Upper Catchment Management

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:47 pm on 26th April 2017.

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Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 4:47 pm, 26th April 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate Rachael Maskell on securing this very important debate.

As the hon. Lady said, one of the beautiful market towns in my constituency is Pickering. It is not only a beautiful town but a gateway to one of the finest landscapes in this nation—the North York Moors, with its Wimbledon colours of green and purple. On a sunny day, we can enjoy the delights of the North York Moors railway, chugging gently through that wonderful landscape and enjoying the beautiful “Heartbeat” country of places like Goathland.

Beautifully concealed within that landscape is the Pickering “Slowing the Flow” project. It is a pioneering project involving bunds, which are dams—some of them deliberately leaky, and some more substantial; heavy tree planting on riversides, farmland and floodplains; and small-scale ponds and swales. All those things are to slow the flow. There is also some more conventional concrete flood storage, but in my constituency it is almost like modern art; it is beautifully executed.

Pickering has a long history of flood issues, with four significant floods since 2005. One in 2007 flooded 85 homes and businesses in Pickering, causing £7 million-worth of damage. Pickering had a one-in-four chance of flooding. The deep channels of Pickering beck, which are deeper over time, meant that the water could not get away before the “Slowing the Flow” project. Other conventional schemes were considered. In 2004 a concrete scheme was brought forward that I think would have blighted the beautiful town. However, it was seen as too expensive. It would have cost £7 million in 2004, which is probably more like £15 million in today’s money, with inflation and the cost of contracts these days.

The scheme was run by the local community, in partnership with Forest Research, which is part of the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency, the North York Moors national park, academics from Durham University and Natural England. It was funded by DEFRA—prior to our excellent Minister’s tenure but very important funding nevertheless; perhaps the hon. Lady might recognise that some moneys have been committed to these kinds of projects—but also local authorities, landowners including the Duchy of Lancaster and the community itself. The project was chaired by Jeremy Walker, who has great knowledge of these issues, and it was delivered for £4 million, rather than the £10 million or £15 million it would be in today’s money. It was a completely new, pioneer scheme; I know the Minister is very keen to see these pioneer areas and pioneer schemes.

One simple question is whether it worked. The jury is still out; the scheme was completed only in 2014-15, but we saw significant rainfall in 2015. It was analysed by the Forestry Commission, the Environment Agency and the partnership to see if it actually worked. They looked at not just the rainfall but its intensity and how wet or dry the land was before the rain came. The hon. Lady pointed to the fact that many houses downstream in York were flooded on Boxing day 2015. That also happened in my constituency—in Malton particularly, but also in some smaller villages. However, Pickering did not flood, despite there being similar conditions to previous floods in 2008 and 2009. The research showed that the intensity—the peak flows—were reduced by about 15% to 20% because of those attenuation measures. The researchers are clever academics.

These are very complex schemes; they are not simple schemes to design and implement. The staging of the water flow is critical to making them work. With a high degree of certainty, it was established that that scheme worked; in fact, the comment was “better than expected.” Beck Isle, which is a small area of Pickering and one of those areas that floods every time there is a flood, saw no flooding of any properties, although the flooding came very close to homes. The dams I talked about earlier impeded the flows, which then pushed back into the backwaters behind and forced the waters out of the banks and into those riverside areas where trees had been planted. Of course, the trees then take up the water and make it less likely to push downstream.

About 50% of the reduction in peak flows was down to natural flood management measures and about 50% was due to flood storage, so the measures have been a real success. One could say, “Okay, that’s great, thank you very much. Let’s move on to Cumbria or Calder Valley or some other part of the country”, but I want the Minister to think of something other than that. There are additional measures that would make perfect sense at this point in time, such as gathering data, which the hon. Lady mentioned. That is one of the key things that we could do now to reinforce and multiply the effects of these measures.

The Yorkshire Derwent Partnership has been formed and, again, is chaired by the excellent Jeremy Walker, who has great knowledge of these areas. It is a catchment-wide project—2,000 sq km across that catchment. The Minister can straight away use that knowledge and experience. It has ready-to-go projects and three key things that it would like to do. It would like to gather data to see the effects of the projects, particularly when they are brought together across a catchment; the multiplier effect could be profound. There are also more measures for other communities.

Some of the beautiful places in my constituency, including Helmsley, Sinnington and Thornton Dale, which are stunning, chocolate-box villages, also suffer from these issues. Another project could be done on Thornton beck that would help Thornton Dale and across that whole catchment area. As the hon. Lady mentioned, such approaches have wider benefits. They do not just prevent flooding but create new habitats, benefit wildlife and improve water quality and management, and they still allow the public to access these beautiful areas.

The Department has allocated £15 million for slow the flow schemes in pioneer areas. I argue on behalf of the Yorkshire Derwent Partnership that the Derwent catchment is unique. It already has two sub-catchment areas with natural flood management projects that are working now. We could multiply those to see how they work, create more data and inform the debate so that such projects can be rolled out across the country where there are similar conditions.

All this can be done for only £175,000. A lot of money has been allocated, but I understand that there is about £1 million still to be allocated. The Environment Agency has the details of the Yorkshire Derwent Partnership’s proposal. Of course, lots of other proposals certainly deserve consideration. I would be neglecting my duties if I did not say that we also need more conventional flood attenuation measures such as dredging—our farmers really want me to say that word—but £175,000 would make a phenomenal difference to my area and the whole catchment area, and I believe that the work would be of national significance.