LOCAL taxpayers in Yorkshire will have to fund repairs to essential roads and bridges damaged in this summer’s flooding after ministers confirmed the Government will not offer any financial support.
Communities Minister Brandon Lewis told MPs the Government will not be providing any money to North Yorkshire or anywhere else hit by widespread flooding earlier beyond its statutory obligations under the Belwin scheme, which only covers evacuations and other emergency action taken.
The announcement is a serious blow to cash-strapped North Yorkshire County Council, which is facing a £1.8m repair bill for the county’s damaged roads and bridges at the same time as trying to cut its overall budget by £90m.
The Yorkshire Post revealed last week that North Yorkshire had been told it would receive no financial assistance from Whitehall to pay for flood damage, despite an earlier pledge by David Cameron that his Government “stands by to help in any way we can”.
That prompted Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh to call a Westminster Hall debate in which she called on ministers to follow the example set in the 2007 and 2008 floods, in which significant financial assistance was given to devastated cities such as Hull.
“In September a massive and unprecedented amount of rain was dumped on North Yorkshire,” she told MPs. “The severe weather had a significant effect on the local and strategic road network. At the height of the flood, approximately 79 local roads and bridges were closed, including a significant stretch of the A1. It will be a number of months before the full extent and cost of the damage incurred are known, but the latest estimate is approximately £1.8m.”
In 2008, she said, “the previous Government made substantive payments to Hull in particular, and to other parts of the country, for damage to roads and other capital expenditure under the emergency highways capital maintenance scheme”.
She added: “We have the most extensive road network, and probably more bridges than anywhere else. We owe it to those living in North Yorkshire to make our roads and bridges safe from future floods.”
But Mr Lewis said the flooding suffered in West and North Yorkshire this year did not compare with the devastation in 2007.
“Despite the individual stories of loss that we have heard, and our sympathy for those affected, the flooding this year has been on a much smaller scale overall,” he said. “Let me put the matter in context. In 2007, 55,000 properties, both houses and businesses, were flooded, compared with only 4,000 this summer. The events on those two occasions are not comparable and the response, therefore, must be proportionate.”
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government, criticised the decision. “Yet again we see how this out-of-touch Government has no regard to the lives of ordinary people. Local authorities are already suffering under unprecedented cuts to their funding handed down by the Tory-led Government. This is further bad news that will have implications for services that communities rely upon,” he said.
Despite its financial problems, North Yorkshire County Council yesterday agreed to provide a £300,000 grant to help ensure a vital flood defence scheme in Pickering goes ahead.
The ‘Slowing the Flow’ project, which will cost £1.9m in total, is seeking to improve land management to help to prevent future floods following four deluges in the past decade.
Coun Gareth Dadd, North Yorkshire’s executive member for environmental services, said: “Pickering has suffered greatly in the past ten years. The county council is making this significant investment in the flood management scheme, even at a time of great financial stringency, because we believe it will help to prevent further hardship and greater costs caused by flooding in the future.”