Cautious welcome for revised anti-flood scheme in blackspot

REVISED blueprints for a long-awaited scheme to combat flooding in one of North Yorkshire’s worst blackspots were unveiled yesterday, after initial plans were abandoned owing to soaring costs.

The new proposals to bolster defences in Pickering were received with cautious optimism by the communities who have been ravaged by deluges for many years.

The Slowing the Flow Partnership Project Board, a coalition of local and national authorities, has put forward three suggestions for consideration, all designed to offer protection against one-in-every-25-year flood events.

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They include making £85,000 available to Ryedale District Council to distribute to Pickering homes and businesses for flood-proofing. The grant from the Environment Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Yorkshire Regional Flood and Coastal Committee would be in addition to existing council flood budgets.

The second plan involves bringing in the Forestry Commission to plant more trees and block stream channels with woody debris to stem the flow of water.

The third proposal is to consider in more detail the use of small flood storage bunds on the valley just above the town, with four possible sites identified. It follows the shelving of plans for a large storage bund in the summer after costs soared from £1.3m to £3.2m owing to strict regulations under the Reservoirs Act 1975 and the complex nature of the site.

Board chairman Jeremy Walker, said: “The initial project has already put in place a wide range of new measures which will act to slow down the flow of flood water into Pickering. This is helpful, and will also increase flood warning times. However, we are conscious that more is needed in order to raise the level of flood protection.

“We are determined to explore any option which will give Pickering a flood scheme that will make a real difference. The major contribution to reducing risk has to come from creating flood storage areas and work is underway to try and design an effective scheme at an affordable cost. We do need to be realistic, though. There are many challenges ahead – financial, environmental and planning.

“We also need to work closely with local landowners and tenant farmers. However, our board brings together people with a wide range of expertise who are all committed to improving flood protection for Pickering.”

Flood campaigners welcomed the proposals but called for action.

Mike Potter, from the Ryedale Flood Defence Group, said: “These are all progressive, interesting and reasonably effective methods but you are still left with limited protection.

“You are getting only 10 per cent of water storage with the Forestry Commission idea, whereas a large bund would give you 90 per cent. The £85,000 doesn’t do a lot for the town and you have to ask whether you can protect properties.

“It is a sticking plaster solution as the whole ethos of this project is to store water up in the valley and let it out in a controlled way.

“This won’t stop the flooding and the water would still seep into houses. So we need to go back to the bund solution and we need a can-do attitude.

“At the moment, we are no further forward than we were two-and-a-half years ago. We need plans and a timescale.”

The MP for Thirsk and Malton, Anne McIntosh, who is the chairwoman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select Committee, claimed the time had come for action to protect Pickering. “The people have been badly let down. We have seen two years go by and we are no further on.

“The £1.3m on the table from Ryedale Council is not going to be there forever. At times it has felt like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

“I support the proposal for more bunds but we need to be satisfied they meet the regulations of the Reservoir Act, something I will be raising in a written Parliamentary Question this week.

“But most importantly, the people of Pickering need reassurance that they will be protected from the floods which could come at any minute.

“We need action and we need a date for the work to start. We can do so much with the £1.3m.”