Householders and businesses face rocketing insurance bills as a result of the floods which caused widespread devastation in Pickering in June.

On Monday, a team from the Pickering Flood Defence Group, which now numbers 176 members, manned a special stall in the town's Market Place where hundreds of people signed the Gazette & Herald's petition calling for action by the Environment Agency to carry out the £6.7 million scheme which is already on the drawing board ready to be put into action.

In the first three hours, more than 500 people signed the petitions, said Pickering town councillor, Stephen Jepson. "We have had tremendous support, not only from Pickering and other parts of Ryedale, but from such places as Hull and Doncaster which were also hit very hard by the floods. These people knew what having their homes flooded was like and they had every sympathy for those who were hit in Pickering."

Kathleen Grayston, who runs a guest house in Bridge Street, and whose home was at one point under five feet of water when the river burst its banks, said the latest bill for insurance cover for her property had soared from £891 last year to a massive £1,445 this year - "and I haven't even submitted my insurance claim for the June floods yet, " she said.

She has been living in a log cabin at Thornton-le-Dale since the floods and has been told it will be November before her home is renovated and ready for occupation.

Many residents in the flood hit areas of Pickering are dreading their new insurance bills, said Roland Metcalfe, of Undercliffe, whose home came within three inches of being completely flooded.

People queued to see the front pages of the Gazette & Herald and the displays of photographs which depicted the horrific scenes of flooded homes and streets in Pickering.

Coun Howard Keal, spokesman for the Pickering Flood Defence Group, said an estimated 1,000-plus people had signed the petitions during the day. He said that while most insurance companies had taken a responsible attitude in assessing new charges, he believed there were some isolated cases where insurers had acted "absolutely shamelessly" in what he described as clients being "punished" twice over, firstly by having their omes and businesses flooded, and then by having premiums hiked. "It is scandalous that it should happen because people have paid their premiums to cover such eventualities."

The response to the campaign in Pickering Market Place, was overwhelmingly positive, he said. He added: "It was gratifying to have so much support from people in Doncaster, Hull and Sheffield who themselves experienced the horror of flooding in their homes and the misery it has caused."

Meanwhile, a major new report on ways of combatting floods in Ryedale is to be published by the Environment Agency next year, it was revealed this week.

Steve Wragg, floodrisk managament team leader for the Environment Agency, told the Gazette & Herald, that the report was being prepared but would not be published until the end of next year when it would go out for public consultation to local authorities, drainage boards, the Forestry Commission and other organisations.

One idea, he said, was the possibility of creating wetlands which would result in fields potentially being flooded, to avoid water hitting communities.

The report, which will project the possible flooding crisis over the next 50 to 100 years, will focus on the Derwent Catchment Area, he added. The plan will be one of the first to be published in the country by the Environment Agency, said Mr Wragg.