Elizabeth Truss: I’m proud to defend my record on flooding

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, by Tadcaster's partially collapsed bridge.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, by Tadcaster's partially collapsed bridge.

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IT is heartbreaking for all of us who know and love Yorkshire to witness the devastation caused across so much of the county by the floods.

I grew up and went to school in Leeds and many of my family live across West Yorkshire, so I know what a great city it is.

Over the past few days, I have seen in York, Leeds and the surrounding towns and villages how the Yorkshire spirit has shone through, with people supporting their friends and neighbours and refusing to give in to the floods.

They have been helped round the clock by the emergency services, the Environment Agency, the Army and volunteers from around the country.

In York, I met rescue teams from Whitby and soldiers who had been evacuating vulnerable people from flats in the city centre. People from as far afield as Norfolk and Somerset are helping out.

We all owe a huge debt to the people who gave up their Christmas break to save lives, homes and businesses and to start the clear-up.

What we have seen has been on a different scale from anything that has happened before in Yorkshire.

The River Aire was one metre higher than its previous historic record. In York, the Foss flood barrier was overpowered by the sheer weight of water and the Ouse came within a few centimetres of the top of the defences. These torrents were caused by heavy rain falling on saturated ground in the wettest December ever.

It is clear that in many places we need to look again at our defences to make sure they can cope with the new conditions we are facing. In fact, work has already begun on the new £33m scheme to protect the centre of Leeds.

As part of our National Resilience Review of flood defences, I will be ensuring that this scheme and others are up to the task. We will also be looking at what we can do to improve the Foss barrier and pumping station to strengthen York’s defences.

These are just part of the action we are taking across Yorkshire, where we will be investing £280m to improve flood protection over the next six years, reducing the risk to 95,000 homes. This includes multi-million pound projects in Skipton, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and the Humber estuary and £17m on the Cottingham and Orchard scheme.

To make sure the North is better protected, we are investing £54 per person in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria, as well as the East Midlands and Northumbria. In comparison, we are investing £42 per person in the South East over the six years. The level of investment is based on the number of homes that will be protected.

Nationally, we are stepping up our investment with £2.3bn of flood defence schemes, which will improve protection for 300,000 homes. For the first time, we have designed a long-term plan based on need, replacing the previous annual bidding process for individual projects. This will give people the added security of knowing when their local defences are going to be upgraded.

For now, I am making sure communities in Yorkshire and across the North are getting all the support they need for the response and clean-up operation.

That is why we have announced that more than £100m will be available to support people across flood-damaged areas in northern England. This can be used to repair homes, to enable local businesses to reopen as quickly as possible and help farmers repair soil, tracks and drainage channels.

We need to remain vigilant and make all the preparations we can because unfortunately the stormy weather is not over yet. We are expecting further rain this week and there is a poor outlook at least until the end of January.

We are putting every possible resource in place to respond immediately to these terrible floods.

But it does not stop there. With the further £280m investment over the next six years, we will upgrade Yorkshire’s defences and ensure they are sufficient to deal with more extreme weather. This will help Yorkshire go from strength to strength.

Elizabeth Truss is Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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