Inundated North Yorkshire given just £900 in flood aid

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THE Government provided a derisory £900 to the whole of North Yorkshire in compensation for the disastrous flooding which struck last year, new figures show.

MPs and council leaders have called for urgent reform of the Bellwin Scheme after data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed Richmondshire District Council received less than £1,000 in compensation following the 2012 floods.

Neither York Council nor North Yorkshire County Council – which between them suffered £2m in damage – nor any of the other 
local councils across the county received a single penny, despite repeated assurances from Ministers that the Government stood by to help after the flooding in Autumn 2012.

The only authority in North Yorkshire to receive any funding at all last year from the Bellwin Scheme – the Government’s only formal mechanism for compensating flood-hit communities – was tiny Richmondshire, where dozens of roads and properties were flooded and homes evacuated as the waters rose.

The council received £915.

“It is a pitiful amount,” said Richmondshire Council leader John Blackie. “It is clear the Bellwin Scheme has been completely overwhelmed by the floods that are hitting Yorkshire and the UK on an increasingly frequent basis.”

The issue has been brought into sharp focus once again by the dramatic floods which hit the East Coast earlier this month and this week’s storms.

The Government insists it does support flood-hit communities but accepts the Bellwin Scheme is limited in scope. Councils can only claim for a very limited types of expenditure and must cover the first portion of any costs themselves.

Coun Blackie said last year’s floods cost Richmondshire tens of thousands of pounds for which it will not be compensated.

“There were clearly very extensive costs in relocating residents and other associated issues – none of this is covered,” he said.

A report by a cross-party committee of MPs earlier this year called for the scheme’s thresholds to be revised, and for it to be extended to cover damage to infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

North Yorkshire County Council said it would welcome such a change, adding around half the £1.5m costs it sustained in the 2012 floods – none of which were compensated – related to infrastructure damage.

Gary Fielding, North Yorkshire’s corporate director for strategic resources, said: “The operation of a threshold and the ineligibility of infrastructure costs puts a significant financial burden on local authorities.

“A review of arrangements that removed those two restrictions and replaced them with an allocation method based on the impact of flooding events would be very welcome.

“North Yorkshire is England’s largest county with 1,600 bridges and a road network of over 5,500 miles to maintain, so we are particularly vulnerable.”

York Council says its clean-up bill was almost £500,000 after the Ouse reached its highest level 
in more than a decade last Autumn and flooded 50 properties. It also received no financial assistance.

There was criticism, too, from West Yorkshire, where Calderdale Council received around £80,000 from the Bellwin Scheme ollowing the floods that hit a number of villages last year.

Calderdale Council leader Tim Swift said: “We estimate the real direct cost of the flooding in terms of the damage was probably closer to £3m. So we were only covered for a fraction. The first £800,000 we had to cover ourselves, but there were only specific costs that could be claimed for relating to the direct costs of the floods. If there was a damaged road you can claim for the cost of closing it but not for the cost of repairing it afterwards.”

The huge expenditure is particularly difficult for councils already reeling from the biggest public spending squeeze in decades. Coun Swift pointed out that Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has repeatedly told councils they should not be building up large stock-piles of cash, but such reserves were essential to cover the costs of repeated floods.

“Eric Pickles is regularly saying that we shouldn’t have big reserves and we need to bear down on council balance sheets,” the Labour leader said. “But the more they squeeze the less opportunity there is to be able to cover these sort of emergency costs.”

Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh, who chairs the Commons environment committee which published a critical report on the Bellwin Scheme, said she was “disappointed” the Government is refusing to extend it to help flood-hit communities.

But a spokesman for Mr Pickles’s Department for Communities and Local Government said the Bellwin Scheme has a “specific purpose” and funding was already made available to councils for road and bridge repairs already through the Department for Transport. “The Bellwin Scheme has a specific purpose, set out in statute,” a statement said. “That purpose is to provide emergency financial assistance to local authorities for costs they incur on, or in connection with, immediate action to safeguard life or property or to prevent suffering or severe inconvenience as a result of a disaster or emergency.

“It is not designed to meet all the costs to local authorities of a major incident, nor is it intended to fund longer-term recovery costs or major repairs of infrastructure – such as capital works to roads and bridges.

“It is reasonable to expect authorities to cover costs themselves up to a certain level and every local authority is required to consider the adequacy of reserves, one of whose main purposes is to meet unexpected costs.

“It is only when the emergency is deemed beyond the ability of the authority to handle without extra financial assistance that Bellwin comes into play.”