Environment Agency under fire in Calderdale flooding meeting

It follows the destruction brought by Storm Dennis last month.

Members of the public who had been flooded and some councillors were unhappy at the role of organisations including the Environment Agency around Storm Ciara and in the longer term.

The Environment Agency faced a barrage of questions at Calderdale Council’s Flooding Scrutiny Board’s meeting at Halifax Town Hall.

Coun Steve Sweeney (Lab, Todmorden) said it was being said that a flood wall had been removed at Mytholmroyd prior to the flood.

Area flood risk manager at the Environment Agency, Adrian Gill, said an existing wall had been taken down to allow other sections to be rebuilt.

Temporary defences were overwhelmed and damaged and this was still being investigated, he said.

One of the questioners, Tony Milroy, said the catchment should be returned to local management, which undertook the task before local government reorganisation in 1974, to maintain as what had been done had failed.

His community group had produced a film, “Give Us Back Our Catchment”, which contained evidence to demonstrate their case, said Mr Milroy, with Mytholmroyd being flooded in places it had never flooded before.

“It’s a total mess,” he said.

Another questioner raised issues of a silt bank in Hebden Bridge where Hebden Water and River Calder joined, which he felt should be dredged, feeling a new approach was needed for the Hebden Bridge scheme.

If it took three years again there was the risk that Hebden Bridge would flood again, he said.

Mr Gill, said forecasting was a challenge anywhere in the country but particularly in the Calder Valley because the catchment could respond incredibly quickly.

A flood alert was issued on Saturday, areas of concern were checked and at the storm’s height 300 EA team members were working throughout Yorkshire including Calderdale.

In terms of the time it was taking to complete the Mytholmroyd scheme, Mr Gill said after the Boxing Day 2015 floods the thinking was just in terms of building walls but as the scheme developed it became more complex.

In terms of timescale, “some of these dates were incredibly ambitious,” he said.

The Hebden Bridge scheme – which is due to begin later this year – was also very complex and each scheme had to take into account and deal with impact on communities further downstream, said Mr Gill.

Questioners asked about downstream impact of the Mytholmroyd related works on Sowerby Bridge and Mr Gill said: “As we have modelled it, it won’t have a damaging impact on Sowerby Bridge.”

Computer modelling is used, calibrated against past events.

The severity of the event was also a factor, said Mr Gill – the storm was the second worst to hit the catchment.

Dredging was looked at as a tool in managing flood risk but a greater problem was vegetation and the need to keep key structures clear of it.

Other forms of keeping water back were being undertaken with partners including natural flood management.

Mr Gill said it was was not any one action that would improve resilience but a combination of them.

“I worry a lot about floods in the Calder Valley and don’t think there is one solution, but we have to try and reduce that flood risk and will have to be more resilient.

“The level of risk we have in looking to the future – engineering intervention is a part of that,” he said.

Coun Steven Leigh (Con, Ryburn) was left unsatisfied with answers from organisations including the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water.

“I think we have got to get down and have some serious conversations with the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water.

“We have to reply on your ability to do what’s right and it’s absolutely obvious it isn’t right.

“I feel as frustrated at the response when you’re there to represent your organisations, giving answers that aren’t acceptable,” he said.

Yorkshire Water’s Chief Strategy and Regulation Officer Nevil Muncaster pledged Yorkshire Water would work with the council and other partners to play its part.

“It has been a powerful evening and a very strong, direct and useful feedback,” he said.

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