Farmer floods ruling could see councils forced to pay millions

Councils that deliberately flood farmland to save residential areas from flooding may have to pay farmers millions in compensation, following a landmark ruling.

Yorkshire farmer Robert Lindley was awarded £14,500 in compensation after East Riding Council deliberately flooded his farm in 2012 to protect homes after heavy rainfall.

Mr Lindley’s landmark victory could see cash-strapped councils being forced to shell out millions to farmers and others whose land is flooded on purpose to divert water away from built-up areas.

See also: Farm floods – Guide to practical and financial support

The test case in the High Court in London on Wednesday (13 January) heard that Mr Lindley’s carrot field, at Burton Fleming, near Driffield, east Yorkshire, was sacrificed to save houses in the village from flooding.

A stream, known as the Gypsey Race, burst its banks during the wettest December on record in 2012, with the floodwaters reaching their height on New Year’s Eve.

There had been heavy rainfall since March, chalk aquifers beneath the village were full to bursting and Mr Lindley described the situation as “desperate”.

Seven or eight homes in the village were flooded, the sewage system failed and it was “an anxious time for all”, he told the court.

However, East Riding of Yorkshire Council, with the help of the fire service and the Environment Agency, pumped water into Cottage Field, part of Mr Lindley’s 271ha farm.

Much of his carrot crop was destroyed and, through his family company, Robert Lindley Ltd, he sued the council for damages at the Upper Tribunal.

Judge John Behrens said it was a test case and acknowledged that his ruling would have far-reaching consequences.

Denying legal responsibility, East Yorkshire Riding Council argued that most of the pumping was carried out by the fire service and the Environment Agency.

However, the judge ruled the council liable to pay full compensation for the devastated crop under the Land Drainage Act 1991.

The council, he said, was exercising its powers under the statute and had to recompense anyone who lost out due to the “flood risk management work”.

Robert Lindley Ltd, owned by Mr Lindley, his wife, Sallyanne, and his son, Edward, was awarded £14,500 in compensation.

Judge Behrens said: “We were told that this is in the nature of a test case in that there are a large number of other similar claims made by farmers as a result of crop losses allegedly caused by the pumping of flood waters.

“Thus, although the sums involved in this case are relatively modest, the issues of principle involved will have a far-reaching effect in respect of the other claims.”

Speaking after the ruling, a spokesman for East Riding Council said: “The council has not yet had sight of the final judgment, which we understand is due to be issued shortly by the Land Tribunal.

“On receipt of the judgment, we will review the decision and take legal advice, as appropriate.”

Although the concept is not new, the idea of paying farmers to allow fields to be deliberately inundated to ease flooding in residential areas resurfaced at an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee hearing last week.

Efra chair and Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton Neil Parish, who put forward the idea, said farmers should be paid to allow fields to flood to prevent more widespread flooding in towns and villages.

Mr Parish, who used to be a farmer, told the hearing farmers could designate land for flooding and could generate a “more reasonable” income if they allowed areas to be flooded during heavy rains.

A poll carried out by Farmers Weekly on between 11 and 12 January found 59% of 135 respondents supported the idea of paying farmers to take floodwaters.