Floods raise calls for quicker intervention

Red tape should be cut to make it easier for landowners to take control of vital repair work in the wake of flooding, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) says.

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After last week’s tidal surge inundated large tracts of farmland with flood water in East Yorkshire, the CLA is renewing its calls for farmers to be given greater freedom to intervene and manage water courses passing through their land.

New river maintenance pilots aim to do just that, claimed the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which defended its spending on flood risk management against accusations it is weighted towards improvements in urban areas.

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Dorothy Fairburn, the CLA’s regional director, said: “Last week clearly illustrated why farm land near coasts and rivers needs sufficient resourcing and management to protect it from flooding.”

Pumps working 24 hours a day have been pumping almost 5,000 gallons of standing water an hour from fields and carriageways in the Blacktoft and Yokefleet areas, East Riding of Yorkshire Council said on Thursday.

Miss Fairburn added: “Due to savage budgetary cuts, the Environment Agency is withdrawing from long-standing flood defence commitments, effectively passing on the cost and responsibility to farmers and landowners, who often don’t have the time and resources to tackle the mountain of red tape required to carry out the necessary work.

“With an ever-increasing global population, the need to secure our own food production is more important than ever. The defence of farm land plays a key role in food security so if the Government isn’t going to do it then it should be made as easy as possible for the landowner to.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We’re currently spending £2.3bn tackling the risk of flooding. Together with contributions from other partners, this is more money than ever before.

“Our priority has to be defending homes and we are on course to better protect 165,000 homes from flooding by 2015.

“Over the past two years we have better protected over 150,000 hectares of farm land. We’re also removing red tape and giving landowners more power to manage watercourses on their land through our river maintenance pilots.”

A step in the right direction

Seven river maintenance pilot areas were established across the country in October by Defra.

The one-year schemes include one at Winestead Drain near Withernsea in the East Riding and another at Bottesford Beck, North Lincolnshire, and are overseen by the Environment Agency.

Landowners must apply for permission from the agency before carrying out certain maintenance activities on rivers crossing their land but in pilot areas, farmers are allowed to de-silt watercourses without obtaining consent.