Posted by: swinemoor | March 26, 2014

Drainage, Damage and Dereliction of Duty

A visit to Figham (and Lund) commons last weekend should have been a lovely spring walk but alas it was spoiled by the drain-clearing activities that have recently taken place.  Drain clearing is a necessity in a pump-drained catchment, such as at Figham Common, but it can be done in an environmentally sensitive way, however, on this occasion it was not. It has been done in a wanton and destructive manner and, what’s more we, the taxpayer, have footed the bill.

Lund and Crack Willow

Figure 1: Lund Common, Beverley Parks Sewer and Crack Willow­ (yellow circle) © Google Maps 2014

The drain in question is the Beverley Parks Sewer (BNH053) and is maintained by the Beverley and North Holderness Drainage Board. This organisation was formed in 1766 (or 1798) which would seem a very long time ago, however, one of the Crack Willow (Salix fragilis) trees they have butchered (see Figure 1) during the course of  ‘sludging’ this drain is a lot older than the IDB in all its previous guises (see Figure 2). This tree had survived more than 200 years of previous drain de-silting but this time, presumably under the instruction of the Beverley and North Holderness IDB, it has not.

Crack Willow desecrastion

Figure 2: Ancient Crack Willow tree cut into pieces during over-zealous sludging operations on the Beverley Parks Sewer

Under the Land Drainage Act 1991 (Section 61A) , Internal Drainage Boards (which are public bodies and NOT private clubs) have a duty to further the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and the conservation of flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest. In addition under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (Section 40) Every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity. Indeed in its own Policy Statement the Internal Drainage Board say:

When carrying out works, be it maintenance or improvement….. we will aim to: –
a) avoid any unnecessary or long-term damage to all the natural habitats
b) take appropriate opportunities to enhance habitats.

In this case it would appear that Beverley and North Holderness IDB have not complied with their own Policy Statement and avoided any unnecessary damage (although they had done so for the previous 200 years), nor have they taken any appropriate opportunities to enhance habitats. They have also not followed best practice by only cutting one bank at a time nor, it would appear, have they made any attempt to conserve biodiversity. Why not?

IDBs

The reason may lie in the archaic way that drainage boards are governed. They are made up of members who are elected by the ratepayers and, if special levies are payable, by local authority appointees who are allowed to hold a majority of one. This is important as the ratepayers are so called because they pay drainage rates to the IDB at an amount set, effectively, by the amount of land they own in the drainage district: the number of votes they have at elections is determined in the same manner. As a result many of the board members in any drainage district are the largest landowners: in the case of the Beverley and North Holderness IDB see for yourself.  Boards that raise ‘special levies’ from the local council  are, in effect, spending money they have not contributed themselves, i.e. public money and, in order to ensure that their members do not spend this money on works that benefit themselves and not the wider public, the local authority has the right to appoint board members under Schedule 1 Pt. II para. 6(1) of the LDA 1991.  In the case of the Beverley and North Holderness IDB the current make up of the board is shown HERE.  Sadly, you will notice that the East Riding of Yorkshire Council has not taken up its allocation in terms of board members, leaving the local landowners in charge of spending our council taxes.  How much do they spend? The answer is £285,409.78 of local council tax payers money, nearly 60% of the total income of the board.  The question needs to be asked of ERYC, why are they not taking up their allocated members on the board to ensure that public money is being spent in the public interest? However, that is an argument for another day….

The Works

The works undertaken have caused unnecessary damage to the Beverley Parks Sewer and the adjacent wetlands of Figham and Lund Commons: it would be interesting to find out what pre-works surveys were carried out on the watercourse and the riparian vegetation for protected species. Great Crested Newts Triturus cristatus are known to be in the area yet the works were done just when they are coming out of hibernation. The veteran trees damaged may have held bat roosts and there is a high likelihood that there were Water Voles Arvicola amphibious along the drain.

 

Crack Willow

Figure 3: Smashed 250 year old Crack Willow and downstream culvert

In answer to the above, no doubt the reason would be given that the works were necessary to avoid flooding, however, there is a waterfall from a culvert under the A1174 that discharges into the drain between Lund and Figham Common so any flooding could not have propagated upstream and flooded the road but would instead have flooded the wet grasslands of the common, as it has done for centuries. Nevertheless the Beverley Parks Sewer was widened and deepened. Would this reduce flooding? Unlikely as any flooding of the A1174 would be much more likely to be the result of the constriction in channel width caused by the culvert under the road and, on the commons themselves, the same effect is clearly evident (see Figure 3). Here you can see that the drain has been widened and the tree damaged in the process, however, the effect has been to create a long pond as the flow of the (now widened and deepened) drain is  being restricted by the 16″ diameter culvert downstream.  Indeed this picture was taken on the top of  a similar culvert and there were a number of these along this stretch of the drain. In other words, the flow in this drain cannot be increased by widening it and deepening it as it is being restricted by the capacity of the culverts, not the drain! This means that the environmental destruction that has been carried out along the Beverley Parks Sewer (see Figure 4) was completely unnecessary and was a waste of public money. Incidentally the drain is now filling in again (due to the low flows and ponding) with sand from the works on the Beverley Southern Relief Road!

Lund damage

Figure 4: Arisings from drain spread on rushy pasture (foreground) and severe damage to a 200 year old crack willow (background)

The nature of this work, how it was carried out and who paid for it raises very serious questions about the behaviour of public bodies in and around Beverley. There appears to be a cavalier attitude which is characterised by the phrase ‘the end justifies the means’. As a result we, the public, are left to pick up the bill for the construction of a sub-standard hospital on flood-prone land, the loss of street trees, the building of a new bypass nobody wants and the piece by piece damage to the countryside and wildlife surrounding the town. All of this under the watchful eye of ERYC whose job it is to preserve Beverley as one of the best places to live in the UK. Instead they seem intent on turning the town into a suburb of Hull or worse, a dormitory town that has lost all its character.

We need a council that looks after the interests of its council tax payers, does not consent to building ‘cottage hospitals’ on floodplains and ensures that Internal Drainage Boards are answerable to those that fund the majority of their activities by taking up their seats on the board. Only by doing this will they ensure our wildlife and environment is not damaged and public money is spent in the public interest.

 


Responses

  1. This saddens me, cavalier indeed. There is a strong feeling amongst some residents that I see everyday on the Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire Facebook group. But the overwhelming question seems to be ‘What can we do about it?’.

    • What we can do about it is exercise our votes in May 2015. The ERYC that we have is NOT acting in the best interests of the residents of Beverley. We can change this: there are alternatives, not just Labour. More votes for minority parties or Independents, who care about their local neighbourhood, may be the way forward. What we do know is that, no matter how much they appear in the press, our present councillors do not represent their constituents: they do not take up their places on local drainage boards, they suggest stupid land swaps and build hospitals on floodland. If this is good government, God help us!


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