Environment bosses have finally acted to end a flood threat to homes and businesses in Ilkley.
The Environment Agency brought in contractors this week to dig out, widen and do other work to Backstone Beck, the source of repeated floods responsible for tens of thousands of pounds of damage.
Residents and businesses on Leeds Road and Ashlands Road have been pressing for years for a permanent solution to flooding caused by heavy rain and debris blocking the fast-flowing stream coming down from Ilkley Moor.
But the work did not come in time to prevent another flooding near-miss for homes and business on and around Leeds Road in a downpour last Friday.
A man living near to the stream waded in himself on Friday night to clear dead foliage and other debris as the brimming stream threatened to break its banks and flow into Leeds Road – despite the agency’s promise months ago to keep a close eye on the beck.
“It was a foot off actually coming over,” he said.
Businesses and residents are hopeful that the work taking place on the beck at Ashlands Field, close to the stream’s culvert under the A65 Leeds Road, will alleviate the flood risk.
Colin Porritt of the Environment Agency’s operations delivery team said: “We’ve been working with Bradford Council to agree the best way to reduce the problems at Backstone Beck. We coppiced around 30 trees earlier this year to reduce the potential for blockages, and then surveyed the site to see what other improvements we could make.
“Right now, our contractors are widening the channel to slow the flow down, and taking meanders out near Leeds Road to create gravel traps. This will keep gravel out of the trash screen, and so reduce the potential for blockage. The channel work should take around two weeks, weather permitting.
“We’re also getting a better trash screen made, and this will be fitted when the channel work by Amalgamated Construction is over. Once it’s fitted we’re going to fence it off to make it safer. We expect this work will make a substantial difference to the problem.”
The Environment Agency took over the management of small water courses, including Backstone Beck, from the local authority several years ago.
Previous floods hit businesses on the Ashlands Road Industrial Estate. One car body workshop had to write off 18 of its customers’ cars and pay out to the customers, while a lighting firm lost three-quarters of its retail stock in one flood.
Despite calls for help from Bradford Council – which had responsibility for the stream – to ensure grates on the water courses were kept free of blockages, floods also hit Valley Drive and Leeds Road.
One of the last floods caused by the stream got into nearby homes, and wrecked £50,000 worth of equipment at Ashlands Veterinary Centre.
A summit of residents, businesses, representatives of Bradford Council and the Environment Agency was called earlier this year to seek an answer to the flooding problem.
Delays in the work are believed to have been down to red tape – including the need to consult fish experts because trout were thought to be present in the stream.
People who live or work in the Leeds Road area can claim much of the credit for averting potentially destructive floods in recent years – often springing into action at the first sign of rising water levels to clear out Backstone Beck themselves.
They have also lobbied councillors and the Environment Agency for a permanent solution to the flooding.
One of the key figures in putting pressure on for work on the beck, Leeds Road resident Dan Brumfitt is glad to see the Environment Agency working on the stream.
“I was really pleased to see them down there with the digger on Monday,” he said. “It should be finished soon, and then all we need is big downpour to see that it is working.”
Joint owner of Ashlands Road Industrial Estate, Andrew Bentley, welcomed the agency’s work.
He said the efforts of the businesses and residents have kept the area free of flooding for several years.
“It has historically been a problem, but I think we’ve managed it well for the past few years so we haven’t had any flooding recently,” he said.
Mr Bentley also praised Mr Brumfitt for his efforts in lobbying the authorities over the issue.