Posts Tagged ‘Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme’

Danvm Drainage Commissioners: best practice?

February 13, 2015

Readers are well able to judge for themselves if the images below illustrate examples of best practice management

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Whilst we’d not imagine that the works are those of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners themselves, that is to say actual Board members, is it perhaps contractors engaged and supervised by Shire Group of IDBs management services, or is it their workforce?

Interestingly, whilst trying to locate Shire Group Policies on hedgerow management a document ‘Hedgerows’ was located in Environment this BAP Guidance Note (neither dated nor authored) is commendable as it extols the virtues of hedgerows for wildlife, prevention of soil erosion etc.  It ‘aims’ to avoid ‘over-trimming’ and ‘Retain hedgerow trees’.

Shire Group oft recite adherence to best practice and they are to be commended for their insistence upon it, regularly informing meetings that they always ensure that contractors are briefed as to environmental issues when undertaking works.  An immediate investigation was promised ….

Shire Group management service Minutes often identify issues and the approach to resolution?  Shire Group of IDBs have Environment Committees, Environment Officers but ….

It might be that this ‘Guidance’ is aimed at other people to encourage them to look after the wonderful Inclosure Award hedgerows in the Fishlake and Sykehouse area?

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Some Inclosure hedgerows were lost to the massive engineering works deemed essential for the ‘Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme’ others have been lost as fields are amalgamated to accommodate modern farm machinery and a once pastoral landscape in a low lying natural wetland and flood plain is transformed to a productive prairescape, much of funded through agri-welfare payments and subsidies.

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‘Drain’ of public funds & accountability of Public Bodies?

January 19, 2015

Readers will recall the Forum Executive’s concern around the promotion by the Dun which was subsequently amalgamated into the Danvm Drainage Commissioners  (DDC) of a massive drainage scheme in the Fishlake area.  This project, the Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme was deemed essential to ensure that properties were safeguarded and agricultural land restored to a previous state.  Various drains were cited as regularly flooding and the subsidence was considered to exacerbate these issues ….

It would seem fair to suggest that it is moderately wet at the moment where precipitation can be seen standing particularly in low lying areas?  The image taken today shows a drain deemed essential to evacuate water rapidly.  Whilst it might lack photographic merit it does provide an example of an expensive heavily engineered drain promoted as essential on the back of bad floods and one seemingly not discharging much water at the moment, or even recently from the look of the vegetation growth in it?

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It is interesting to examine Old Maps and those in the local archives and then cross referenced by ‘field walks/site visits’ to see the number of what were originally open drains (best for rapid evacuation of water) culverted?  Then research these against the number of applications for culverting to either the local planning authority or the local Internal Drainage Board?  With ever changing weather patterns there is surely a need to ensure that all aspects are considered when it comes to the siting of housing in low lying areas and flood plains?  The Government is increasingly requiring cost benefit analysis for public expenditure as it seeks to reduce spend (currently £8 of benefit for every £1 spent), so inevitably there are choices to be made when it comes to assessing risk against flooding.

What has the Environment Agency’s National Assessment of Flood Risk got to do with a Mining Remediation Scheme?  The best analogy we can offer is to ask the question why should the water board talk to the electricity board and the gas board talk to the telecommunication company when they need to dig up the road to lay ‘infrastructure’ services?  That and to plead for application of best practice, communication and accountability?

Look at the width of the drain and then calculate the land take and the cost of this which ultimately is bourne by the public purse (through the Coal Authority) and look at the volume of water ….

This scheme was promoted by the DDC, who readers will recall were subject of a Governance Audit Report in October 2014.

A traffic light approach has been made by the management service provision to indicate completed, underway and outstanding.  This appendix (Current Recommendation Status) was included in the document at the time of publication and it would seem that throughout the audit investigation the management service provision were involved?  Despite the full Board having met subsequent to the publication of the Governance Audit Report we have been unable to locate any further progress reports.  The management service provision to the three local IDBs the Forum observe* is provided by Shire Group of IDBs.  Whilst the public are now permitted to attend ordinary meetings of the Board’s, they are declined admission to Committee meetings, Board papers are with-held and only minutes are eventually uploaded to the Shire Group website not the full series of Board papers.

One recent upload of minutes for meetings of the Black Drain DB held on 24 January 2013 and 27 June 2013 was not undertaken until 22 December 2014 and that was only activated by intervention, some eighteen months in the undertaking?  Such practice could hardly be described as timely and demonstrative of best practice governance?

Despite recommendations made by the DMBC Governance Audit Report of the DDC there appears to have been very little  implementation of many of those recommendations around transparency and public engagement, why not?  Why do IDBs appear to continue to resist open and transparent conduct of business funded through the public purse?  It is most unfortunate that the Forum Executive find themselves having to submit another Freedom of Information request via What Do They Know about legal advice around recovery of public funds.  As ever, simply an acknowledgement, indicating a response will be made no later than Friday 13 January 2014!   

Internal Drainage Board membership is made up of DMBC nominees and elected members (generally landowners or often their land agents).  IDBs are Public Bodies and as such regulated and subject to legislative compliance.

* The three Boards which the Forum Executive currently observe are the two mentioned above, that is to say the Danvm Drainage Commissioners, the Black Drain Drainage Board and the Doncaster East Internal Drainage Board.

 

 

DMBC What Do They Know about the Danvm Drainage Commissioners?

July 20, 2014

Readers may recall Forum involvement with a Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme around Fishlake, a delightful rural hamlet amidst a once much more substantive pastoral landscape.  It is sad to report that over the last couple of decades it has been evolving into an agri-industrialised landscape which has lost many hedgerows, dew ponds and other wildlife friendly corners as every inch is maximised for commercial return.  As smaller family farms struggle to survive many are forced to quit and they become subsumed into larger more economically viable units.

The Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme was promoted through the Danvm Drainage Commissioners and funded through the Coal Authority.

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Massively engineered drainage channels, missing wildlife friendly options are increasingly a feature of the agricultural landscape of today.

The Forum presented a case that this scheme was excessive in terms of loss of ancient hedgerows and as a result of local lobbying the scheme was amended slightly and less hedgerow lost.  What was not fully explored at the time, in our opinion, was a detailed cost benefit analysis in terms of public funds.

Internal Drainage Boards, archaic institutions whose membership comprises landowners (generally agricultural interests in this area) and Local Authority appointees.  In recent years many of the smaller Boards have amalgamated and the areas now covered are considerable in terms of acreage, or perhaps one should convert to the metric unit hectare.

There are three local Boards which the Forum take particular interest in are Black Drain DB, Danvm Drainage Commissioners and Doncaster East IDB.

Members of the public, the special levy payer are entitled to attend Board meetings as observers.  In recent years some of the Board papers have become public documents and some are available on the Shire Group of IDBs website.

WhatDoTheyKnow is a tool whereby members of the public can request information from statutory agencies and authorities.  The Forum has made such a request of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council in the matter of the recent Audit of the Danvm Drainage Commissioners.  Click here to see that request and follow its progress by subscribing to the website updates.

We are not anticipating that DMBC will release the Audit Report as we understand that there are issues around its findings, but we will keep readers posted of developments.

As an independent observer in some of these meetings I have heard more than once the reminder that IDBs must modernise and demonstrate public benefit, the shadow of  Caldicot & Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board Audit (2010 – 11)  hangs heavily in the background and as a reminder of accountability.

This report is issued in the public interest under Section 22 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004. I have issued this report to draw the public’s attention to a failure in governance arrangements and inadequacies in management and internal control at Caldicot and Wentlooge Levels Internal Drainage Board. As a result of such failures the Drainage Board has, in my view, acted unlawfully on occasions.

I have concluded that the Drainage Board has not been governed and managed effectively for a number of years. I found that its governance framework was inadequate and some elements I would have expected to find within a robust governance framework were absent.

The findings of the above report might be somewhat astonishing, particularly to the public ?  Even now, to anyone trying to understand the complexities which still operate and who witness the conduct of members of these Boards, it is clear that there is still a way to go in terms of accountability and modernisation?  Hats of to those who have triggered the DDC Audit and here’s to reading the report in due course.

Democracy, accountability and Internal Drainage Boards ….

November 8, 2013

For over three hours this morning ‘democracy in action’ was observed.  The Danvm Drainage Commissioners held their annual meeting.

The public contribution in terms of funding this board’s operation is around 87%, but …. elected members have 12 seats and local authority appointments 13.

Quite a few of the nominated council representatives were missing despite the significance of the meeting.   The chair was appointed from the elected members and the vice chair is a Selby councillor.

It is astonishing to witness the conduct of business, people can nominate themselves and they can vote for themselves!  Only recently have conflicts of interest been recognised and members do now occasionally ‘declare an interest’ however they very rarely explain what that amounts to.  Today witnessed a worrying lack of understanding of legaslative requirements and a reluctance by some to comply with them particularly the environmental regulations.

The Danvm Drainage Commissioners like other local boards operating in the Humberhead Levels has been the subject of amalgamation (four smaller boards into a single one).  Representatives from the four local authorities of Doncaster, Selby, Barnsley and Wakefield attend.  Other members include individuals from the agri-industry sector and as large landowners beneficiaries from the pump drainage of the low lying lands in the district.

Numerous governments in recent times have sought to modernise these archaic institutions and whose rules by which they operate seem steeped in feudal and manorial history and tradition.  It is only in the last year or so that the minutes of some of the meetings have been made available.  Previously special arrangements had to be made to inspect documents in IDB offices which was not always easy.  On a positive note, the public are also now allowed to observe proceedings.  There were three members of the public at the DDC meeting, so here’s to more people taking a close interest in the activities of such Public Bodies.

Ahead of the normal business members were treated to a presentation by the Deputy Director of Doncaster MBCs Legal Services.  He explained that whilst he had not investigated the complaints made against the DDC in detail he did consider them to have some substance particularly in terms of board governance and quality of decisions.  In terms of effective governance it seemed that there might have been a situation where accusations of ultra vires had been levelled and this had yet to be resolved?  The officer took the members present through the Nolan Principles as they are the rules by which Public Bodies are expected to operate.  Members were also reminded of the outcome of investigations into the Caldicot and Wentloodge Levels IDB (audit of accounts 2010-11).  An astonishing state of affairs and almost unbelivable in the 21st Century?  See the BBC reporting of proceedings here via Democracy Live.  We understand that the C&WLIDB is no more, instead its functions and responsibilities have been transferred to Natural Resources Wales.

Has the time come for a variation to be conducted across the English boards?

It is clear that the land owners around the Humberhead Levels favour regular heavy maintenance of the smaller dikes to prevent local ponding or standing water whilst the local authorities and coal board representatives have concerns about flood allieviation and the protection of property function.

With limited income there has to be prioritisation and a balance between people, flood risk and farmland has to be achieved particularly as the public through the taxation system are by far the largest contributor.  Transparency in the public interest and open conduct of business unless good reason was called for was sought by the legal services officer.  A review of the complaints system, production of policies oustanding or missing should be undertaken.

There has been a degree of ‘modernisation’ over the last year or so but there is still a way to go.

The other IDBs who  operate in the Humberhead Levels and who the Forum observe the operations of are Black Drain (a small group retaining independence and not having amalgamated), the Doncaster East IDB (another relatively recent amalgamation of six smaller boards), Goole Fields and Reedness and Swinefleet IDBs.

Tween Bridge and Hatfield Chase board areas abut the peat bodies of Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI and their operations have the potential to impact upon the integrity of the Natura 2000 sites and these two boards were amalgamated into the Doncaster East IDB.

DDC are the supporting drainage board for the Fishlake Mining Subsidence Remediation Scheme which is now being implemented, the images shown illustrate the major engineering works currently being undertaken.  This scheme (previously reported in earlier posts) initially sought to remove nearly 1 km of ancient hedgerow and a number of mature trees.  Neither the Environment  Agency nor Natural England objected to that substantive loss of biodiversity.  However the Inspector found that the Forum’s argument had merit and we understand only 150m is now scheduled to be removed ….

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A length of new drain cut alongside a biodiversity rich hedgerow and in an area of Fishlake known to support populations of rare and uncommon plants.  Despite assurances that drains would be engineered in such a way to benefit wildlife, these clearly followed the tradition of deep, steep with no shelf.  ADA and NE collaborated to produce The Drainage Channel Biodiversity Manual, (2008) but there seems no evidence of take up in the Fishlake drainage board area despite the area being flagged as an important biodiversity and landscape area by DMBC.  Another documents which assists understanding in terms of biodiversity duties include Guidance for Public Authorities on Implementing the Biodiversity Duty.  (2007)  Another succinct resume of duty has been produced by the Water Management Alliance and IDB members would do well to read the two page summary Nature Conservation Responsibilities of Internal Drainage Boards. 

IDBs derive their powers from the Land Drainage Act 1991 (as amended 1994) and where is clear in that it requires IDBs to “further the conservation” …. and this applies to land immaterial of any conservation designation attached to it.

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It is unclear why hedgerow has been removed from this stretch alongside the road.  The new drain can be seen at the back and the layer of sand with clay beneath is clearly visible.

As energy costs rise substantially the pumped drainage of this low lying area will become increasingly expensive (an estimate of 15% was mentioned at the meeting) then tax payers through the local authority representatives might begin to question who should receive the benefit.  Clearly there is a responsibility in regard of flood alleviation and protection of property but should agriculture receive additional funds through ‘subsidised’ drainage where there is no demonstrable public benefit?

Black Drain and Doncaster East IDBs are both scheduled to hold meetings next week, so …. watch this space?


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