IT has now been just over 100 days since Storm Eva left a path of devastation across Yorkshire and much of the north of England. Since then, volunteers, the emergency services and local authorities have made huge efforts to help communities get back on their feet.
On my frequent visits to the county since December, I never cease to be inspired by how people have rallied around those in need during this heart- breaking time.
I met many over the Christmas period who had given up their time off and had travelled from across the country. Recently, I met some incredible heroes of the floods at a special reception at No.10 Downing Street to thank them for their tremendous efforts.
I heard for myself the moving stories of the volunteers and their efforts to help those affected. It was inspiring to meet flood warden Keith Crabtree, from Todmorden who worked from Christmas Day evening for 24 hours to help direct drivers and help communities get information and support and Mohammed Sheraz from Rochdale who led around 100 volunteers to make sure families had warmth, food and shelter.
As well as volunteers, the Environment Agency’s teams have worked non-stop since Boxing Day to hasten recovery – with nearly 8,500 flood defences inspected and 100 repairs completed. Despite these efforts, I know many people are still waiting to get back into their homes and the massive impact of the storms is still being felt by communities across Yorkshire and other parts of the north.
One big step forward this week has been the introduction of the Government backed, world-first Flood Re scheme.
Flood Re is a game changer for those living in high flood risk areas. For too long, people living in these areas have not only had to live with the possible threat of flooding, but have also had to struggle to access affordable insurance, something that is absolutely vital should the worst happen.
This new scheme which has been developed with the insurance industry is a world first, and means that all householders will be able to get affordable insurance.
Flood Re estimates around 39,000 homes will benefit in Yorkshire and the Humber alone. For these thousands of people, the knowledge that they can have insurance, and financial support in the event of a flood will be a great relief.
With the cost of insurance starting at £210 per year, depending on a property’s council tax band, and the excesses set at £250, Flood Re will go a long way to giving home owners much needed peace of mind. However, this is only the first step.
Flood Re will work with the insurance industry and others to understand how households can be helped to protect their homes against flooding over time.
Of course, Flood Re alone cannot stop the threat of flooding completely. This scheme is only part of a much bigger picture.
The Government is committed to making sure the country has the best possible protection for our homes and businesses to secure its strong economic future. That’s why over a six-year period, we are committing over £2.3bn in capital funding to better protect 300,000 homes. This is a real terms increase in capital investment – up from £1.7bn in the last Parliament and the £1.5bn that was spent between 2005 and 2010.
This investment has been further boosted by an additional £700m for flood defences in the Budget. Some £115m of this is for schemes in Leeds, York and Calder Valley, bringing our total capital commitment to Yorkshire to over £400m by 2021.
The latest funding will support a new £65m scheme for Leeds, covering the area north of the station and the wider Aire catchment, ensuring that this great city has a standard of protection reflecting its economic importance. We will invest £35m in the Calder Valley, including important schemes in Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. And in York we will spend £45m on around 15 schemes across the city, as well as the £10m we have already committed for repairs and upgrades to the Foss Barrier.
The National Flood Resilience Review is also assessing how we can better protect the whole country from future flooding and increasingly extreme weather events. The Review is well underway and its recommendations will shape our future investment priorities.
As someone who is proud to have grown up in Yorkshire, and knows first hand the true grit of its people, I am determined to ensure that local communities have the best possible protection against flooding, be it new defences or affordable flood insurance.
While we can never totally remove the risk of future flooding, both of these are vital to providing peace of mind and helping prevent the heartache and devastation that so many people experienced this winter.
Elizabeth Truss is the Environment Secretary.