York Press column – Flood risk returns as York rolls out the vaccine
January 27, 2021
With the return of York’s flooding problem last week on top of covid, the resilience of our city is being given a real test. Of course, it has not been found wanting, and I pay a warm tribute to the City of York Council, Environment Agency and emergency services staff who are working to get our community through this situation, especially considering the additional burdens they face imposed by the virus.
I have checked in with our local Environment Agency team about the steps they are taking, and am visiting affected areas to examine the effectiveness of defences in person, insofar as covid rules allow.
So far, river levels have peaked at a very similar level to last February, although with the added challenge of flood warnings along the Foss as well as the Ouse. Riverside areas of central York have been most visibly affected, but a small number of properties along the Foss from Strensall to Yearsley Baths are also vulnerable, with flooding mercifully largely confined to gardens and outbuildings. Across my constituency I have been monitoring the road disruption to Poppleton, Naburn, Acaster Malbis and Bishopthorpe Road near the crematorium.
I was reassured to see the rapid deployment of pumps and defences in Fulford around Fordlands Road and the A19, and the government’s investment in a renewed Foss Barrier continues to pay off. However, the sheer volume of rainwater means it has taken a while for it all to move downstream and levels to drop, which demonstrates the importance of further steady progress on the forward-looking measures to permanently reduce the peak flow of water that can come down into York that the Environment Agency and Council are collaborating on.
These ‘whole river catchment’ or ‘natural flood management’ techniques allow for the problem to be dealt with upstream and in advance, for instance through water storage areas, tree planting, and maintaining soil quality to hold water better.
I am reassured the Environment Agency are this summer beginning construction on a Foss water storage area above Strensall. Similar steps in Pickering have reduced the potential flood risk to the town from 25% to 4% annually, and it has been estimated that if all potential natural flood management measures were introduced at the locations identified, would reduce peak flows on the Foss in York by as much as 10%.
Locally, human ingenuity is also helping us fight back against another natural disaster, with steady progress on rollout of the coronavirus vaccine. There can be no room for complacency – the death toll remains heavy, York infection rates are high, and recent scientific evidence that the new strain is more deadly than the old means we owe it to all the city’s medically vulnerable and NHS workers to observe lockdown restrictions.
However, the local vaccination position is encouraging, with York leading within our region, having already given the first dose to over 80% of over-80s and care home residents by last Thursday, against a rate of less than 50% in some regions. Yorkshire is well on track to meet the target of covering all in the top four priority groups (elderly care home residents and care home workers, frontline NHS staff, everyone over 70, and the clinically extremely vulnerable) by mid-February.
Our city’s rollout is being aided by the government’s wise decision to expand the Askham Bar site into a national vaccination centre, creating capacity for an additional 8,000 vaccinations in the first phase of the upgrade alone.
Given the many villages and outlying suburbs that make up much of my constituency, I pressed the Health Secretary in the House of Commons earlier this month on ensuring equal access for patients of all GP practices, and was pleased by his confirmation that careful coordination is ongoing to ensure this, alongside implementation of the commitment to everybody having a vaccination centre within 10 miles of their home.
To give residents some hope to sustain them, I also used Prime Minister’s Questions to ask Boris Johnson to outline the level of vaccination of the vulnerable at which we can safely look to relax the extraordinary restraints on everyday life. Even amid these grim days, the vaccine means we can begin to plan for better times.