Call for 'COBR of the North' to tackle devastation of repeated Yorkshire floods

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The Prime Minister has been asked to back a “COBR of the North” to reflect the serious situation Yorkshire faces in responding to repeated flooding.

Sheffield City Region Mayor and Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis made the call as people across Yorkshire braced for the impact of Storm Dennis, having only just recovered from the chaos caused by Storm Ciara last weekend.

Dan Jarvis. Photo: JPI Media

Dan Jarvis. Photo: JPI Media

Mr Jarvis said some 1,000 homes were affected in South Yorkshire, and that it was “vital we respond quickly and provide help immediately” as the next bout of severe weather rolls in.

But he said so far “the Government’s response to these events so far has been inadequate”.

He added: “That is why I want the Government to back my idea to convene a COBR of the North. This is vital to ensure we can respond quickly to help people in need should the worst happen."

COBR is usually convened by the Government to handle matters of national emergency or major disruption.

Mr Jarvis said: “This week I wrote to the Prime Minister, urging him to back my Flooding Summit initiative, which would give us the opportunity to discuss the actions needed to transform the region’s resilience to flooding and ensure that November’s events are not repeated. I will also be raising this matter with the new Secretary of State when we next speak.”

Other Yorkshire MPs are split on the best way for the Government to proceed on trying to protect their constituencies from increasing flood risk.

From more cash for flood defences, to different planning rules, or more supervision of Environment Agency projects to ensure they work at pace, there are a variety of avenues to take.

Halifax MP Holly Lynch wrote to the Environment Secretary to demand changes for Calderdale, which was hit hard by Storm Ciara last week.

She called for similar flood grants to be made available as they were in 2015, and for £25m to be given to the area to repair infrastructure.

The Government said the emergency Bellwin scheme for areas in the north of England affected by Storm Ciara, which reimburses local authorities for their costs.

While Jason McCartney, Tory MP for Colne Valley, said: “I’ve just been to visit a business that has been badly damaged for the second time in a few months due to a torrent of run off rainwater from a new housing development.

“The Government must look again at planning policies not just about building on flood plains but the impact of new developments on drainage and the flow of rainwater.”

Labour MP for Leeds West Rachel Reeves has consistently asked the Government to cover what she describes as a £23m shortfall on defence spending in Leeds.

She said: “Leeds cannot rely on luck to avoid serious flood damage forever”.

And although she wrote to former Chancellor Sajid Javid last week, she may now hope with a fellow Yorkshire MP in the Treasury in Rishi Sunak, that she may have more success.

A Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesman said: “Since the 2015 Boxing Day floods, we have invested more than £35m in a scheme to better protect the city centre and have committed a further £65m for a ‘second phase’ to protect a wider area including the Kirkstall Road.”

Ed Milliband, who spoke in a debate on flooding earlier in month, said the Government’s efforts were simply not good enough.

He said: “The Prime Minister made big promises to flood victims and flooded areas in Yorkshire and these have not yet been honoured.

“There are many people in Doncaster, some of them without insurance, who are really struggling and whose homes have still not been repaired. I am in discussion with Government but their help so far has simply not been good enough.

“We need the help and the Government must then make the many millions of pounds of investment needed to do the best we can to protect people from being flooded again.

“This is a true test of the Government’ s promises to our region. So far they have not delivered.”

While Craig Whittaker, whose Calder Valley constituency took a major hit, criticised the time it was taking for the Environment Agency to complete defences at Mytholmroyd.

He said: “Hebden Bridge has probably not really recovered from when it was flooded in 2015.”

And he said the flood resilience grant was essential, adding: “I would want to see that reinstated and that’s what I’m lobbying for. And we really do need to challenge the Environment Agency about the length of time these projects are taking to do.”

A Defra spokesman said £74m had been put towards Calder Valley and added: “Construction work in Mytholmroyd is progressing at pace and is expected to be completed by the summer.”

He added: “This is a large and complex scheme within the constraints of the environment, and a scheme of this size would usually take four years to begin construction. Work started on the ground in Autumn 2017 – less than two years after the 2015 floods - the main construction work began in April 2018 and the defences are expected to be completed by the summer.

“Plans for schemes in Hebden Bridge and Brighouse are also being developed with work due to start on site by winter 2020. Sowerby Bridge will receive £1.7m additional funding which will enable proposals for a scheme to be developed.”