ENVIRONMENT Secretary Hilary Benn is being asked to make a fact-finding visit to Pickering to see for himself the need for a multi-million pound flood defence scheme.

It follows a letter he sent to Ryedale District Council giving no hope of an early go-ahead of the long-awaited work.

Coun Howard Keal, spokesman for the Pickering Flood Defence Group, said Mr Benn's letter told the council that he did not expect any "significant change" in the town's ranking for a defence scheme which the Environment Agency has set at very low'.

"We must challenge Mr Benn's assertion because he is being incredibly negative," said Coun Keal who added that the cost of the damage to houses and businesses in Pickering as a result of the June floods was now put at £3.5 million.

"Mr Benn's views are based on a series of desperate misconceptions and failures to understand the plight of the people of Pickering. He says the Environment Agency is working with RDC to look at lower cost options to reduce the flood risk and has clearly been briefed on those lines.

The reality is that we are doing nothing of the kind. The agency has said that lower cost options would not work.

Any half measures are likely to lead to even worse flooding for those properties which are left out of the scheme."