Defending flood town ‘would come at high cost’

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Building flood defences in a Pennine town badly hit by summer flooding would be “very, very expensive”, an environment chief claimed last night as a Government Minister surveyed the damage caused by the deluge.

Flooding Minister Richard Benyon visited Hebden Bridge where waist-high flood waters hit homes and shops after the River Calder burst its banks late on Friday night.

Minister for the Environment & Rural Affairs Richard Benyon chats to Alison Pearson in Hebden Bridge

Minister for the Environment & Rural Affairs Richard Benyon chats to Alison Pearson in Hebden Bridge

Towns and villages in the Calder Valley were among the worst affected areas after torrential downpours which saw a month’s rain falling in 24 hours in some parts of the region.

Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden were all hit by flooding after the River Calder reached a record high of 3.2 metres.

Craig McGarvey, Environment Agency area manager in Yorkshire, said the flooding had occurred because there had been a month’s worth of rainfall in a four-hour period.

He said the town did not have flood defences but warned that while efforts continued to try to find a local solution, putting defences in would be costly.

Mr McGarvey said the possibility of constructing defences had been discussed over a number of years.

“The difficulty is it would be very very expensive to do and technically difficult to do as well,” he said.

But he said the agency was working with Calderdale Council, the community and the emergency services to help people recover. Thought was also starting to be given to what could be done in the future.

Yesterday clean-up efforts continued as people and businesses tried to come to terms with the devastation to their livelihoods and homes.

Mr Benyon said: “What we have to do as a Government is make sure that we are supporting this community in the weeks and months ahead.”

He questioned if a flood defence could be created that could cope with such a volume of rainfall in such a short space of time.

The Yorkshire Post revealed this week that MPs and campaigners are urging the Government and insurers to end a long-standing impasse over cover for at risk homes.

A statement of principles – which guarantees cover for flood-risk homes – expires next summer and if no new deal is struck 200,000 homes owners could be left without insurance.

Mr Benyon said he wanted to see an agreement in place that was better than the one it was replacing.

He said he wanted his visit to emphasise to people that Hebden Bridge and other local affected areas were all open for business in the wake of the flooding.

Earlier this week, Labour demanded that the Government rethink its 30 per cent cut in the spending budget for flood defences following this weekend’s floods.

But Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary, insisted prevention was “a vital area of the work of Government” and that Ministers were spending £2 billion on measures to stop floods.

Yesterday environmental health officers from Calderdale Council were out advising affected businesses.

The bridge across the River Calder at Mearclough has been closed because of damage to a sewerage pipe and diversions are in place.

Hebden Bridge library is also closed.

Calderdale Council’s leader, Coun Tim Swift, said it was important the council worked with communities and organisations on the clean-up and provides help to those hardest hit.

“What happened in the Calder Valley over the weekend was the result of some really exceptional weather conditions and many people are still in shock,” he said.

“We shall be making sure that those households and businesses hit by these floods get the help they need to get them back on their feet as soon as possible.”