A scheme to tackle flooding in North Yorkshire will look at the benefits of encouraging upland landowners to allow their land to flood to prevent problems downstream.
North Yorkshire and City of York councils are to bid for a share of a £150m Government fund to test and demonstrate ways to help communities become more resilient to flooding.
The authorities have agreed to team up to try to overcome the causes of flooding events, which have devastated communities across swathes of the authorities’ areas in 2012, 2015, 2019 and most recently in February last year.
Ahead of a bid being submitted for the partnership project, which could receive about £6m between 2021 and 2027, the councils said the scheme would work on a “whole catchment scale”, encompassing rivers such as the Ure and the Swale as they flow downstream and become the River Ouse north of York.
The project, which is set to involve studies by the University of York, would seek to add to evidence about whole catchment and natural flood management approaches to tackling deluges, such as encouraging some upstream landowners to allow their land to flood to hold back water.
A county council officers’ report on the project state the downstream benefits of natural flood management are “not easily visualised by those in upstream areas” and whilst initial capital costs for natural measures are relatively low, the costs associated with maintenance and loss of viable farmland are proportionately more significant than traditional flood mitigation.
It adds many upstream communities are reliant on farming and do not necessarily receive benefit from giving land to this approach.
A county council officers’ report on the project states: “The ultimate objective of the project would be to link those who have the means to facilitate upstream flood prevention measures with those who would benefit and provide the means for them to reward the positive flood risk decisions made by their upstream neighbours, to give benefit to all.
“The bid would be truly innovative in accepting the whole catchment ethos and understanding the relationship between the downstream beneficiaries and upstream facilitators for the approach.”
It states demonstrating benefit-cost ratios for flood mitigation funding that compete with other areas in the country is difficult for North Yorkshire alone, due to the dispersed, rural nature of its communities and the relatively small number of properties that can be protected by any specific intervention.
The report states: “North Yorkshire benefits from a number of proactive catchment partnerships and the potential of the approach is recognised within the county and in neighbouring urban authorities including York and Leeds, where the impacts of flooding events are more concentrated in urban settings.
“Eyes therefore often look upstream for solutions, from attenuation potential, to targeted land management. It is not however easy to demonstrate the effectiveness of any one particular measure.
“In order to add to the body of evidence, modelling and interventions need to be delivered on an ambitious scale. Large projects such as the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme have looked to natural upstream measures to attempt to give a level of mitigation to support the hard engineering measures in the city centre.”
Councillor Don Mackenzie, the county council’s executive member for access, said he wanted the scheme to go ahead as soon as possible while everyone’s minds in North Yorkshire and York were concentrated on flooding with Storm Chistoph.
He said: “Storm Christoph this week is yet another reason why we should act quickly. York is the confluence of a lot of waters that flow off the moors and the dales in North Yorkshire so it seems totally appropriate that North Yorkshire County Council, City of York Council and other partners collaborate because this is a problem that faces us all and we must all play our part in getting a solution to it.”