Dismay as boost to flooding payouts ruled out

Anne McIntosh MP
Anne McIntosh MP
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THE Government stands accused of abandoning rural communities in Yorkshire after rejecting proposals from a Parliamentary committee to boost the financial assistance available for areas which suffer severe flooding.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it believes the financial support for local authorities hit by devastating floods is already at a “suitable” level and has “stood the test of time”.

The decision has been met with deep dismay in Yorkshire, which has suffered repeatedly flooding over recent years but seen little recompense.

Calderdale Council has been left with a clean-up and repairs bill of around £8.5m following the dramatic floods which hit towns and villages in West Yorkshire in the summer of 2012 – yet received just £80,000 from the Government’s Bellwin Scheme.

North Yorkshire suffered £3m in damage to roads and bridges following floods in September last year – but did not receive a penny in support.

York Council says its clean-up bill was almost £500,000 after the Ouse reached its highest level in more than a decade last autumn and flooded 50 properties. It also received no financial assistance.

“This is very disappointing,” said Anne McIntosh, the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, and chair of the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee. “These are devastating events and we really need the Government to look at helping these areas.”

The Government says the Bellwin Scheme – set up by Ministers in 1989 to help councils hit by emergency events – can only be used to compensate local authorities for their day-to-day expenses during major floods, such as costs of sandbags, evacuations and emergency shelters.

But the far greater expense for many authorities is the clean-up after the flooding is over, and in particular the rebuilding of damaged roads and bridges.

North Yorkshire County Council, currently under pressure from Government to cut its annual budget by £92m, said the vast majority of its clean-up bill following the 2012 floods came from road and bridge repairs. The replacement of one bridge, at Scorton near Richmond, was expected to cost the authority £600,000.

Miss McIntosh’s cross-party select committee carried out a lengthy investigation before publishing a report in the summer which recommended the Government do more to help flood-hit areas. It said the Bellwin Scheme must be amended to ensure councils could receive Government assistance for road and bridge repairs and recommended reviewing the scheme’s threshold, which means councils can only receive payments for emergency costs above a certain level.

But Defra has dismissed any reform of the current system. It said the Bellwin Scheme has a “specific purpose” – to provide “emergency financial assistance” for costs incurred when councils take “immediate action to safeguard life or property”, or to “prevent suffering or severe inconvenience as a result of a disaster or emergency”.

“It is not designed to meet all the costs to local authorities of a major incident, nor is it intended to fund longer-term recovery costs or major repairs of infrastructure.”

Defra added that the threshold at which Bellwin payments are made is “modest”, representing 0.2 per cent of a council’s budget.

“It is reasonable to expect authorities to cover costs themselves up to a certain level.”

Miss McIntosh pointed out that the Government has waived the rules surrounding Bellwin payments for certain urban authorities when they have suffered severe floods.