PEOPLE across the country have been shocked and saddened by the distressing footage of the devastation caused by flooding in Yorkshire.
They have seen people in great danger, losing their homes and possessions, but still responding with enormous dignity in the face of adversity. Every flooded home is a personal tragedy and my thoughts are with those who have been affected.
But for readers of The Yorkshire Post, and those in neighbouring regions, this is not a distant news event. This is a very real and serious emergency that many of you, and your families, are living through 24 hours a day.
I have visited Environment Agency teams in South Yorkshire as they work around the clock to keep people safe. Thanks to their unbelivably hard work, around 22,000 properties have been protected by flood defences in England since the flooding began, including nearly 7,000 properties in Yorkshire alone.
Emergency services, charities, the military and councils who have responded to this emergency are a credit to their profession and their country – I am hugely grateful to them for the bravery, resilience and compassion they have demonstrated.
To support their efforts, the Government announced a wide-ranging package of support to ensure people have the resources and help they need to put their lives back together. Within hours, we activated the Bellwin Scheme, meaning Government will cover any costs incurred by local councils to protect life and property. Some 200 military personnel, a Chinook helicopter and 83 high volume pumps were rapidly deployed and stand ready to re-commence efforts if called on again.
Hundreds of Environment Agency staff have been working night shifts on flooded sites, pumping water, clearing river blockages and erecting barriers to better protect more homes and businesses.
Within a matter of days, we then established a £500 Community Recovery Grant to help residents with short-term costs before insurance companies cash out, and a £2,500 Business Recovery Grant for every firm affected.
Farmers and land owners who have suffered uninsurable damage to their property will also be able to apply for grants worth up to £25,000 to cover repair costs.
Then the Prime Minister announced that all eligible flooded households and businesses will receive 100 per cent relief on their council tax and business rates. This means the average home owner in Doncaster will save over £400 over three months.
While the immediate task in hand is to provide support and relief for affected communities, I fully understand that frustrated readers will rightly be asking: what next?
We have seen record river levels and severe rainfall, but it is still very early this winter. That is why we are providing increased funding for homes and businesses to ensure that they have the protection they need. This will allow properties to become more resilient to flooding by helping to pay for a range of property improvements.
The money will go towards the additional costs of installing fittings and materials that increase resistance to damage from water in the future. For example, putting in flood-proof doors and raising electrics off ground level.
Since 2010, Yorkshire has also been a priority area for flood defence planning. Yorkshire and the Humber will receive more funding per head for projects until 2021 than any other region in England.
Three years ago, the Government and the insurance industry also established ‘FloodRe’, a world-first scheme to provide affordable excesses and premiums for people in flood effected homes. A quarter of a million homes are part of this scheme, where eligible households see their policy excess capped at £250. Previously, some people had to pay several thousand pounds.
In September, we announced an additional £62m of investment to protect communities from flooding across Yorkshire, the North East and Cumbria. Nationally, we are also investing more than three times as much in flood defences than the previous administration. As I write today, we are midway through an investment programme worth £2.6bn.
This will dramatically reduce the risk of flooding for at least 300,000 homes by 2021 and is a substantial increase in funding from £1.7bn in the 2010-2015 Parliament, and £1.5bn between 2005 and 2010. This will remain a key priority for a functioning Conservative majority government if elected on December 12.
We want to focus our entire efforts on priorities like flooding defence and to be able to review EU laws like the Floods Directive, to see whether they truly work for our country. We are on your side and determined to do whatever is needed to help people affected and ensure that the region is as best defended against future flooding as possible.
Theresa Villiers is the Environment Secretary. She is seeking re-election as a Conservative MP.