EXACTLY one month after Yorkshire woke up to some of the worst floods in the county’s history, your wellington boots – Prime Minister – might have dried out, and the residual mud been brushed away, but thousands of our residents and businesses across the region are enduring a living nightmare which you cannot afford to ignore or overlook for a day longer.
Despite your offers of assistance, and your visit to York to support the rescue services and volunteers who worked miracles to prevent a far greater disaster from occurring, they feel neglected by your Government and the countless broken promises made by you, and your Ministers, since 2010. They feel like ‘second class citizens’ who have been forgotten in their hour of need, and are angry that their properties have been put at unnecessary risk because successive administrations, your own included, failed to invest sufficient sums in flood defences.
You did say, Prime Minister, that you would take personal responsibility for the Government’s response to this crisis and this has included an extra £40m being made available for flood-hit Yorkshire communities; the appointment of your flooding envoy Robert Goodwill (the Scarborough and Whitby MP) and the construction of a temporary crossing in Tadcaster when the town’s bridge collapsed under the weight of water.
“This is not a county which demands, and expects, preferential treatment. Quite the opposite. This is a county which is simply demanding fairness when it comes to the allocation of resources...”Today’s The Yorkshire Post comment
However The Yorkshire Post is duty-bound – as Yorkshire’s national newspaper – to stand up for our readers, and the whole county, and make you aware of the level of disquiet that has been expressed over the past four weeks about the wholly inadequate nature of your Government’s response.
This anger is palpable and heartfelt. Even if Yorkshire cannot speak with one voice on devolution, a point you alluded to last year, it is united in the belief that the North has been left more vulnerable to flooding because of decisions taken on your watch.
This is not a county which demands, and expects, preferential treatment. Quite the opposite. This is a county which is simply demanding fairness when it comes to the allocation of resources and which remains perplexed that your Government could find the money in late 2014 to build new flood defences in the Thames Valley three years after a major scheme for Leeds – proposed after the devastating floods of 2007 to protect one of the engines of the UK’s economy – was put on hold because of spending cuts.
It is this injustice, Mr Cameron, which provides the context to this open letter you in which we respectfully ask you to look again at your Government’s handling of the floods and consider, amongst others the following five issues:
A fully independent audit of all spending on flood defences, and the Environment Agency’s river maintenance strategy, to ensure money is being targeted effectively at those areas which are deemed most risk of flooding. This must also include a reappraisal of the current six-year spending plan, agreed before the Autumn Statement, and whether this is sufficient to meet the threat posed by extreme weather occurrences. So far, your response in Yorkshire appears out of sync with the financial help that you gave the Thames Valley and Somerset Levels two years ago.
Immediate funding for a new feasibility study into a major scheme to protect Leeds. There was incredulity when Elizabeth Truss, your Environment Secretary, told the city’s MPs just last week that there was no contingency or flexibility in her budget to authorise such a study, never mind build those measures which are urgently required to protect homes and businesses at risk from the River Aire. This, after all, is the third largest city in the UK and we venture that the response would have been different if a city in the South faced a comparable risk.
The Government initiating a specific inquiry into the Yorkshire floods, and those which hit the neighbouring counties of Yorkshire and Cumbria, so lessons can be learned and a strategy developed for river catchment areas in their entirety. Decisions taken on the uplands and moorlands can have far-reaching consequences for those living downstream and there is a greater need for the relevant agencies to work together across artificial local government boundaries.
Greater support for those businesses, like Sowerby Bridge-based Pulman Steel, which are integral to your Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse and which require specialist assistance in order to repair their premises. No one from the Treasury has been in touch with them, despite George Osborne’s pre-election visits in 2010 and 2015. Can flooded firms also be allowed to defer VAT payments – and can your Government help with a marketing campaign to promote tourism in the worst-hit areas?
The need for urgent talks with the insurance industry to help those property owners and businesses who can no longer afford insurance premiums – or receive adequate cover. This needs to coincide with a review of planning policies to ensure new homes are not built on land susceptible to flooding, and that all new developments are flood-proofed from the outset.
It defies belief that major housing schemes are still going ahead on land left under several feet of filthy floodwater a month ago.
Although we acknowledge that your national and international policy agenda is now very different to one month ago – your focus has moved away from the floods and shifted onto the migrants crisis and forthcoming EU referendum – this is little consolation to the many families and businesses who might be unable to return to their devastated homes and premises until the end of 2016. As they continue to do battle with the intransigence of officialdom, they will not easily forget your Government’s apparent indifference towards their plight.
Yet the consequences go much further. Unless Yorkshire’s major cities and towns have adequate flood defences, businesses will relocate elsewhere – the precise opposite of the principles which underpin your Northern Powerhouse and One Nation agenda. This false economy cannot continue.
Writing on behalf of this county’s five million residents, we ask you – and the relevant Ministers – to read The Yorkshire Post’s comprehensive analysis of the disaster, and the simply heart-rending stories of the many victims which are included in today’s special edition, and then provide a belated response which reflects the expectations of a county that not only feels badly let down by your Government, but which is also very fearful about future flooding threats.
• Pick up today’s copy of The Yorkshire Post for your special supplement report on Yorkshire’s floods.