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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Ditches, Cundies, and Burns

drainage ditch
A blog post about water drainage – and the lack of it.

It’s a times like these when I’m driving or cycling in our locality, when I feel a bit hacked off. Hacked off because the roads are awash with water, and roads and driving conditions are worse than they need to be.
Photo credit to Steve took it
With the snow rapidly melting, I think it should be running down ditches, flowing away through cundies (drains of loose stones), and into small streams that Northumbrians [and others] call burns.

The problem was particularly bad last year in early September, when a Northumbrian market town was inundated by flash floods. The roads around us were impassable in places, which meant it was tricky getting to the wedding of a couple we know.

The bride was stuck in a traffic jam when the Newcastle to Carlisle road was closed due to flooding, and the priest had to be rescued when his car engine was overwhelmed by standing water! The ceremony went off without a hitch, but about 50 minutes late…

I have been out myself from time-to-time, digging away at the verges on the road that leads up to our house, to let the water run-off into the ditches which usually are cut between the verge and hedgerows / fencing.

In doing so Jim, our next-door neighbour and ‘deputy farmer’ has called over and said I shouldn’t be doing the Council’s job. So, in writing this post I assumed that the Castle Morpeth or Tynedale Council were being dilatory.

A quick Google search showed this FAQ and made me think again:

“Roadside Ditches

Do you know who is responsible for looking after ditches? This is one of our most frequently asked questions.

Gloucestershire Highways Logo
Ditches on private land are the responsibility of the landowner, roadside ditches are normally the responsibility of the adjoining landowner, legislation permits the Highway Authority to discharge rain water from the highway into these ditches.
In order to keep ditches and drains working properly we advise landowners to:
  • clean the waterways on your land regularly to ensure water is able to drain from the highway.
  • check headwalls and grills regularly.
Rainfall certainly seems to be more intense these days and this does cause more drainage problems.
If everyone regularly maintained their ditches, a large number of the county's drainage problems would not occur. This would save a great deal of council taxpayer's money that is being used to solve the problems caused by blocked ditches and drains.”
Another hit was this:

“Who is responsible for roadside ditches?

The Highway Authority is permitted to use roadside ditches for the drainage of the highway.
Unless constructed specifically for the drainage of the highway, the maintenance of these is normally the responsibility of the adjoining landowner and not the Highway Authority. If road flooding occurs as a result of obstruction in these ditches the Highway Authority may exercise its legal powers to require the riparian owner to clear the ditch.”
A hit for activities around Alston (in the South of the County) are also enlightening:
Re: 2e/JAN/08 Cllr Pennell reported that he has researched the issue of responsibility for roadside ditches on the internet and noted that councils make a common presumption in law that the owner adjacent to the highway is responsible for the ditches. CALC have asked the county council to justify their position, but have not heard back yet, and the clerk has contacted the Country Landowners Association, who were unable to comment as the council is not a member. She has also e-mailed  the new NFU chairman for Cumbria, who is aware of the issue and willing to follow it up. 
The Traffic Management Committee met last month, and copies have been circulated of the County Council’s worksheet for employees on the cleaning of roadside ditches, and the Highways Act 1980 s101 which lists the power the Highways Authority has to fill in roadside ditches.
Cllr Phillips reported that he had spoken with Geoff Wilson from the Trail Riders Association, who had also offered to look into the issue of where the highway boundary should be. He added that if there is a case to fight, parish councils across the county should be in support. If needs be he will convene a meeting of the Rights of Way committee to discuss in detail.
It was observed that the county council have maintained the roadside ditches for thirty plus years, and it might be that in accepting responsibility for this they might have acquired that duty, possibly there is something about this in case law.
So, if you’ve read on this far – thanks for sticking with it! I had hoped to point the finger squarely at the Council and have done with it.

It now appears that maintaining ditches appears to be the responsibility of the landowner, and therefore I’m guessing it’s not a priority. However, the landowners may well reckon that the Council should be doing it - ergo no-one does. Dah!

I realise that the farmers keep the hedges in order, and it would be great if they could sort out the ditches on a regular basis, or else get a subsidy to do it – we’d all benefit IMO.

A shame that, as I not only agree with Gloucestershire Council but would also say that Councils wouldn’t have to pay so much in road repair bills because of the erosion this undrained water creates.

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