THE GOVERNMENT’S announcement of an immediate £50m support package for the flood-ravaged North of England was tonight branded “inadequate” as communities braced themselves for yet more heavy rainfall.
With storm Frank set to sweep across the region, a fuller picture of environmental devastation was emerging with major damage and disruption to vital infrastructure including the collapse of Tadcaster bridge as well as the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses and transport routes.
Communities Secretary Greg Clark, who visited Leeds and Selby today, said: “No-one could fail to be moved by the scenes of devastation left in the wake of storm Eva – we’re determined to ensure all those affected get the support they need quickly.”
But regional politicians demanded stronger action. Councillor Tim Swift, the leader of Calderdale council, said unprecedented flooding required an unprecedented response from the Government.
His local authority has had flood protection schemes costed up for Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd, both badly hit, but said present funding guidelines meant it would only qualify for around half the £30m cost from the Government and would have to find the rest itself which it could not afford.
Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland said the £50m support package for storm Eva was “clearly not adequate” given the extraordinary figures put on flood damage. Disaster experts at accountancy firm KPMG at have calculated that the economic impact will breach £5bn.
Mr Mulholland, whose Leeds North West constituency was flooded, called on Prime Minister David Cameron “to show that the Northern Powerhouse is more than just a catchphrase and the decisions made to cancel the Leeds flood scheme and other flood schemes in the North were foolish ones”.
The Government cut funding for a £180m scheme in Leeds in 2011, but managed to find nearly £300m last December for a flood protection scheme in the Thames Valley, a Conservative heartland.
Mr Mulholland told The Yorkshire Post: “Cities and towns in Yorkshire need to know they will be given proper and adequate flood defences so that we don’t see a repeat of the awful scenes on Boxing Day this year.”
The huge clean-up operation continued yesterday with local authorities and emergency services supported by thousands of volunteers.
The Environment Agency warned of the potential for further significant flooding especially in Cumbria, while floods minister Rory Stewart said there could be a “very bad situation” ahead. The ground is still saturated and river levels are at record highs.
The agency’s chairman Sir Philip Dilley is returning to the UK after facing criticism for being on holiday in sun-kissed Barbados while the country battles some of the worst floods in post-war Britain.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post during his visit to Leeds, Communities Secretary Greg Clark dismissed talk of regional bias and said the Government needs “to go back to the drawing board” and look at the way that flood risk is assessed. He added: “We need to learn the lessons and make sure it never happens again.”
Meanwhile, soldiers have been drafted in to evacuate homes around a storm-battered bridge after it started to collapse, prompting fears of flooding and a gas explosion.
A severe flood warning has been issued for the bridge over the River Wharfe in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, with the Environment Agency warning locals to leave immediately because of a “significant risk to life”.
The 18th century bridge started to collapse into the swollen river around 5pm, with a crowd gathering as masonry fell into the swirling torrent.
People watching ran as a wave headed towards the bank and a strong smell of gas came from pipes left visible in the gaping hole.
Emergency services arrived quickly before soldiers were deployed to evacuate people from homes and set up a 200m cordon, saying it was “due to fears of a gas explosion”.
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “This severe flood warning has been issued due to the structural failure of Tadcaster Bridge over the River Wharfe in Tadcaster.
“Significant flooding is expected in the Tadcaster area. Those in this area are advised to evacuate immediately.
“The situation is serious and there is a significant risk to life. Please follow the advice of the emergency services and officials in the area.”
North Yorkshire Police said homes either side of the bridge were being evacuated, with residents being taken to a rest centre at Tadcaster grammar school.
It came as flood-ravaged areas of northern England braced themselves for further damage as Storm Frank batters the British Isles with torrential rain and gale-force winds.
Areas of Cumbria and Yorkshire which took a hammering from Storm Eve are on high alert as the latest weather front sweeps in overnight.
Tadcaster is 10 miles from York and has been affected by flooding caused by storms in recent days. The bridge had already been closed due to fears over its structural safety.