THE Environment Agency's newly-published Flood Management Plan for the Ryedale area has been slammed by experts.

The three internal drainage boards for the area - The Rye, Thornton and Muston and Yedingham - say they are "disappointed" with the Yorkshire Derwent Plan.

The clerk to the boards, Eric Bowles, said: "Over the past seven years when the boards have raised with the Environment Agency the dangers of lack of maintenance to the main rivers, they had been led to believe that the plan would address the problems and provide some possible solutions. Unfortunately it does not."

Mr Bowles added: "The plan is very broad brush and vague. It does suggest strategies for the future, many of which are long-term, for the next 50 to 100 years.

"Much can happen in that time, and although the boards do not disagree with some of the suggestions, they feel there should have been much more investigation, discussion and consultation, particularly with farmers and landowners, who would be the people most affected by many of the suggestions in the plan. This should have been done before the plan was published."

He said the boards were anxious to work with the Environment Agency. "To this end we are hoping to co-operate with them in an objective survey of the main rivers with a view to carrying out a maintenance schedule."

But while the planning and talking goes on, said Mr Bowles, the main rivers in the Vale of Pickering, which are the responsibility of the Environment Agency, are becoming increasingly silted-up and obstructed by trees and vegetation.

"It is the drainage boards' view that this is having such an effect on land drainage and agriculture that if it is allowed to go on, it could affect the rural economy of Ryedale.

"If land drainage is not efficient, it does not only affect agriculture but the whole of the infrastructure of roads, sewage, power supplies and increases the risk of flooding of properties and villages in the low lying areas."

There was a danger, he told the Gazette & Herald this week, that production on agricultural land could be "drastically reduced" because its quality would reduce. "Farming is the main contributor to the Ryedale economy, " said Mr Bowles.

The boards are made up of landowners, farmers, and members of Ryedale and Scarborough councils and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Meanwhile, Phil Woolas, the environment minister, has confirmed to Vale of York MP, Anne McIntosh, that Pickering scores only six out of 30 to qualify for flood defence work.

Miss McIntosh, who is the shadow floods defence minister, had written to Mr Woolas and the chief executive of the Environment Agency, Barroness Young, stressing the need for the £6.8 million scheme for Pickering, as a priority.

Mr Woolas, in reply, has said that his department is developing a set of what he describes as "outcome measures" for the national flood defence programme which will be used to set targets starting next year.

He says that in Yorkshire as a whole, capital spending on schemes will rise to £20 million in 2009-10, and £46 million by 2011-12.

"The agency priorities spend on the basis of risk. Defences that have been damaged in the recent flooding and represent a high risk to harm to people and property will be prioritised for repair work alongside places where new work is needed."

Baroness Young, who like Mr Woolas has expressed her sympathy to the families and businesses hit by the June floods, said the Environment Agency was working with Ryedale District Council to look at ways of using the £1 million budgeted by the council, to use the money on options to make homes and businesses more resilient to flooding.

Coun Howard Keal, spokesman for the Pickering Flood Defence Group, said: "There is a lot which is positive and sensible about the management plan.

"It is important to look at land management to reduce the speed of run-off which will lessen the severity of flooding, but it has to go hand-in-hand with defences for Pickering."

He feared that unless action was taken soon, the intensity of flooding would increase with climate change. "It is important that the Environment Agency takes action to soften the blow. Where the plan is wrong is putting flood defence work down as a medium term option which we must challenge as being unacceptable."

Coun Keal said it was "scandalous" that Pickering had already waited more than five years, since the Environment Agency invested £750,000 on designing a viable scheme but had done nothing to put it in place.

"What is even more scandalous is that we have not only seen more floods since then, and others will follow unless the Government, Environment Agency, and Defra get together to fund the project."

He said that if a land management scheme was introduced, under which farmland would be deliberately targeted for 'holding' flood water, then farmers and landowners should get compensation.

Meanwhile, Ryedale District Council chief executive, Janet Waggott has written to the environment secretary, Hilary Benn, emphasising the importance of the Pickering flood defence scheme. She told him that the latest flooding had cost businesses and householders £2 million in damage.

She added: "It is our understanding that the points system is to be replaced and the council wants to see a fairer system put in place to take into account rural needs and disadvantage.

"Unless this happens, homes and businesses in Pickering will continue to lose out against heavily populated urban areas."

Ms Waggott said Ryedale District Council had already offered £1 million towards the cost of the Pickering scheme.