Agenda item

York's Waterworks - a health check (18:13)

Members of scrutiny have requested a report to consider the management of two key aspects of our cities ‘waterworks’:

        Report on the cleanliness of York’s rivers/becks, sewage management and the management/support of biodiversity around them;

        Report on the state of York’s drainage infrastructure; covering capacity to meet demand in urban and rural areas, insight into recent and forthcoming investment into repairs/upgrades and the scale of the challenge faced.


Officers introduced a report providing an update on the cleanliness of York’s water courses, becks and streams, and the state of drainage infrastructure. It was noted that while the Environment Agency had ultimate responsibility for water quality, a range of groups had a role to play, and that members were free to invite partner organisations to report to scrutiny.

The committee discussed clean-up after flooding events. It was noted that the clearance of silt, mud and debris from riverside paths was carried out in line with the Council’s warping policy, which set out the order of priority for affected areas. Repeat flood peaks, difficult conditions and other calls on teams often made this work slow and challenging. A combination of sweepers and jetters were used by the same highways maintenance teams who carried out gritting, and officers were looking at increased coordination between Public Realm teams. It was noted that although there was always a residual risk from flooding, York was experienced in dealing with flooding events and knowledge gained had been shared with other local authorities.

Members enquired about runoff from upstream areas. It was noted that a very large river catchment in the North Yorkshire Council area drained into the Ouse, and that the Council was leading a DEFRA-funded catchment-scale project focused on targeted interventions and incentives for the uptake of flood management measures, with a programme of works running to 2027. The Council was working with the University of York to investigate the scale of the impact of upstream agricultural runoff on water quality in the city’s rivers. With reference to sewage in rivers, it was confirmed that under the government’s storm overflow reduction plan, water companies would have to reduce all overflows to approved levels by 2050. Yorkshire Water were already investing in some sites in York to this end, and the Council was seeking to ensure they remained focused on this work.

The committee also discussed sustainable drainage systems (SuDS). It was noted that the implementation of Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 due later this year would see the Council become the SuDS Approving Body (SAB) for its area, and a new SAB process parallel to the planning process would need to be set up to appraise and adopt all new drainage systems serving more than a single property. This would be a significant responsibility but would bring considerable benefits, and although retrofitting SuDs was challenging, work was already being done to ensure SuDs were incorporated in all new developments.

Members also considered multiagency working. It was noted that several Members sat on Internal Drainage Boards, and that the intent to work collaboratively was very welcome. It was confirmed that the Friends of St Nicholas Fields were working with the Drainage Boards to inform maintenance work and enhance and maintain riverside environments, and that officers were advising the Friends of Rowntree Park on flood recovery.


i.                That the report and annexes be noted.

ii.               That the Chair, together with the Executive Members for Environment and Climate Emergency write to the relevant government minister, shadow minister, and all York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority mayoral candidates to urge that the new SuDS Approving Bodies be properly resourced, and that the mayoral candidates support the strategic objective of improving upstream flood prevention measures.

iii.             That officers pass on the committee’s thanks to all staff involved in reactive flood-related work in recent months.


Reason:     To deliver healthy rivers and an effective drainage system in our city and safeguard our communities from flood risk or environmental harm.


Supporting documents:


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