Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Market Weighton Drainage Board (IW 03)

INLAND WATERWAYS—MARKET WEIGHTON CANAL

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  Market Weighton Drainage Board is one of 247 Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) situated in England and Wales which administer potentially high flood risk lowland areas. IDB's are statutory public bodies established under primary legislation under which they have powers to undertake works, regulate activities, and raise income within clearly defined drainage districts. People, land and property within such districts have the potential to derive benefit and protection from the service provided by IDBs. The Market Weighton drainage district comprises some 20,000 Ha (49,000 acres) of low lying land, with a wider catchment totalling 32,000 Ha (79,000 acres).

  1.2  This district is served principally by two main rivers, the River Foulness, and the Market Weighton Canal, the latter of which is identified as an Inland Waterway within the recent DETR publication Waterways for Tomorrow. The Market Weighton Drainage Board is the navigation authority for the Market Weighton Canal and as such is a member of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA). The Board is fully appreciative of the proposals and objectives set out in the DETR publication, however the Board feels that there are special circumstances attaching to the operation of the Market Weighton Canal which require specific recognition. These circumstances may quite possibly be unique to this particular waterway.

2.  BACKGROUND

  2.1  Much of the drainage in this Board's district came out of the 1772 Act of Parliament which gave powers to the appointed Commissioners to construct a combined "Drainage and Navigation" from the River Humber to the township of Market Weighton. This became known as the Market Weighton Canal from which the present Drainage Board derives its name being successor in title to the original Trustees.

  2.2  The Canal flourished as a commercial navigation serving various brickworks situated along its route until around 1850. With the advent of railways the Canal fell into decline which gave rise to the later Act of 1900. Under this Act the upper section of the Canal was closed, and the navigation function effectively abandoned. The Canal then became solely a primary drainage channel serving the wider catchment. Various orders which have been made since have effectively closed the remaining length of Canal to through navigation.

  2.3  In 1951 the lower length of the Canal was classified as main river which today comes under the control of the Environment Agency. However, the Drainage Board still retains the function of navigation authority although in practice this function is administered by the Agency acting on the Board's behalf. Water shedding from some 85 per cent of the Board's district drains via the Market Weighton Canal prior to discharge into the Humber Estuary through the Weighton Lock sluices. These sluices, which are a listed structure, were completely refurbished by the Environment Agency in 1994 at a cost of £1.5 million.

3.  THE DRAINAGE FUNCTION OF THE CANAL

  3.1  During the post war period the then Yorkshire River Authority carried out considerable improvement work along the main river length of the Canal and the River Foulness. This involved widening and deepening the channel section, and raising of flood defence embankments along parts of the length protecting developed areas. In parallel with this the Drainage Board undertook widespread improvement of the tributary drainage system including the construction of six pumping stations. These schemes were supported by MAFF and EEC funding.

  3.2  In the present day the function of the Market Weighton Canal as a primary drainage channel is more crucial than ever before. The discharge arrangements from the Canal through the lock sluices into the River Humber are subject to a tidal range in the Estuary in excess of six metres. As tide levels continue to rise the window of opportunity for discharging into the Humber twice daily at low tide is being gradually reduced. At the same time improved land drainage, continuing development, and more extreme weather patterns result in more water being discharged to main river in a much shorter period of time.

  3.3  The combined affect of these two worsening conditions is that more water has to be retained in main river and tributary drains between tides. At times of peak flow this can span several tidal cycles, and in Winter will very often result in overtopping of river embankments causing flooding of undefended low lying land situated alongside the river. The efficiency of the gravity drainage system is seriously impaired throughout such periods. The criticality of water level management in the Canal (main river) is becoming ever more crucial year by year. It may be noted that some 17,000 Ha (42,000 acres) of land is dependant on the satisfactory management and control of the main river system.

4.  CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  4.1  It is recognised that the land drainage function of the Market Weighton Canal may well be unique in its own particular circumstances, although it may have similar comparisons amongst a small number of other operating authorities. While not wishing to distract attention from the main thrust of the DETR proposals for waterways in general it is felt that this particular waterway has a set of circumstances attaching to it which require special recognition. It is the view of the Market Weighton Drainage Board that with regard to the Market Weighton Canal the land drainage function of this primary watercourse (waterway) must be given priority over all other uses, and this is most strongly recommended.


 
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