Flooding response delay due to virus, say Defra

FLOODING Minister Rebecca Pow has blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for delays formulating a region-wide strategy to protect homes and businesses across the region from rapidly rising rivers, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

Boris Johnson first promised a Yorkshire-wide flooding summit during a visit to Fishlake last November.
Boris Johnson first promised a Yorkshire-wide flooding summit during a visit to Fishlake last November.

She made the admission in a letter to Yorkshire council leaders ahead of a summit meeting today which was first ordered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson 11 months ago after up to 1,000 homes in the Don Valley were left submerged.

MPs remain angry that the Defra-led meeting will only cover South Yorkshire – and not the whole county as promised by Mr Johnson, and then Environment Secretary George Eustice in a subsequent visit to flood-hit York in February.

Ms Pow made no reference to Covid – and its consequences – when challenged in the House of Commons last Wednesday by Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis, and others, on the downgrading of the summit.

Environment Secretary George Eustice during a visit to flood-hit York days after his elevation ot the Cabinet.

This prompted the Yorkshire Leaders Board – which represents all local authorities in the county – to write to Defra ministers and remind them that “water does not respect boundaries” after every part of the county was left counting the cost of flooding, and inadequate investment in defences, in the past year.

In Defra’s response, a copy of which has been seen by this newspaper, Ms Pow says the Environment Secretary “acknowledges the experience of communities in Yorkshire” and remains committed to engaging “with MPs and local authorities to consider what more can be done”.

She goes on: “Our efforts over recent months to follow up on this offer have been impacted by Covid. We have not been able to undertake the visits and meetings that we had envisaged.

“However, we have not stood still. We have made available funding to support flood recovery grants that will help affected households build back better, increasing their flood resilience.

The Army was eventually drafted in to prevent parts of Calder Valley in February from further flooding.

“In addition, further funding has been made available for shovel-ready flood investment as part of our support for economic recovery from Covid.”

On the status of today’s talks, Ms Pow observed: “Given that the Covid restrictions necessitate a virtual

meeting, we are limiting the focus of the meeting to South Yorkshire only, to ensure that there is scope for those attending to participate meaningfully.

“Consequently, we will not be able to meet your request to widen the scope to encompass all of Yorkshire. South Yorkshire bore the brunt of the floods last November; Doncaster was hardest hit, with over 800 properties severely affected.”

Meanwhile Mr Jarvis said today’s meeting must be the start of a “constructive, ongoing dialogue”. He added: “I’m absolutely clear this must not be a one-off session, followed by a return to business as usual.”

And other Labour politicians accused the Government of a lack of urgency last night – and warned that it does not bode well when parts of this region, like York, are already back on flood alert following days of torrential rain.

Halifax MP Holly Lynch said important decisions to better protect the Calder Valley had been delayed to enable a region-wide summit to go ahead, and Defra’s stance was “incredibly disappointing”.

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James Mitchinson