Upland landowners in North Yorkshire who save cities and towns downstream from flooding could get compensation

A scheme looking at innovative ways of tackling flooding in North Yorkshire, which could see upland landowners compensated for allowing their land to flood to prevent problems downstream, has been awarded a share of £150m Government funding.

Colin Fidler, Landlord of the Kings Arms, King's Staith, York, peers from his upstairs window as rising floodwater from the River Ouse is pumped out of his pub Credit: James Hardisty

North Yorkshire and City of York councils will get £1m a year between 2021 and 2027 from the fund, which seeks to develop and test new approaches to tackling mainland flooding and coastal erosion.

It comes after floods devastated swathes of the authorities’ areas in 2012, 2015, 2019 and most recently last February, when around 100 properties were flooded.

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Some impacts are long-lasting and extremely expensive – work to reopen the A19 between Chapel Haddlesey and Eggborough, closed by flooding 13 months ago, should finally finish in June, having cost the taxpayer

Coun Don Mackenzie, the county council’s executive member for access, said he was delighted the bid, involving the University of York had been successful.

He said they would be looking “at all innovative solutions” to combat flooding, including compensating landowners who allow their land to flood to hold back water.

He said: “The partnership with York is particularly appropriate because so many of the rivers in North Yorkshire flow down towards York and often the citizens of that city are flooded because of riverwater coming down from North Yorkshire, so it is appropriate we work together to get solutions.

“What is particularly innovative here is we get as many partners as possible to work together to achieve results. We do it already but this gives us an added boost. Flooding affects our highways, our bridges, our communities, and the costs can be huge. We have 6,000 miles of highways and nearly 2,000 bridges and they are all vulnerable to severe flooding.

“It’s a huge cost to our communities – the people we represent.”

He said the last thing farmers wanted was their land flooding because it was taken out of production, but now they had the funding they could look at “temporary compensation”.

He said: “If we feel that compensation of farmers will have a beneficial effect on efforts to beat flooding and the huge costs involved, it is clearly something we will pilot.

"The cost of an acre of flooded agricultural land is much less expensive than an acre of the city of York being underwater. It’s simple arithmatics that one can get far better effects by doing that upstream on agricultural land in order to spare extremely expensive and populated areas in cities like York - or Selby, Tadcaster, Malton - all areas which regularly flood.”

A project covering Grimsby, Immingham and Doncaster which seeks to trial different approaches to engage with communities and instal “sustainable drainage measures”, like water butts and rain gardens, is also among the 25 local schemes to get funding.

Artificial intelligence and new sensor technology to detect rising water levels will be used in Northumberland, while in Slough, the Chinese “sponge city” concept will be deployed, using permeable roads to soak up surface water, and natural vegetation to improve drainage.

Funding will come from Defra as part of the government’s new Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme and will be managed by the Environment Agency.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said the projects would help “reinforce the UK’s position as a world leader in innovation and new technology as we build back better”.

Meanwhile Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said projects which proved successful could be replicated on a larger scale around the world.