Former Uckfield town councillor Mick Harker is calling for a strategy to be drawn up to slow the flow of the River Uck before it arrives in the town centre to help prevent future flooding.
He told Uckfield News that combatting flooding in the town was once high on the agenda but pressure on local authorities to “Do something” had largely disappeared, writes Cathy Watson.
Mr Harker contrasted the halting of progress in Uckfield with a successful approach in Pickering, North Yorkshire, which was similarly susceptible to flash flooding.
He said the BBC recently reported along the lines of “… although Pickering sits in the heart of all the recent heavy rainfall, it has avoided a repeat of many recent floods due to the implementation of new flood reduction measures …”
Uckfield and Pickering
Mr Harker said that back in 2008 leading academic experts from the world of flood management and modelling asked residents in Uckfield and Pickering to take part in an exercise for alternative flood prevention.
The ‘alternative’ was to use nature and the landscape to slow the flow and prevent peaks of water from numerous feeder streams reaching the towns at the same time and thus overwhelming the river’s capacity.
Mr Harker said: “Both towns were chosen as they had experienced recent serious flooding. For Uckfield in 2000 this brought out the inshore lifeboat to an inshore location for the first time in RNLI history.
“To date, Uckfield hasn’t experienced a river flood since that date. For Pickering the situation has been very different and it’s probably because of that constant flooding that they have been able to gradually convince people of the working with nature approach to helping the Pickering flood problem.
“Tree planting and the restoration of flood plains to hold back and absorb water, along with woody dams and different land use methods by owners with land abutting the Beck have all contributed to both an improved natural environment and an effective flood reduction.
“Ultimately, because of the rocky nature of the terrain, a holding dam was required high upstream where the water first runs off the high ground. This feature was completed in September and already Pickering residents have seen the benefits.”
Mr Harker said that after the 2000 floods an Uckfield flood forum was formed with representatives from all agencies and local government coming together to work out a way forward.
But, he said, without a recent flood, the pressure on local authorities to ‘Do something’ had largely disappeared and, except in its name the flood forum ceased to exist.
Another initiative, Trees on the River Uck (TrUck) had secured funding to continue valuable work started in 2008 but while great progress had been made with few resources, their funding and influence was modest compared with what was required.
Extremes of weather
Mr Harker said: “Without doubt, we will continue to experience extremes of weather over the coming years. Yes, in Uckfield we have been fortunate in that the pattern of the weather has left us relatively flood free but it won’t always be so.
“You can’t prevent all floods but, as Pickering has demonstrated, with a concerted local effort many floods, with all their associated pain and upheaval, can be avoided.
“With the success at Pickering, this should now be a wake-up call to both actively support the work of TrUck and to generate a real strategy for slowing the flow of the River Uck before it arrives in the town centre.
“Yes it will require the support of many organisations and landowners but it does need real local support and leadership from the people of Uckfield to make this happen.
“When, only this week we experienced the first of the winter flood alerts for the River Uck, isn’t it time we looked to the experience of Pickering and tried to see what we can do to prevent future floods. Or do we have to wait until it floods again …”
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