The total cost of this scheme was £2 million – one-tenth of the cost of the ‘official’ solution, which was to build a £20 million concrete wall through the centre of the town to keep the water in the river.
In any case, Pickering could not have had that because too few people would have been protected to make it worthwhile under Treasury cost-benefit calculations which have been forced on the Environment Agency.
Similar schemes have been successful in Glasgow and the Somerset villages of Bossington and Allerford.
Pickering, North Yorkshire, pulled off protection by embracing the very opposite of what passes for conventional wisdom. On it’s citizens’ own initiative, it ended repeated inundation by working with nature, not against it.
They got together with top academics from Oxford, Newcastle and Durham Universities to examine all options. Much the best plan turned out indeed to be to try to recreate past conditions by slowing the flow of water from the hills. Impressed by the intellectual endorsement, official bodies like the local councils, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and even the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, joined in.
They built 167 leaky dams of logs and branches – which let normal flows through but restrict and slow down high ones – in the becks above the town; added 187 lesser obstructions, made of bales of heather and fulfilling the same purpose, in smaller drains and gullies; and planted 29 hectares of woodland. And, after much bureaucratic tangling, they built a bund, to store up to 120,000 cubic metres of floodwater, releasing it slowly through a culvert.
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