Winter flooding report 'doesn't go far enough' says farms group
A REPORT into 2015/16 winter flooding in Northern Ireland, which affected hundreds of homes and businesses and left 3,300 hectares of farm land under water, does not go far enough, the Ulster Farmers' Union has said.
Alan Strong, chair of Northern Ireland's Drainage Council, was tasked with reviewing how to provide meaningful, tangible solutions and address the serious flooding problems many rural residents are facing.
Mid-Ulster and County Fermanagh were most severely affected by flooding as 15 consecutive school days were lost in parts of the Erne and Lough Neagh basin because rural roads were impassable to buses.
But following the publication of Mr Strong's review, UFU president Barclay Bell said that, after consulting with members, the report does not go far enough to get to the heart of such a significant issue.
He said: "We believe the government should consider creating a sufficient reserve fund to compensate farmers in years of flooding and that this should happen in conjunction with proper watercourse maintenance programmes across Northern Ireland.
“We disagree with the report in that we believe the build up of silt does contribute to flooding and that if rivers are properly maintained each year, this would help clear systems and improve water flows. There is a need for more accurate data in relation to water level measurements, in particular around Lough Erne as to where ‘pinch points' are.
"It is not acceptable flooding is happening more frequently and with increasing severity in rural areas and still very little is being done. The report is welcome, but the impact on homes and farm businesses cannot be ignored and action is needed,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU said that it is positive that the report recommends the need for hydraulic modelling along with a review of statutory water levels for Lough Neagh, but this must encompasses the entire Lough Neagh catchment.
It also welcomed the idea of setting up the recommended farm resilience groups, led by farmers, provided they integrate with the recommendation for integrated catchment wide models, and stressed that these catchment models must encompass the entire area, even it crosses the border.
“The report has also highlighted the serious danger that flooding poses to families in flood affected areas. The take home message is that without appropriate action to tackle flooding in rural areas, there is an accident waiting to happen,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU has written to the Minister for Infrastructure and the Rivers Agency to request a meeting to outline its views and discuss the report further.
Meanwhile the National Farmers' Union (NFU) insists farmers must be fairly paid for schemes on their land that reduce the risk of flooding, such as planting trees or storing water.
Its new manifesto for flooding also calls for a "proper assessment" of the value of farmland when deciding investment in flood defences.
A more long-term, strategic approach is needed on flooding, with more decisions made at the local level where people know about conditions in their river catchments, the farming organisation said.
Farmland is not properly valued in assessments which decide where flood defences go, the NFU said, and it says the system should be reviewed while farmers are not compensated for flooding on their land which reduces risks to more urban areas.