Action call over floods as price of A1 closure revealed

Pressure is mounting for government flood defence cash
Pressure is mounting for government flood defence cash
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PRESSURE is mounting for the Government to review its investment in Yorkshire’s flood defences as it emerged the three-day closure of the submerged A1 in North Yorkshire cost the UK economy more than £250m.

The revelation has sparked urgent calls for more funding and flexibility to protect homes, businesses and infrastructure in the region as it stands braced for more heavy rain this weekend.

Meanwhile, a warning has also been issued that entire communities in the region will be blighted unless the Government acts fast to seal a deal with insurers over cover for at-risk properties.

It comes as more floods ravaged the UK this week, leaving a man dead in Somerset and 300 properties inundated.

The staggering cost of the A1 closure – equal to £3m for every hour the route was shut in September - dwarfs the £30m the Government is set to provide to flood relief works across Yorkshire next year.

Yorkshire Flood and Coastal Defence Committee member and York councillor Dave Merrett said it created an opportunity to take an evidence-based case to Whitehall to influence funding policy.

Coun Merrett (Lab, Micklegate) said: “The money we get from the Government is only directed towards residential property flooding. It doesn’t deal with flooding for businesses and it doesn’t deal with key infrastructure like roads.

“We have the key issue of the A19 in York which, in more severe flooding, is completely submerged. Then there was the A1 which was closed for three days and the estimated costs were a quarter of a billion. Those don’t qualify for Government funding.

“Flood defences have been underfunded by successive governments. They need to both increase the overall amount of expenditure and they need some more flexible rules about not just covering residential properties but also key critical infrastructure.

“I certainly think between the Environment Agency and local authorities in the region we could put together a case on that.”

In Yorkshire, indicative funding allocations for Defra grants-in-aid towards flood defence works in 2013/14 stand at just under £30m.

The final figure will be agreed in February but the provisional sum has been slashed by almost a third since 2009/10.

Committee member and Leeds councillor Richard Lewis said the Government sacrificed flooding spend at “just the wrong time”.

Coun Lewis (Lab, Pudsey) said: “The totality of spend needs to be increased considerably in this area. The problem in terms of flooding is the Government has not increased spending in line with the increased risk.”

He said the economic damage to the region from flooding “far outweighs” the cost of building more flood defences.

Urging the Government to prove its commitment to Yorkshire’s infrastructure, he added: “They do say they’re committed to taking decision-making on spending away from Whitehall and I’ll take them at their word – and ask them to put their money where their mouth is.”

The Environment Agency said it had spent £1.5m tackling flooding in Yorkshire this year.

Regional flood manager Phil Younge said: “We are constantly working with communities and local authorities to identify the areas where flood alleviation money can be best spent. In Yorkshire we continue to work with our partners to produce prioritised plans to identify, build and manage flood and coastal works.”