One has to concentrate on what is possible when dealing with the Environment Agency - 27th October 20011

The Pickering situation should give us all cause for concern.

Up until about 1985 the rivers were regularly cleansed and properly maintained. No such regular maintenance has been done since 1985 because this was an economy introduced by the government in or about 1985. This “saving” affected the whole country (except in the case of a few commercially important waterways) – not just Ryedale. It means that there is now  a 27 year backlog. In the meantime farmers and drainage boards have been maintaining their watercourses, so that water passes quickly through these and then empties into the undredged rivers, causing them to flood.

The cost of putting right now the neglect of so many years over the whole country would be considerable, and successive governments have not given this the priority it deserves. So, instead of making flood prevention improvements to the rivers, the Environment Agency under the last government produced a number of “Flood Management Plans”. Instead of concentrating on flood prevention, these plans (and certainly the one for the River Derwent) advocated the concept of allowing the rivers to “return to their natural flood plain”, by abandoning flood defences or increasing river meanders.  The purpose of this was partly said to be environmental (to safeguard habitats etc.) and partly to defend towns, cities and conurbations (by allowing the countryside to flood so as to hold back flood water from urban areas). 

Ryedale has not been affected as badly as some areas. For example, at one time a vast area of East Yorkshire at or below sea level was threatened with having the pumps turned off.

Understandably the Ryedale farming community was enraged, but the Environment Agency stonewalled them when they made their concerns known. In these circumstances, I and others suggested that rather than continuing  outright confrontation, the farming community should engage a hydrological engineer who had expertise and qualifications which the Agency could not ignore. After four years of debate, Ryedale agreed to fund Chris Bowles. Chris was accordingly engaged by the Drainage Boards and has since been working with the Environment Agency to find ways in which they could help without breaking their own rules and policy guidelines.

This has resulted in a number of reports and investigations. As a result of this, it has become clear that there is major siltation upstream of Malton. Hopefully, this will lead to a solution which will prevent flooding without having to dredge the whole of the River Derwent.

The situation in Pickering is somewhat similar. Policy guidelines prevent the Environment Agency from taking common sense action, and government cost-benefit calculations say there are not enough houses in Pickering to justify the expense of protecting them. However, Ryedale had reserved £1M for Pickering flood defences, and this made the “Slow the Flow” scheme viable. Then the reservoir regulations changed, forcing up the price and requiring over-engineering of the proposed bunds on a grand scale. One hopes a less expensive solution will now be found.

One can argue that all this would be unnecessary if only the rivers were to be properly maintained and cleansed. However, the policy which prevents this is a national government policy, and it can only be changed at that level . So no local campaign or representations will achieve much: a national campaign might. All we can do at a local level is to find flood prevention measures which don’t cross Environment Agency policies – however stupid and irrational those policies may be.


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