York: The River Foss Information Page

Closes 31 Dec 2021

Opened 1 Sep 2018


This page provides information on the flood cells on the River Foss and its tributaries: 

The Lower Foss

Improvements to the Foss Barrier have significantly reduced the risk of flooding for the area of York between The Groves and the confluence of the River Foss and River Ouse (Foss Basin). We are therefore considering the Foss Basin as a separate area for this project. To find out more about the Foss Barrier, visit the Foss Barrier Information Page.

The Groves to Strensall Flood Cells
Three separate flood cells cover the area along the Foss, from The Groves up to the village of Strensall, on the outskirts of York. The communities living in these flood cells were some of the most badly affected by the 2015 Boxing Day floods in York.  The majority of properties that flooded were located close to the centre of York, although there was also property flooding along the length of the river.  Many houses in this area have gardens backing directly onto the river, providin a route for flood water. Huntington Road floods on a regular basis, causing disruption to a busy route into and out of York City Centre.

The three flood cells directly alongside the River Foss in York.

Our assessment

There are around 490 properties at risk of flooding in these flood cells along the River Foss. Flooding of the scale experienced in 2015 was the result of the wettest December on record followed by further heavy rains. Whilst the River Ouse generally responds slowly to rainfall, the River Foss responds quickly to heavy rain and flooding can be very sudden. Whilst improvements to the Foss Barrier have reduced the risk of flooding for many properties within the Foss Basin, the effects of the barrier weakens past the Heworth Green/Huntington Road roundabout.  This means that there are many properties upstream of this roundabout that are therefore still at a high risk of flooding.

Our proposal

Constructing flood defences in such a built up catchment is extremely difficult. It would cause enormous disruption, be extremely expensive and require negotiation with all landowners along the river banks. Flood walls would need to be up to 1.8 metres high and 4 kilometres long. Instead, we are proposing to build a flood storage area north-east of Strensall at Walbutts Farm. This will help to 'slow the flow' by temporarily holding back flood water. This reduces peak flows in the river and flooding downstream. A flood storage area also offers other benefits:

  • Minimal visual and access impacts due to the rural location
  • Reduces flood risk for a large number of houses, including the village of Strensall
  • Less disruption during construction and avoids road closures
  • Lower construction and maintenance costs
  • Provides opportunities to create new wetland habitat

More information about our proposals can be found by following the links below:

October 2019 event handout

October 2019 event display

Environmental Imapct Assessment non-technical  summary


The location we are proposing for the flood storage area is north-east of Strensall, between Walbutts House and East Lilling Grange Farm. This location allows us to utilise higher ground to the west of the River Foss (green line on the map below), with an embankment constructed to the north, east and south of the river (the black line on the map below).

We have conducted ground investigations to ensure that the land is suitable for constructing a flood storage area. Our investigations have shown that we can use materials excavated on site to build the embankment. This will reduce the amount of extra material we need to transport to site.

The location of the proposed Flood Storage Area north of Strensall, near York.

What is a Flood Storage Area?

A flood storage area is a piece of land which temporarily stores water during a flood and reduces peak flows downstream, thus reducing flood risk. Flood storage areas are usually empty during normal day to day life and only store water during a flood event. York already benefits from a flood storage area at Clifton Ings.

How will the Flood Storage Area work?

Under normal conditions a flood storage area such as the one we are proposing would allow the Foss to flow through the line of the embankment and exit via a control structure without holding back water. The structure would only begin to restrict flood water during higher flows, filling the storage area. The stored water would then be released in a controlled manner when peak flood flows passed. In the unlikely situation where water levels rose to the top of the embankment in the flood storage area, a spillway would safely allow the flow to pass around the structure.

During a flood the storage area will be able to store  up to 1.1 million metres cubed of water over 111 hectares.

An example of an existing Flood Storage Area near Glasgow. 

Flood Storage Area Safety

The Foss flood storage area will be designed to the highest safety standards for reservoirs. This means it will have to be designed as if it permanently stores water, even though this won’t be the case. It will also be designed to withstand unprecedented flooding - should there be roughly four times the flow seen on Boxing Day, it would still stay intact.

Under the Reservoir Act 1975, we are required to appoint an independent reservoir engineer specialist called a Panel Engineer to ensure design, construction and maintenance all meet safety standards. The Environment Agency currently own and operate over 200 reservoirs and are familiar with the requirements to build and maintain a flood storage area.

Engaging with the community

Our first step was to contact landowners to gain permission to construct the flood storage area on their land. We have also met with the Internal Drainage Board and representatives of conservation groups in the area.

In September 2018, we held events for residents in both Strensall and York to inform them of our proposals. More recently, we have held drop-ins at Strensall Village Hall, the Living Word Church on Huntington Road and Sheriff Hutton Village Hall to provide more information in advance of submitting our planning application to Ryedale District Council and City of York Council.

We have also met with Strensall and Towshorpe Parish Council, Lillings Ambo Parish Council and Flaxton Parish council to explain our plans.

Timescales and Next Steps

We will submit our plans to City of York Council and Ryedale District Council for planning approval in November 2019. All information that we submit for the planning application will be available to view and comment on both Councils' planning portals.

Subject to planning and environmental approvals we aim to start construction in early 2020.  The final decision to build the flood storage area is subject to planning approvals and Environment Agency financial approval.  


The South Beck Flood Cell

We have undertaken detailed modelling assessments of the flood risk for the South Beck flood cell and these have informed potential flood intervention options for the cell.

The South Beck Flood Cell shown in blue

Timescales and Next Steps

We will be engaging with the local community on proposals in the late summer 2019.


The Westfield Beck Flood Cell

Our records show there is a risk of flooding to properties in this area. We will be investigating this risk in more detail and looking at potential flood defence options to mitigate the impact of the risk flooding. We will be engaging with local residents before any proposals are taken forward.

The Westfield Beck Flood Cell shown in red

Timescales and Next Steps

We will be engaging with the local community on proposals in spring 2019.


The Tang Hall and Osbaldwick Beck Flood Cells

From our modelling and experience from recent floods we have produced initial assessments of the risk of flooding to properties in the area. We have identified a number of options which will be assessed further before we engage with the local community.

Next Steps

We have completed a detailed assessment of options and will be engaging with the local community on proposals in spring 2019.

The Osbaldwick Beck Flood Cell shown in red

The Tang Hall Beck Flood Cell shown in blue

This page is for information purposes only and is not part of a consultation.

We will update this page with information throughout the year. If you would like to provide feedback on the proposals, or have any questions, please contact us at yorkfloodplan@environmentagency.gov.uk.

We are also keen to understand whether on-line Information Pages are useful to you, and if this method for keeping you informed is successful.

We very much welcome your feedback on information pages and your feedback will help us to keep improving.

If you would like to give us some feedback please click on the link or download and return the feedback form below.

Give us your feedback


  • Members of the public with an interest in the river, the species and conservation
  • Businesses
  • Charities
  • Statutory organisations
  • Members of the public
  • Elected representatives, including MPs
  • Local councils
  • District and parish councils
  • Land owners
  • RFCCs
  • Community groups
  • Flood action groups
  • Lead Local Flood Authorities
  • Local Risk Management Authorities
  • Internal Drainage Boards


  • Flood management