Thursday, 6 November 2014

Frodsham and Ince Marshes

Over the last 18 months or so I have been sitting on a steering group seeking to work out how the drainage and flood risks associated with the Frodsham and Ince Marshes can be managed going forward.  The reason this issue has arisen is because the Environment Agency ('EA') announced some while ago that they would cease to take responsibility for the pumping stations on the marshes and for the clearance of the main water channels from April 2015.

We've now got to the point where Heads of Terms have been broadly agreed and each respective landowner, business and Town or Parish Council needs to decide whether they are going to sign up to the largely informal arrangements.

The EA has agreed that it will transfer the pumping stations to others.  In the case of the Frodsham pumping station - to the Highways Agency, and in the case of the Ince pumping station to a consortia of Peel, Grow How and Quinn Glass. The EA has also agreed to replace the pumps - with modern eel compliant pumps before they transfer the responsibility to others.  The new pumps will have the same capacity as the present ones - although the 4 pumps and the Ince station will be replaced by 3 pumps of slightly greater capacity.  The water engineers tell us that this will increase the syphonic effects and will make the water flows more efficient. (In other words the water's own flow will help convey more water through the system).

The riparian landowners (that is the legal term for the owners of land either adjacent to, or through which a watercourse flows) are responsible (as they always have been) for cleaning out the watercourses as needed.  Historically the EA had carried out some of the maintenance work - but if you listen to the farmers they will tell you that they didn't do it particularly well.

Last year the farmers and local land owners carried out the watercourse clearance work - and for the first time in many a long year the marshes drained effectively.  The marshes are designed to work as one system - and it therefore makes sense that everyone interested acts together as an informal partnership, co-operating with each other.

FTC will need to make a decision at its next meeting whether or not it wants to be part of the Partnership Management arrangements going forward.  FTC has to be very interested in what happens on the marshes for several reasons.

  • First the vast majority of the marshes lie in the Frodsham parish;
  • Second, all of us in Fodsham have a very real and direct interest in seeing that the land drains effectively - none of us want to contemplate the M56, the A56 or the railway lines being flooded, ever before we think of Main Street;
  • Third the marshes are perhaps the greatest and most underused leisure asset in Frodsham - and so much more could be done to encourage sustainable recreation and leisure activities;
  • Fourth FTC is, itself a modest landowner at 'Marshlands' - and that land floods!

If FTC wants to be part of the arrangement then it will need to agree to make modest supportive contributions.  FTC can't spend precept monies on drainage works, but it could spend monies on things like:

  • commissioning with others periodic expert reports on the drainage arrangements and how well they are performing;
  • aiding people who want work experience to work with the contractors clearing the ditches, or those with an interest in ecology; etc
  • commission a website or facebook style page where all information on all aspects of the marshses could be published - such as details of the footpaths, bridleways and cycle tracks, the latest bird-watching news, whats happening in terms of road and track maintenance and an information exchange on water flows;
Now if FTC agreed to make this sort of contribution it would be given a seat at the table and be in a position to influence how the marshes are drained going forward.   Personally I think FTC should be very interested in what happens here - however I am looking forward to debating this issue at our next meeting.

Incidentally if you are a landowner living with a water course and you want to know what your legal obligations are, and you don't want to speak to a lawyer you can have a look at this advice leaflet Living on the Edge