Calls for Yorkshire region to benefit from flood defences

Flooding near Laleham in Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Flooding near Laleham in Surrey. Steve Parsons/PA Wire
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FRESH calls have been made by politicians to ensure the region benefits from multi-million pound investment in flood defences as a Yorkshire-based insurance giant has unveiled proposals for a radical shake-up of monitoring the most at-risk properties.

The leader of York Council, Coun James Alexander, told the Yorkshire Post there has been a “bias” in the Government’s response after the south of England was hit by severe flooding.

Vast tracts of the UK remain on high alert as thousands of people battle to protect their homes and communities from the floodwaters.

The crisis, which has been caused by a repeated wave of devastating storms, has left almost one million homes without power because of the downpours and high winds during the last week.

But Coun Alexander attacked Prime Minister David Cameron’s declaration last week that “money is no object” to cope with the floodwaters in the south and west of the country.

Coun Alexander said: “My first and foremost thoughts are with the people affected by the recent floods. When I look at this objectively there is a definite bias towards the South than there has been in the North. You only have to look at York, Calderdale and Hull for that reaction.

“When York was flooded two years ago the city didn’t get any funding from the Government.”

Mr Cameron stressed yesterday that although the weather is set to improve, the volume of rainfall over recent weeks means groundwater levels is expected to keep rising in many places.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband has attacked Mr Cameron for giving up the fight against climate change, warning that Britain is “sleepwalking into a national security crisis”.

The Doncaster North MP claimed the winter storms should serve as a “wake up call”.

The head of York-based insurer Aviva has also entered the debate when he called for houses to be given a “flood rating” so potential buyers are aware of any flooding risks to properties before they make a purchase.

The firm’s chief executive, Mark Wilson, said the risk of flooding is a “critical factor to be considered when someone is making the largest purchase of their life”.

He also warned there should be a halt on building on “defenceless” flood plains.

Mr Wilson said: “As a nation we need to build more homes, but the cost of development must include the cost of defences. Let’s be crystal clear: no defences, no development.”

Coun Alexander’s warning over the need to provide more cash for Yorkshire comes just days after Hull North MP Diana Johnson asked Parliament why it had taken extensive flooding in the South for her constituents to receive additional support.

Speaking in the Commons the Labour MP said: “But can the Minister explain to people in Hull why it has taken two months for that announcement to be made, and only after the playing fields of Eton flooded?”

The news comes after a cabinet minister defended homebuilding on flood plains, insisting that a “balance” has to be struck between the risks and economic benefits.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond admitted extreme weather events were likely to become “more and more common” but flood resilience should not be regarded as the “only issue” just because there is a crisis.

The severe storms have also taken a major human toll in recent days. Two people died on Friday - James Swinstead, an elderly passenger on a cruise ship in the English Channel, and minicab driver Julie Sillitoe, 49, whose car was hit by falling masonry in central London.

A 20-year-old pregnant woman and her unborn baby, from Tredegar, South Wales, also died in a crash on the A465 between Brynmawr and Garnlydan. A firefighter died of an apparent heart attack while on duty in a flood-hit area last night, but it is unclear whether there was any link to the storms.

The Environment Agency yesterday had 16 severe flood warnings in place for the South West and the Thames Valley, with almost 150 flood warnings and 230 flood alerts.