£500,000 gap in flood defence plan

A LONG-AWAITED defence scheme to protect a notorious flooding blackspot is still facing a shortfall of almost £500,000 more than 18 months after it had to be shelved when costs nearly tripled.

The ambitious project to build a reservoir to protect scores of homes and businesses in Pickering in North Yorkshire has been blighted by a series of delays and escalating costs.

The scheme had initially been expected to cost £1.3m, but it had to be put on hold when the figure soared to more than £3m. It has had to be dramatically redesigned, and it is now set to cost in the region of £2m.

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Ryedale District Council has pledged £950,000 after North Yorkshire County Council committed £300,000 to ensure the defences become a reality. It is hoped the Yorkshire Regional Flood and Coastal Committee will agree later this month to provide a further £300,000.

But uncertainty continues to haunt the scheme and talks are ongoing with both the Government and the Environment Agency in the hope of bridging the six-figure funding gap. Discussions are also continuing with the Environment Agency and Pickering Town Council over the maintenance of the reservoir if it is built.

The Slowing the Flow Partnership Board’s chairman, Jeremy Walker, told the Yorkshire Post he is “cautiously optimistic” the funding will be secured.

He maintained a planning application is due to be submitted in the next month and, if permission is secured and the funding shortfall bridged, work on the defence scheme could start in the late spring.

But he added: “There are still question marks, we are not there yet and schemes such as this always take a long time to put together.

“However, we have made substantial progress during the last 18 months with a new design, a commitment from partners and putting in place the funding. We now need to turn this progress into a definitive scheme.”

The Yorkshire Post revealed in June 2011 that a decision had been taken to halt the project to protect up to 100 homes and businesses in Pickering, which has endured major floods from as long ago as the 1930s, due to the soaring costs.

The bill rose from £1.3m to £3.2m due to strict regulations applying under the Reservoirs Act 1975 as well as the complex nature of the site.

Problems emerged when the scheme needed to be classed as a Category A reservoir – the highest standard – because of the risk to public safety if it were to fail. The higher classification combined with the major engineering challenges led to the costs dramatically increasing.

Mr Walker confirmed up to 17.5m gallons of water could be held in the reservoir – similar to the amount envisaged in the original designs.

Detailed talks have been held with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway to ensure its route between Pickering and Whitby is protected as the reservoir is planned for a site near to the line.

The reservoir scheme is part of the Slowing the Flow project, which has been heralded as a model to help to protect other communities nationally as nature is being used to combat flooding.

It represents a major shift from engineering solutions back to techniques such as planting new woodland to slow run-off.