Twin-pronged attack to try to curb flooding

Devastating summer floods caused damage costing millions around Pickering. Now two approaches are being tried to prevent them as Mark Holdstock reports.

Having your home destroyed by flood waters is bad enough financially. But, as Kath Graystone, who runs the Bridge House Bed and Breakfast in Pickering found, the emotional impact can be worse.

"We used to have an old lady who lived across the beck there," says Kath. "She was always the one that got flooded first. I once remember her saying that when it happened and she walked down the stairs and saw the water, all her insides turned to jelly.

"I used to think 'what does she mean'? But now, as soon as that beck starts filling up I start shaking. Even now."

Kath Graystone's guest house was one of 130 properties that were severely hit when the Pickering Beck burst its banks in the early hours of June 26, 2007.

"The water was up to the window sill and the same right through the house," she recalls. "The only things I managed to save were a few bits of old Victorian furniture. It's just the feeling that everything's gone and at that time when you haven't seen your insurers, you think 'What am I going to do?' because I've just got absolutely nothing.

"My cupboards and everything were full of dirty mud, stinking and horrible. And the smell, it was just horrendous."

Kath Graystone was lucky, her insurance company paid for all of the damage and repairs. But she was out of her house, living in a log cabin at Thornton-le-Dale for five months while everything was put right.

Another consequence of the flooding for her was losing income from her bed and breakfast business. "I didn't do anything the whole of that year until the following season in April, so I lost a year and a bit really.

"I think we had four or five near misses last year. Twice last Christmas we had some and on two of those occasions it was within feet of my house before the water subsided."

Howard Keal, a Liberal Democrat councillor on Ryedale Council, also has personal experience of flooding. His house at Norton was hit twice before defences were put in place.

"It means that you're out of your house for eight or nine months," he says. "It means that everything the water touched is wrecked.

"It means your floors are going to have to be ripped up, the plaster is going to have to come off the walls, your electrics are shot, your kitchen's ruined.

"Every piece of furniture that you haven't been able to move, every carpet is absolutely destroyed."

Coun Keal, and his wife Di, also a Ryedale District councillor, have been campaigning for flood defences to be put in place in nearby Pickering.

The scheme which is to be built is funded by the district council but according to local opinion they fear it will have limited value in protecting them and their property.

"The measures that are being put in place now will go some way, and that is massively important," says Coun King.

"The problem is that they don't go far enough."

Most of the 900,000 being spent by the council is for bunds – storage reservoirs – which are being put in by the Environment Agency near Newbridge to the north of the town.

They are designed to fill up with water during heavy rain which can then be released gradually into Pickering Beck.

"It will be temporary storage during a high rainfall event," says Lucy Huckson the project manager. "We think it will only be full for 12 hours maximum, so most of the time they'll just look like a dry field.

"The water will naturally back up behind the structure that we're putting in the river, the storage reservoir. And once the water has got down to a lower level it will just drain back into the river."

Construction is due to start later in the spring but preliminary work has already begun.

The Environment Agency has just received planning permission to bring materials, such as the clay for the bunds, onto the site.

In a separate project which takes a completely different approach, the Forestry Commission is using tree planting and land use management in order to try to "slow the flow" as the waters come rushing off the North York Moors above Pickering during periods of heavy rainfall.

This impacts on the catchment areas of both the Pickering Beck, and the River Severn which flows through the nearby village of Sinnington.

"Tree planting is a key part of what we're proposing," says Simon Marrington who is in charge of this scheme. "What we're doing is planting new flood-plain woodland specifically over on the River Severn.

"It will be riparian woodland 30 metres either side of these tributaries or water courses and there will be wider woodland planting where it's appropriate within the catchment as well.

"The effect of the new woodland, as it matures, is to intercept rainfall but also to obstruct the rapid delivery of the water into these water courses.

"These are essentially buffer strips that physically restrict surface flows and the speed at which the water is delivered to the water courses."

The slowing the flow project also employs what are described as debris dams that are designed to tame the water.

"Basically it's a cross-frame driven into the bank sides and secured with posts and then a large amount of debris – almost like thatching but with larger diameter material," explains Simon Marrington.

"They're leaky dams, so in periods of normal flow the water's not restricted. When the river's in spate they obstruct the flow and push the water out onto the flood plain, dissipating the speed and the force of the water."

Some of these dams have already been installed, and the residents who keep a careful watch on the levels of the passing beck believe that the work is having some encouraging effects on the water levels.

Flood victim Mary Croot who spent five months in a caravan in the garden, observes: "It seems to be more even, and it doesn't come up as fast since the wooden debris dams have been put in."

Kath Graystone spotted an encouraging difference after the waters rose during the recent big thaw.

"We have noticed a change in the behaviour of the beck since they put the debris dams upstream.

"When the beck started filling up again I just looked out and instead of rising as it does – whoosh – it went up one mark on the marker board, then another one and it stayed like that for two days."

Even when the water continued rising it did so more slowly.

Even so, the Environment Agency admits that their bunds and slowing the flow woodland will not be able to prevent a flood of the scale of 2007. The residents and Coun Keal are calling on the Government to do more. "What it needs is a stepping up of the level of protection with potentially more bunds," says Coun Keal. "But we also need a system of walls like we have in Malton and Norton.

"The money for that has to come from central government, which is why it's desperately bad that what we're seeing is a cutback on the level of funding being committed to flood defences by the Government.

"There are some investments that you absolutely have to make, and this is one of them."

In a recent report the House of Commons Environment Committee, which is chaired by the Anne McIntosh, the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, expressed its concern that funding for flood defences was being shifted away from central government and placed onto local communities,

One of the report's conclusion pointed this out, saying: "Defra must address more general concerns about how public bodies under tight budgetary constraints can fulfil their leadership and strategic roles on flooding.

"To cut back significantly on flood defence infrastructure spending could be a classic example of short-term savings leading to much greater long-term costs."

Kath Graystone agrees with the environment committee's verdict. "Pickering seems to be the last place where the Government will spend any money.

"In fact, if it hadn't have been for Ryedale Council, I honestly don't think we would have got those bunds done."

CW 8/1/11