Yorkshire Water in the dock over sewage

Howard Keal

Howard Keal

First published in Columnists by

MANY of us in Ryedale breathed a huge sigh of relief in the wake of the Great Escape – some of us were not so lucky.

Some people hit by floods are without insurance. Their lives are in pieces. It will never be enough but a Christmas appeal fund is needed to help.

Heroic efforts by fire crews and a supporting cast of brilliant people saved our house and many more from an advancing sea of sewage.

Medals the size of dustbin lids are deserved by crews working day and night in bone-chilling cold along with teams from the county and district councils, police and Environment Agency.

Standing with them are the Salvation Army and church volunteers who provided back up with a 24-hour canteen at Next Steps in Norton.

As well as heroes tackling the floods in Norton, Malton and Old Malton, we have a villain. Step forward Yorkshire Water.

I would say the company’s name is mud – but with filth covering everything in sight during the sewage surge it isn’t as good as that.

All we have heard from the company has been the deafening sound of it attempting to wash its hands of responsibility for what happened.

I’ve heard it described as an act of God. It isn’t an act of God, it’s an act of negligence.

Yorkshire Water repeatedly says it isn’t responsible for surface water.

Well it is responsible for dealing with sewage. And it is sewage that formed a lake behind homes in our street and a nearby terrace in Norton.

Yorkshire Water is responsible – culpable – for the Victorian drainage system that allows surface water to combine with sewage.

It is responsible for the investment needed to stop this happening.

The company in its annual report – operating profit more than £63 million – trumpets its vision is ‘taking responsibility for the water environment for good’.

As we saw toilets flushed into our garden – and very nearly our front rooms – all we had was a comprehensive failure of that vision.

And it’s the same story in the village of Brawby, marooned for days by a river of contaminated water.

Major investment is needed by Yorkshire Water to provide a separate foul water system in Norton and the village.

We still have the task of clearing outbuildings and disposing of a drier and freezer among much else that sank in sewage although the company’s contractors did do a great job cleaning up what they could.

At its worst in our garden the contaminated water was three feet deep. We repeatedly called Yorkshire Water as for hours the level kept rising and rising.

I was told we could not be treated as a priority until sewage was inside the house. They were waiting for us to flood before they were prepared to help. Madness.

It did not occur to the company that when sewage is in your home it’s too late. The damage is done.

We were only saved by the arrival of fire service and Environment Agency pumps, helped by a home-spun system rigged up by neighbours. The tide got to three inches below the door.

Over the bridge, investment in permanent pumping capacity is needed in Malton and Old Malton to end the spectre of repeated flooding.

The channelled rage of the river was terrifying – this was the biggest test of the defences yet and for hundreds of us the closest call so far.

All the more reason for the authorities here to launch an inquiry – led by the county council – into the action and investment needed to avert yet more flooding.

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