Agency in a storm over ‘unfair’ plan to abandon flood defences

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THE Environment Agency has been accused of an “unfair” bias towards urban areas over proposals to expose hundreds of acres of farmland to flooding.

The agency is consulting over its Lower Aire Flood Risk Management Strategy, which suggests withdrawing maintenance from miles of primary flood banks west of the town of Snaith, near Goole.

With annual maintenance costs of £1,400 per 100 metres, the agency stands to save about £1.12m a year if the proposals are introduced, but it would leave scores of homes and businesses at the mercy of the elements.

Landowners and residents would effectively be left to their own devices, but according to an East Riding Council report, the agency would work with them to “prepare for larger floods” and “register with the flood warning service”.

The report, which will go before the council’s cabinet next Tuesday, highlights “considerable concerns” about the plans.

It said: “Withdrawal of EA maintenance from the primary banks means that, unless landowners are prepared to take it on, the defences will eventually breach and the washlands will start to flood more frequently, impacting on the viability of the agricultural value of the land, and potentially on some isolated properties.”

It continued: “Whilst the area of land and the number of affected properties / businesses likely to be adversely affected by the proposals set out in this strategy are far less than in the equivalent strategy for the River Hull, the issues raised are very similar. The Environment Agency is promoting an approach which seeks to focus future investment towards larger urban areas.

“The consequences of such action will impact adversely on people and businesses in other areas despite the fact that the level and nature of flood risk in such areas may be equivalent or indeed in some cases far greater. This approach is seen as unfair and unjustified.

“The council remains concerned that the consequences of such a policy are particularly disadvantageous to farming communities as there is no recognition of the impact on agricultural businesses and productivity.”

The move would leave the village of Gowdall and its 250 residents greatly exposed.

Twelve years ago, villagers watched in horror as a swollen River Aire burst its banks half a mile away and the water rose to their ceilings - rising at one point by 18 inches in 10 minutes.

The prospect of a repeat fills them with dread, but some believe they have already been abandoned to their fate.

Ellen Lund, who with husband Paul farms 100 acres at Gowdall, saw their land flooded and their home inundated by six inches of flood water in 2000.

She said: “We are going to lose out because our land is not going to be protected. They haven’t got enough money to go around so that’s what they are going to do.

“I’m upset by it and it’s hard to stomach, but no matter what we say and how much fuss we make it won’t make any difference because they have already decided. A lot of the river bank is already in a bad state.”

The report also said there was a need to compensate landowners facing increased flooding.

Tim Cobb, the agency’s project manager for the strategy, said: “Our focus has to be on protecting property and that’s really what we are there for.

“We have some tough decisions to make but we have got to make sure our investment is made in the right direction.

“It’s also important to point out that the process of withdrawing maintenance is not going to lead to an increased flood risk overnight. It will still be a number of years before we withdraw maintenance and in that time we are working hard with communities, IDBs (internal drainage boards) and local authorities to see what other solutions there are for flood risk management.”

The consultation on the draft strategy is due to end at the end of the month.