Now end flood defence funding farce which penalises homeowners in North – Andrew Vine

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THE political roadshows have moved on from the flood-stricken areas of South Yorkshire. Other photo-opportunities await party leaders satisfied that they ticked the box of visiting and expressing sympathy.

But events aren’t moving on anything like as fast for the people whose homes and businesses were ruined by the surge of muddy water they were powerless to prevent turning their lives upside down.

What will Boris Johnson do for these homes in Yarborough Terrace, Doncaster, that were flooded earlier this month?

What will Boris Johnson do for these homes in Yarborough Terrace, Doncaster, that were flooded earlier this month?

£4bn extra for flood defences - what the Conservative manifesto means for Yorkshire

Months of slog and heartache lie ahead before they can get back to anything even remotely resembling normal. Cleaning up, drying out buildings and then getting tradespeople in to carry out renovations is an agonisingly slow business.

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The cost of it all will also grind people down – haggling over insurance and discovering that making their homes habitable once again is more expensive than they had thought.

Boris Johnson during his meeting with flooding victims in Doncaster.

Boris Johnson during his meeting with flooding victims in Doncaster.

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Their plight can only perhaps be truly understood by people in other parts of Yorkshire – Leeds, York, the Calder Valley and Hull among them – who have suffered the same ordeal.

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They will know, too, more than anyone else how the people of places like Fishlake, Stainforth and Bentley will feel once it is all over – the pervasive, gnawing worry that it might happen again and the apprehension which an extended spell of wet weather and rivers swollen by rain cause.

An aerial photo of Fishlake at the height of this month's floods in South Yorkshire.

An aerial photo of Fishlake at the height of this month's floods in South Yorkshire.

Only improved flood defences can ease that nagging fear, but the people around Doncaster are about to discover for themselves what their fellow Yorkshire residents already know all too well.

There is an institutional bias in government against spending money on flood defences in the North, despite the promise of an extra £4bn in the Tory manifesto.

Where will it be spent? This has long been one of the most disgraceful aspects of the North-South divide that is to blame for so many of the injustices our county suffers.

And a lack of money for flood defences is uniquely damaging. Other iniquities, such as underfunded railways or schools, are infuriating but they don’t threaten life or drive people from their homes like rivers bursting their banks do.

Boris Johnson has defended the Government's spending on flood levels - but the funding formula still favours the South East.

Boris Johnson has defended the Government's spending on flood levels - but the funding formula still favours the South East.

Yorkshire, being less affluent than the South East, simply doesn’t get a fair deal on flood defences because of an inflexible formula that allocates the lion’s share of money to the wealthiest areas.

The yardstick against which flood defence schemes are judged rules that for every £1 spent, there must be an economic benefit of £8 or more. That means the wealthiest areas, with the most powerful economies that must be protected from flooding, will always come first in the pecking order.

So London and the South East always come out best when central funds are allocated because the region’s economic output is roughly double that of the North.

There’s another way of putting this – in the Government’s view, the people of Doncaster whose homes and belongings have been deluged by stinking water aren’t worth protecting as much as residents of the capital’s commuter belt.

That leaves a particularly nasty taste in the mouth. It’s the most glaring of anomalies, and one which has left Yorkshire’s flood defences underfunded for years, because this isn’t a new policy. Lancashire and Cumbria have also lost out.

It rings very hollow for Boris Johnson to visit villages overwhelmed by the River Don and promise action when the hugely damaging Christmas flooding in Leeds of 2015 might well have been prevented had the Treasury agreed to £180m of defences in 2011.

But it didn’t. The scheme fell short of its cost-benefit calculation. Yet soon afterwards, it handed out £279m in flood prevention work for the Thames Valley on the grounds that a high-performing economic area had to be protected.

In the remaining weeks before the election, voters in Yorkshire need to be asking those canvassing support how the new Government will end this inequality.

Without changes to the rigid and unfair criteria, the nastiest of shocks awaits the people of Doncaster long after they have rebuilt.

Each area’s need for flood defences must be judged fairly and not against a skewed measure which discriminates against less affluent places. Current policy threatens to treat the residents of the Don Valley as second class citizens.

Coming on top of the damage to homes or businesses and the disruption to their lives, that would be an unforgivable kick in the teeth.