New Environment Secretary to call top level summit to tackle Yorkshire flooding woes

Environment Secretary George Eustice has committed to holding a crucial summit to discuss the chaos caused in Yorkshire from repeated flooding as a disaster relief charity warned of the traumatic impact which the disasters are having on victims.

Mr Eustice, who took over from Theresa Villiers after last week’s Cabinet reshuffle, confirmed yesterday that he would meet one of demands made in a front page editorial by The Yorkshire Post on Saturday and convene a top-level meeting to understand the impact on the region, and those who live in it.

Speaking after a visit to York yesterday amid warnings that the city’s river levels are due to reach record levels today, Mr Eustice said:: “I’m new to the role but one of the asks was for there to be a summit held with myself, council leaders, MPs, and stakeholders like the Environment Agency. I think it is right there will be such a summit and I can understand the concerns that have been raised.”

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He said he expected to hear complaints about the amount of time it took flood prevention schemes to pass through planning permission stages, and also from organisations such as Calderdale Council who would like to be recognised for the repeated incidents they have, and adequately resourced to deal with them.

George Eustice MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the Foss Barrier in York. Picture Gerard Binks

He said: “Yorkshire is a landscape that is particularly at risk. We absolutely recognise this is a part of the world that does suffer from flooding.”

And he said it was because of this the Government was investing £2.6bn on flood prevention methods in the region.

“So a lot is being done but I’m under no illusion there’s much more to do,” he added.

“After these incidents I do want to better understand the concerns.”

He said although the situation in Yorkshire had not been as bad as expected, with Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, taking more of a hit, “there could be flooding over the next few days”.

The British Red Cross said that with water levels expected to peak today and tomorrow it was ready to respond across the country.

And the organisation warned of the sustained impact these events had on people’s mental health.

Simon Lewis, British Red Cross Head of Crisis Response, said: "We're responding to floods across the UK that are badly affected by Storm Dennis. We are also engaged with local authorities in Yorkshire and are standing by ready to help reduce the impact to people and their homes.

“I can only imagine how having your home flooded can literally turn your life upside down. It's not just about your property and the things that get lost or damaged, and it's not even about all the clearing up. Everyone expects to be safe and secure at home, so the emotional impact can be long-lasting too, especially if you’ve been flooded more than once.

"We know that when you've experienced any kind of an emergency, it's really important to talk about what you're going through and not bottle up how you are feeling. Our research shows that factoring in people's emotional needs, as well as their practical needs, will help them recover faster. And each person’s needs and recovery will be very different.

"The British Red Cross responds to an emergency in the UK on average every four hours and we help people facing disasters all over the world. We know that it’s not just about food and shelter, it's about looking after people’s emotional wellbeing too.

"That in turn helps people and their communities to be more resilient in the future."

Halifax MP Holly Lynch said: “We know there’s going to be just real frustration and sadness for people who have to go through this time and time again.”

She said she had spoken to residents and business owners whose lives were often disturbed by flood alerts - whether they came to fruition or not - which caused them to wake in the middle of the night and move furniture or make other arrangements.

The Labour MP said: “To see what people go through, we talk about resilience in Calderdale [...] and we just know we are a place that has to be resilient to survive because we are going to face this again and again.”

Conservative MP for Keighley Robbie Moore said the situation in his constituency had not been as bad as was feared, but that the Army arriving to help construct a flood barrier in Ilkley had helped allay worries.

He said he had spent time knocking on doors along Denton Road in the town to try and help.

He said: “I think by knocking on the doors that alleviated a lot of the fears. And I think sometimes just speaking to people.

“There are some elderly residents as well and there are a few who live on their own and it was making sure those properties were identified so if things turned for the worst the emergency services knew where they lived.”

York Central Labour MP Rachael Maskell said constituents told her a lot of anxiety came from a lack of communication.

She said: “They don’t know what’s happening, if people don’t know what to expect, if they are going to get deliveries of sandbags or not. Four years have gone by since 2015 and they’ve not got the precautions they were expecting.

“I’ve seen residents this morning who are really anxious, one or two who are not in good health.”

Mr Eustice said he also understood this, adding: “I absolutely appreciate when people have been flooded it’s an invasion on their lives and it’s an incredibly traumatic experience.

“It causes immense stress, I fully understand that having seen this number of events.”