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Flood Report Backs Calls For North Yorkshire Action

Malton Flood (Aaron Clarke) 291112 4

12:09pm 9th July 2013
(Updated 12:11pm 9th July 2013)

Farmer-led local water management boards could play a significant role in helping reduce the risk of flooding if the recommendations of a new report by MPs on the Parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee are followed.

According to the NFU, several groups forming part of Yorkshire’s extensive network of Internal Drainage Boards (IDB), have been urging the Environment Agency to hand back responsibility for maintaining key watercourses across the county on the basis that such maintenance is vital to agricultural productivity, food security and rural communities and has not been carried out in some cases for more than a decade.

Now it seems that the Parliamentary EFRA Committee, chaired by Thirsk MP Anne Macintosh, has backed their cause with the new report on Managing Flood Risk calling for an increased focus on maintenance, a ‘rebalancing’ of funds between capital and maintenance budgets and a greater role for IDBs in carrying out routine maintenance.

The report says effective dredging and maintenance of watercourses is essential and that IDBs wanting to take back responsibility for this work should be allowed to do so and should be able to retain the money they currently pay the Environment Agency to carry out the work.

NFU Regional Director Barney Kay says a number of Boards have expressed mounting frustration with a situation where responsibility for maintenance was given to the Environment Agency but they have proved either unwilling or unable to do the necessary work.

As a result, he says, many key watercourses have become increasingly clogged with silt, debris and vegetation. This significantly affects their ability to cope with large volumes of water.

“The suggestion that Drainage Boards should be able to take back this responsibility, and retain the money needed to do it, is eminently sensible,” he said, “and if taken up by the Government should help ensure that practical maintenance is carried out and so alleviate the flooding risk.”

Mr Kay adds that the Old Fleet Foss is a main watercourse that runs for six miles south from the village of Copmanthorpe, draining water out to the River Ouse via the River Wharfe. It is one example of where the local IDB wants to take back responsibility for maintenance.

It was taken away in 1970 when widespread development was taking place in Copmanthorpe, but since then maintenance work has suffered and the state of the watercourse is now the subject of real concern for local farmers and residents, says Mr Kay.

And with the Environment Agency facing further cuts to its budget, members of the IDB fear the situation will only get worse unless action is taken, he adds.

“This is something we can tackle, but we need the powers and money to do so,” said Charles Mills who farms at Appleton Roebuck and is a board member with the Ainsty Internal Drainage Board.  “The news that the EFRA Committee is backing our position is certainly a positive step forward – we now need the Government to take their recommendations on board.”

The report’s conclusions are seen as a victory for common sense, says Barney Kay. “Our members are increasingly concerned about the condition of our rivers and their ability to convey flood flows and obviously this has been brought into sharp focus by the flood events of the past 18 months.

“As a result, the NFU has been pushing hard for a regulatory system that enables farmers to carry out essential maintenance works while ensuring the impact on the environment is minimised. We hope that trial measures now proposed by the Environment Agency will be rolled out nationally, but it is also essential that any savings are re-invested back into the river network.

“We hope that the EFRA report will inspire the government to invest further in the essential maintenance of watercourses and recognise the true value of farming when prioritising flood defence spending.”

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