrying out a full “channel management” study of the River Derwent Catchment. Much work on this has already been done; areas which require attention have been identified; water weeds have been cut back in some areas, and some attention has been given to cutting back the trees on river banks. The Environment Agency seems to have stopped talking about letting the rivers return to their “natural flood plain”.


A few years ago a team of university academics examined the situation at Pickering. They recommended a series of bunds to hold back flood water from the Pickering Beck. However, this plan turned out to be too expensive because the bunds would have had to comply with the stringent requirements of reservoir legislation. Nevertheless some other work to “slow the flow” has been carried out upstream.


Many residents might have wondered if too little has been done too late. The test came with this year’s floods. The River Derwent rose at least as high as it did in 2000. However, the river defences did hold, and the rivers did not break over the flood defences. Even so, there was some flooding. This happened mainly because the sluice gates which allow water to drain into the river close when the river floods. This causes water which cannot get away to back up behind the river defences. There is a pump at Prior Pot in Norton which is designed to deal with this issue.  It worked well. However, the pumping station at Lascelles Lane in Old Malton did not, and more than five huge mobile pumps had to be used to stop Old Malton from flooding.


Reporters in large numbers with cameras descended on Pickering, expecting to photograph the worst. They did find some flooding, but miraculously Pickering mainly escaped.


There has been some flooding in the villages and at least one village was cut off as the roads leading to it went under water.


So although the damage is nothing like as extensive as in 2000, and much research and work has been done, there is still much more to do to secure the Vale of Pickering and the Derwent basin from the threat of future flooding.






























Privacy Policy