Robert Goodwill: My pledge to help Yorkshire fight back after deluge

Residents and volunteers help clear up the flood damage on Bridge Street, Tadcaster.
Residents and volunteers help clear up the flood damage on Bridge Street, Tadcaster.
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As a proud Yorkshireman, the scenes of devastation caused by the recent catastrophic weather which swept across our magnificent county have been sickening to witness.

Over the festive period when much of the country was warm and dry indoors celebrating Christmas with families and friends, many Yorkshire people have been suffering badly with their homes and businesses wrecked and communities severed by unprecedented levels of flooding.

The dramatic scenes and stories – captured by The Yorkshire Post’s coverage of the worst floods in a generation – were truly upsetting for me having been born, bred, educated and now a farmer and MP in God’s own county.

So, it is a great privilege for me to have been appointed Flood Recovery Envoy for Yorkshire by the Prime Minister.

I undertook a similar role in 2014 following severe floods which included a tidal surge greatly affecting my constituency of Scarborough and Whitby. Much work took place between Government, local authorities and other agencies to prepare for future storms. But with increasingly extreme weather events more needs to be done and this appointment gives me the opportunity to oversee the co-ordination of the flood recovery operation, work with the local authorities and ensure this process happens as quickly as possible.

Vitally, this is also about getting people the support they need as they repair their homes and rebuild their businesses and ensuring everything possible is done to stop floodwaters wreaking havoc again. I was lucky, my farm in North Yorkshire escaped the rising waters, but neighbouring farmers have been badly hit.

The scale of devastation for those who lost homes, businesses and livelihoods in places such as York, Leeds, Tadcaster, Hebden Bridge and Wetherby has been awful.

I personally witnessed the shocking impact the flood waters had on York and returned to this great city – and other flood-hit areas – yesterday to make a pledge: The Government is doing everything possible to ensure the clean-up and recovery happen quickly and help protect communities in this area.

It comes as no surprise to me that Yorkshire spirit has been on full view over recent days despite terrifying events of Boxing Day when floodwater swamped large parts of the county. People have stood strong, supporting their friends and neighbours, and refusing to be beaten. I also pay tribute to the local highway authority crews who have been working tirelessly.

It is this spirit, combined with Government support and the excellent work of the emergency services, Environment Agency, Army, Maritime and Coastguard Agency and volunteers from around the country, that will see Yorkshire bounce back quickly – and stronger than ever.

The total level of support now pledged by the Government for the winter floods is nearly £200m, as part of a streamlined approach to ensure households and businesses can get the support they need.

As councils clean up, the Bellwin scheme, already activated following Storm Desmond, has been extended to those councils impacted by Storm Eva over Christmas. It means councils will be able to apply to have 100 per cent of their costs above threshold reimbursed through the scheme.

The Environment Secretary, Liz Truss, has launched a National Resilience Review of flood defences, ensuring that a new £33m scheme to protect the centre of Leeds – work on which is now under way – and other schemes, can better protect the county.

We will also be looking at what we can do to improve the Foss barrier and pumping station to strengthen York’s defences.

The Department for Transport and Highways England are discussing with North Yorkshire County Council options on rebuilding the historic Tadcaster bridge. And farmers hit by Storm Eva flooding will receive emergency funding of up to £20,000 each.

These are just part of the action the Government is taking across Yorkshire, where we will be investing £280m to improve flood protection over the next six years.

In total the Government will be investing £2.3bn in flood defences nationally which is a real terms increase on the £1.7bn invested in the last Parliament. This in turn is a real terms increase on the £1.5bn spent between 2005 and 2010.

In addition, flood maintenance spending will be protected in real terms over this Parliament and we are providing an additional £40m so that the Environment Agency can repair defences that were damaged.

Yorkshire is an exceptional county and I will make sure it gets what it needs to recover from the floods and take its starring role in the Northern Powerhouse.

Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, is Minister of State for Transport and the newly appointed Flood Recovery Envoy for Yorkshire.