D&S column: Practical ideas to combat flooding

THANKFULLY, our area escaped the worst of the recent flooding - but there were some close shaves and clearly there are lessons to be learnt from the devastation which wrecked Christmas and New Year for so many people.

Parliament’s rural affairs Select Committee of which I am member last week heard from some of the people affected in Cumbria: it really brought home the catastrophic impact of being flooded out, and losing treasured possessions or livelihoods.

Through my work on the Committee I intend to play a full part in the Government’s welcome review of flood resilience and already have some practical suggestions.

Firstly, I think we need to consider doing more river dredging. While the Environment Agency told me it does dredge, the fact that the agency spent only £20m on dredging recently out of an annual budget of almost £800m suggests it is not a priority. I accept it is not a universal solution but it worked in Somerset and many experts believe it could make a difference elsewhere.

Secondly, there is growing evidence that natural flood defences have a part to play and may be better than building more and more concrete flood walls around residential areas. There is a good example of that in Pickering where the storage of more water above the town, tree planting and other land management measures protected residents. This may well require involving compensating farmers to use some of their land to hold excess water.

Closer to home and on a smaller scale, the Brompton Flood Prevention Group is working on an innovative scheme using leaky dams to hold more water upstream to prevent the flash flooding which affected more than 160 homes in 2000 and has re-occurred since.

Thirdly, we also need to look at how much building we do in flood risk areas. It appears that in the first decade of this century 200,000 new properties were built on floodplains, 4,000 a year in areas of significant flood risk – and that’s despite stringent planning laws.

Finally, I told the Environment Agency chief executive last week that his organisation was perceived by many affected communities to be too remote. It needs to get closer to local people and take account of their local knowledge.

JANUARY might not be the best time to visit an ice cream factory but it was nevertheless a real pleasure to visit the Brymor dairy operation last week.

I love ice cream, even in the depths of winter, and I had a great time finding out how this dairy farm between Leyburn and Masham turns milk from Guernsey cows into award-winning ices.

However, the main reason for my visit was to highlight Brymor as an example of how the British dairy industry can help weather the crisis caused by sustained low milk prices.

One of the points in my Plan for the dairy industry was that the sector should turn more of our milk into butter, yoghurt, cheese – and ice cream. At present we import far too much dairy produce; making more of it here using British milk would be good for farmers and prices would improve. That’s exactly what Brymor is doing.

I’ll be returning to Brymor in the summer with my daughters. As well the ice cream parlour with a choice of 35 flavours, it has a great kids play area. I’m also trying to persuade them to let me create my own special flavour!