Upgrades to river Tees flood defences at Yarm are given go-ahead by council

One of Yarm's new floodgates
One of Yarm's new floodgates -Credit:Environment Agency

Work to improve flood defences has been given council approval.

The Environment Agency (EA) is upgrading flood defences along the River Tees near Yarm as part of flood infrastructure improvements. It applied for a "certificate of lawfulness" from Stockton Council for its efforts.

The agency wants to make replacements, upgrades and modifications to nine flood gates. The council has now approved this, saying it did not need planning permission even though it is not on Environment Agency land.

The application was described as "boundary treatments/flood wall to commercial/residential properties". The council's report says: "The applicant, the Environment Agency, is seeking to partially replace and upgrade flood defences along a stretch of land adjacent to the River Tees.

"The site comprises several locations which serve as flood defences and their associated paraphernalia along the River Tees in Yarm. The upgrade and replacement works are sited adjacent to the public right of way footpaths on the edge of Yarm’s conservation area and the river Tees."

Head of legal services Julie Butcher said the EA did not own the land, but could carry on the works as part of their operations improving flood defences. She said it would be permitted without the need for planning permission if it would not have a significant effect on the environment.

Stockton Council approved the certificate of lawfulness, confirming that the upgrades were allowed under "permitted development".

Yarm flood gates were closed following Storm Babet, with the River Tees bursting its banks in October 2023
Yarm flood gates were closed following Storm Babet, with the River Tees bursting its banks in October 2023 -Credit:Teesside Live

Work started in February on new and improved gates, meant to improve flood resilience while being safer to operate during a flood event than the existing gates. Six of the gates have been upgraded and work on the remaining gates will continue during the year.

The town has 32 flood gates and 1.3km of flood wall maintained by the EA, to provide "critical flood risk reduction" to over 500 homes and businesses. Yarm has a long history of flooding, dating back as far as 1771 when the High Street flooded to a depth of two metres. The impact of heavy rainfall was seen more recently with the River Tees bursting its banks during both Storm Babet and Storm Gerrit, and the EA said the current gates were "deteriorating faster than expected" and were challenging to operate.

Jack Hugill, from the Environment Agency’s North-east flood and coastal risk management team, said: "Our priority has been to secure the best possible flood protection for Yarm, which is what these new gates will provide. The old gates were considered to be potentially dangerous to operate in windy conditions or on uneven ground, putting our staff at risk of injury.

"We secured agreement with landowners to make some flood gate openings smaller, and to change some flood gates to a sliding mechanism to make them safer to operate. We are grateful to the community for the ongoing support and patience we have seen throughout this project as we work to replace the gates."

Large public access gates were upgraded first with private garden gates scheduled for upgrade in the coming months. The EA says it will continue to engage with the community about the timing of future phases, with flood defence levels to be maintained with temporary defences during the works.