Calderdale's uplands should be the first line of flood defence councillors told

Managing Calderdale’s uplands should be a first line of defence against flooding and should be a key focus of attention, a council meeting in the aftermath of damage caused by Storm Ciara heard.

Saturday, 7th March 2020, 11:30 am

Particularly in the firing line were Yorkshire Water, which controls reservoirs and the land around them, and landowners who burned the moor.

Jenny Shepherd of the Ban The Burn pressure group, which wants to ban burning peatland, told Calderdale Council’s Flooding Scrutiny Board there was a lot of evidence that blanket bog needed to be restored.

She said the group had repeatedly urged Natural England to tackle breaches of agreements over burning by some landowners.

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Soldiers from the Highlanders based at Catterick Garrison help build flood defences in Mytholmroyd inn the Calder Valley in preparation for Storm Dennis.

In the aftermath of flooding campaigner Dongria Kondh going on hunger strike to pressure Natural England to take action, the group had finally been told this week they were investigating breaches, said Ms Shepherd.

In terms of Yorkshire Water owned moorland, the company’s asset strategy manager Granville Davies said it was reviewing consents.

Coun Geraldine Carter (Con, Ryburn) said the uplands needed proper management and said the reservoirs Yorkshire Water had agreed to test lowering levels at were in a different valley, the Ryburn ones were not included and channels had been overflowing since October.

She said Yorkshire Water had to manage its land better and she claimed inspections were made much more frequently in the past.

“It’s not about managing profits for directors, it’s about managing water,” she said. “One person going to look at a reservoir every now and then isn’t enough.”

She addressed the point about mnagement to the other agencies too.

Coun Steven Leigh (Con, Ryburn) said he believed reservoir levels should be pegged at 50 per cent to allow a lot of capacity in times of flooding.

He had regularly attended panel meetings with representatives of the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water.

“I have been frustrated, very frustrated, at the ‘no can do’ attitude I have encountered,” he said.

Water levels in reservoirs needed to be kept as high as 90 per cent because too much water was being lost through leaks and pipework, Coun Leigh claimed, slamming the situation as “a disgrace”.

Yorkshire Water’s Chief Strategy and Regulation Officer Nevil Muncaster defended the company’s record over repairs and said of lowering reservoir levels: “They are not the solution but can be part of the solution, which is what we are endeavouring to do.”

The company was trying its best to manage its land, working with farmers to restore peatland, with Slow The Flow, and other partners – less carbon run-off meant cleaner water, he said.

Adrian Gill of the Environment Agency said parterships were the way forwarded and one with Yorkshire Water to reduce levels by ten per cent in reservoirs above Hebden Bridge was set to resume.

Anthony Rae, of Calderdale Friends of the Earth, said four years ago action to improve upland catchment management should be taken but as far as he knew a report had not yet been compiled.

Four essential questions were what proportion of flood risk originated in the uplands, what was the helth of the uplands including its peatland bogs, what engagement with upland landowners had taken place to assess those questions and what powers were there to intervene if issues needed to be addressed.

“If you don’t know the answers to those four questions there is an important area unmanaged,” he said.