WORRIED councillors have called for a campaign to clear ditches and drains in the Pickering area to be stepped up because of fears of a repeat of last June's floods.

Several members of the North Yorkshire County Council's Ryedale area committee criticised the Environment Agency for not clearing river beds and ditches which they believed had played a key part in the floods, which devastated more than 70 homes and business in Pickering's Market Place, Park Street and Beck Isle area.

It was the latest in a catalogue of flood incidents in the market town in recent years.

Coun David Lloyd-Williams said he believed that Pickering's flooding problems were exacerbated by drains and ditches being blocked because of a lack of regular clearing.

"If they are half full of vegetation then they cannot be as effective as if they are properly cleaned out," he said.

Pickering's mayor, Coun Julie Hepworth, said some residents knew that the town's river had not been dredged for 27 years and recalled how years ago there was a depth of 6ft in which people swam.

"Today children can barely paddle in it," she said.

Steve Wragge, senior officer with the Environment Agency for the Ryedale and Scarborough area, said: "We spend money where the risk is deemed to be the greatest."

He added that he could not see any significant increase in funding for defence work in the foreseeable future. But, he added, the agency was working with drainage boards in the Ryedale area to explore some dredging work being carried out.

"The agency is making an extremely strong case with Defra to keep its budget for flood defence work," said Mr Wragge.