Rural flood defences ‘an example for others to follow’

CAMPAIGNERS hope the final completion of a project to protect one of the most notorious flooding blackspots in North Yorkshire will set a national example for others to follow.

A clay bund round an area of rough pasture two miles above Pickering, which can store 120,000 cubic metres of floodwater, is now proving protection for the town.

The final piece of a near £4m scheme designed to slow down the flow of water running into Pickering Beck and the town, experts claim it will reduce the chances of flooding - Pickering has flooded three times in recent years - from 25 per cent in any one year, to four per cent or less.

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As well as the reservoir, 150 woody debris dams have been installed in river tributaries, and over 120 heather bales to block moorland grips.

Nearly 100 acres of new trees have been planted and no burn zones established to slow down run off from the moors and two large timber bunds constructed, as part of the scheme called ‘Slowing the Flow’, one of three national demonstration projects.

Mike Potter, chairman of Pickering Civic Society, who fought to keep the project on track, after “many and varied setbacks”, said other rural communities could take a leaf from their book. Over the past decade two other schemes were abandoned because of the cost.

People in Pickering could “forget about frequent disruptive low level floods as they’ll no longer be newsworthy - or costly” - although a major flood like 2007 could not be ruled out, he added. He said: “In 2006 we’d had three floods in four years and it was damaging the whole economy - it keeps tourists away, impacts on the railway and impacts on local councils having to bring out the sandbags, and there’s the expense of insurers. Because of austerity people have to look at something that is cost-effective.

“Rural areas don’t get flood defences because of the cost benefit ratio (which favours more densely-populated areas.)

“It can be done in lots of other places as long as it is done right and they do flood modelling beforehand. It is working with nature rather than against it.”

Mr Potter said in an attempt to publicise what had happened in Pickering he’d contacted Radio 4’s the Archers, after Ambridge flooded - but had not heard back.

MP for Thirsk and Malton Kevin Holinrake said Pickering’s flood defence scheme had been referred to by Richard Benyon MP in questions to Defra last week in the Commons as an “example for others to follow.” He added: “Mike has done a fantastic job. I think when he got involved no one took it seriously. He got people together and said it was something they should consider and it has delivered a really innovative solution that is cost-effective and will have a major impact on peoples’ lives.

“I think the last flooding incident cost the community £7m, so I think this will have a huge impact, an impact that will last a generation.”

An official opening ceremony will be held later this year.

Mr Potter said there had been a huge number of groups and organisations involved and thanked members of the Ryedale Flood Research Group, who had given their expertise, time and support since 2008, often at their own expense - particularly Dr Nick Odoni of Durham University.

“Without them, none of this would have happened,” he added.