‘Sort flood defences to stop York residents living in fear’

Work on the flood defence scheme in Clementhorpe must start soon to ‘lift this fear’ from residents’ lives.

Many people living in the neighbourhood had a sleepless night on Thursday as the River Ouse was at risk of rising above 4.8 metres.

Fortunately it peaked at 4.6 metres – but councillor Jonny Crawshaw said he was angry that residents had to rely on temporary defences including sandbags and a pump when they were promised a permanent flood defence would be built by Christmas 2018.

Planning permission for the scheme was granted in June 2020 and the Environment Agency says work will begin as soon as possible.

Daniel Rust lives on River Street, where residents were offered evacuation to Covid-safe hotel rooms on Thursday night as river levels rose.

He said he does not know anyone who took up the offer, but that it was an anxious night with residents woken up by the sound of a faulty pump.

“The sandbag barrier is built to approximately 5 metres. When we heard that the river may peak at 4.8 metres we were very concerned that the dam could get overtopped and push over the sandbags, but it didn’t come to that as it peaked at 4.6 metres.”

Need a solution

Clementhorpe in the floods. Photograph: Cllr Jonny Crawshaw on Twitter

He said he understands the scheme has been controversial with some residents and will be disruptive while work is carried out, but said: “We need their help.

“We need a speedy resolution to lift this fear from the area. Even if work starts tomorrow we would still have 18 months until it is resolved.

“It will be 18 months of disruption, which we will put up with because of what will have been achieved at the end.

“The flood gate will be 5.7 metres – one metre above the peak level this week. We will never have to have this disruption again.”

He said residents spent six weeks “behind sandbags” last year due to three flood events.

He described the worry of living with the risk of flooding: “We know that if there is more than two days of rain in the Dales, we’re in trouble.

“We are always keeping an eye on the river and it sounds strange but we keep an eye on the houseboats as if they are buoys because it can be really nice weather in York but the river rises.

“The people living in houses at the Edwardian end of the street suffer most.

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen in the next two weeks.”

‘I’m really angry’

Jonny Crawshaw. Photograph: York Labour Party / YouTube

Cllr Crawshaw said it now looks unlikely the flood defences will be complete by Christmas 2021 as construction is due to take 18 months, meaning another winter of worry for residents.

He said: “I’m really angry about it. Imagine the stress of being told to prepare for evacuation. Residents have told me they barely slept last night – and yet this could have been avoided had the new defences been in place already.

“The Environment Agency have had five years to deal with this, there is no way they shouldn’t have broken ground by now.”

“Clementhorpe residents were promised a permanent flood defence would be built by Christmas 2018, then 2019, then 2020. It looks unlikely now that their flood defences will be ready before Christmas 2021.

“It simply isn’t good enough. Whatever the hurdles the Environment Agency may have faced, five years is more than enough time to have got over them!

“It’s not just Clementhorpe though – residents up near the Millennium Bridge were told they would also have a barrier built. Then it became Property Level Flood Resilience Measures which, we were told, would be much quicker to install. To date, I’m not aware of a single piece being delivered.”

The Environment Agency response

Ben Hughes, of the Environment Agency, said: “This is an incredibly complex area for flood defences and we continue to liaise with City of York Council to agree sign-off of the remaining planning conditions. And we have extensively consulted with many different interested parties to minimise the impact of the planned work.

“We are ready to begin construction of defences for this part of the York flood alleviation scheme. We aim to get under way as soon as possible following the current flooding.”