Failing to protect the North from flood devastation could stop the Northern Powerhouse in its tracks, says think-tank

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Efforts to tackle the North-South divide and improve living standards in Yorkshire could be undermined unless more is done to tackle the region's vulnerability to flooding, a report has warned today.

Fresh from his election victory on the back of a host of wins in Labour seats across the North, Boris Johnson has been urged by IPPR North to act now to prevent a repeat of last month's devastating flooding in South Yorkshire and Storm Eva in 2015.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets residents in Stainforth. Pic: James Hardisty

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets residents in Stainforth. Pic: James Hardisty

The think-tank's research fellow Jack Hunter said that while greater investment in flood defences should be a priority of the next phase of the Northern Powerhouse, ‘hard’ infrastructure like barriers and dams are only part of the solution.

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Instead, he argues that greater flood resilience also needs 'a much more holistic approach' which focuses on how decisions about land use, agriculture, development and architectural design impact upon the overall flood risk of an area.

The Natural Assets North, Flooding in the North report calls on leaders across the North, including metro mayors such as Dan Jarvis in the Sheffield City Region and Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley, to use their influence to work together towards a flood-resilient North.

It says: "The North of England has considerable and undeniable potential across a wide range of sectors that, with the right strategic planning and investment, will improve the lives of people in the region and benefit the UK economy.

"Now, after decades of under-investment, there is a renewed interest from central government in the potential to improve living standards and rebalance the UK economy through investment in the North’s £300 billion economy, including under the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ brand.

"However, unless flood risk is managed appropriately, the potential for further economic, social and environmental costs of flooding may undermine the confidence of the North’s leaders, its businesses, and those who want to invest in the region – with negative impacts on the overall health of the region’s economy, and its population."

The report cites the Living with Water scheme in Hull and the East Riding as an example of how to develop a more integrated and comprehensive flood strategy.

Local leaders, the Environment Agency and Yorkshire Water have worked together on developing ‘green’ flood infrastructure such as flood plains and water storage lagoons alongside ‘grey’ infrastructure such as walls and flood barriers.

Mr Hunter said: "Too many families in the North will be unable to spend Christmas at home this year owing to floods.

Long after the TV cameras leave flood affected areas- people and communities are left to deal with the practical, financial and emotional devastation of flooding.

“Floods have a huge impact on our economy too, yet we spend less on preventing them than we do fixing the damage they cause. This doesn’t make sense and it must change.

“Nothing the Government does to level up the country will matter if those places are flooded.

"Building greater resilience among vulnerable communities means that we need to think much more holistically about how decisions about land, agriculture, development and architectural design impact upon the overall flood risk of an area."

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Recent flooding in Yorkshire had terrible consequences for people and businesses. This is why we are investing record amounts to help protect communities across the nation from the threat of flooding, using both natural flood management techniques and traditional defences.

“We spend money where it is needed most – with similar funding heading to high-risk areas across both the North and South of England.”

The £100bn promised in the Conservative manifesto on infrastructure spending includes £4bn in new funding for flood defences.

It comes as political leaders in the Calder Valley, one of the areas hit by the severe flooding in December 2015, warned residents that the area will always be at risk of flooding despite four years of work to keep them safe, due to their location in a steep-sided valley and the impact of climate change.

One of the efforts to reduce flood risk this winter will be reducing water levels by up to 10 per cent at reservoirs on Hebden Water, meaning there is extra storage for flood water.

Yorkshire Water’s Chief Strategy and Regulation Officer, Nevil Muncaster said: “Lowering reservoirs is not a silver bullet solution to preventing flooding and all agencies need to work together on a wide range of measure to reduce risk, but the data suggests that it could have a positive impact, so it is important that we continue to work to understand both the benefits and potential implications for water resources in the region."

Other schemes in Calderdale include the Mytholmroyd Flood Alleviation Scheme, which is on track for completion in summer 2020 and will better protect 400 homes with measures such as raised flood walls and the relocation of the Caldene Bridge.