Councils could be forced to pay millions of pounds to people living in rural areas whose land was deliberately flooded to divert water away from built-up areas following a landmark court ruling brought by a Yorkshire farmer.
Robert Lindley successfully argued that his farming business was entitled to compensation after East Riding Council deliberately flooded his fields in 2012 in order to protect homes following heavy rain.
The ruling will give hope to thousands of rural flooding victims but could potentially see many financially-pressed councils forced into similar payouts totalling millions around Yorkshire and the rest of the country.
Part of Mr Lindley’s farm, at Burton Fleming, near Driffield, was sacrificed in 2012 to save houses in the village from inundation.
A stream, known as the Gypsey Race, burst its bank with the flood waters reaching their height on New Year’s Eve.
Seven or eight homes in the village were flooded; the sewage system failed and it was “an anxious time for all”.
East Riding Council, with the assistance of the fire service and the Environment Agency, pumped water into Cottage Field, part of Mr Lindley’s 670-acre farm.
Much of his carrot crop was destroyed and, through his family company, Robert Lindley Limited, he sued the council for damages at the Upper Tribunal.
Judge John Behrens said it was a test case and acknowledged that his ruling would have far reaching consequences.
Denying legal responsibility, East Riding argued that most of the pumping was carried out by the fire service and the Environment Agency.
However, the judge ruled the council liable and ordered it to pay compensation of £14,500 for the devastated crop.
Judge Behrens said: “We were told that this is in the nature of a test case in that there are a large number of other similar claims made by farmers as a result of crop losses allegedly caused by the pumping of flood waters.
“Thus, although the sums involved in this case are relatively modest, the issues of principle involved will have a far reaching effect in respect of the other claims”.
The political divide over the response to the floods reached a local level yesterday when York MP Rachael Maskell traded blows with the city’s council over its help for residents.
The Labour MP claimed residents with flooded properties were being told they would only receive a three month exemption on their council tax and called on the Conservative-Lib Dem run authority to do more.
But council leader Chris Steward insisted the authority had made clear it would extend the exemption if people were still out of their homes and accused Ms Maskell of “showing her ignorance and needlessly worrying residents”.
Calderdale Council has launched a commission to study the cause of the floods, their impact and the response.