Landowners warned over watercourse maintenance duties

Damage caused by flooding in Moor Road, Bellerby in 2019.

Landowners whose inaction leads to flooding are being warned they can not shirk their responsibilities amid concerns that communities are facing avoidable deluges.

North Yorkshire County Council’s Richmond constituency committee heard while Richmond MP Rishi Sunak had called for answers over why the community of Melsonby, near Richmond had repeatedly suffered sewage and surface water flooding, numerous other villages between Stokesley and Hawes were reporting similar issues.

The meeting was told while water utility firms were examining capacity issues and carrying out CCTV surveys of drainage systems, particularly ahead of significant housebuilding plans, blocked culverts and watercourse maintenance issues were adding to the problems being experienced.

Councillors were told under common law the responsibility to maintain watercourses lies with landowners, but the county council has permissive powers to serve notice on landowners who don’t undertake regular maintenance work.

Further failure to remove blockages such as fallen trees can result in councils undertaking the work and recharging the costs to landowners.

After North Yorkshire’s local flood authority officers said they often found landowners were not aware of their responsibilities, councillors said it was vital local task groups were formed and lists of those responsible for watercourses compiled ahead of flooding events, such as the floods in Appersett, near Hawes, in November, when the River Ure flooded a dozen homes.

Officers said with increasing flood risk it was becoming critically important that those people with drainage responsibilities were aware of them.

Great Ayton councillor Heather Moorhouse said the National Farmers Union and agricultural colleges needed “a kick up the backside” and to be told drainage responsibilities were part of a farmer’s job.

She said: “It’s not just about sitting on your tractor and having a nice time, it’s about digging ditches out.”

However, councillor John Weighell, a farmer and former long-time leader of the council, questioned whether flood risk was increasing and warned that pointing the finger of blame at one landowner would not always resolve what was a complex issue.

He highlighted how in places like Morton on Swale, near Northallerton, where the road level is below that of the river, it was practically impossible to prevent it becoming flooded and causing headaches for thousands of people.

Cllr Weighell said: “North Yorkshire is one of the most susceptible areas to flooding in the country.

“Over the years we have learnt you will never make it 100 per cent safe from flooding however hard you try.

“It is a problem that we have to put up with in North Yorkshire quite a lot I’m afraid.”


  1. It wood be a start if the river authority did some dredging work in the rivers,
    that would alleviate a lot of the problems

  2. Maybe doing something to tackle climate change should be higher on the agenda…. rather than wringing hands

  3. Landowners are not exclusively at fault; we’re been reporting a drain which overflows intermittently from the road into our property to Highways for eight years and whereas they’ve identified the problem (a collapsed culvert) nothing has been done. The public sector need to get their own house in order before pointing a finger at the farmers.

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