Region could get flood defence windfall ‘but no guarantees’

LEEDS and Sheffield could be in line for a Government windfall which would protect thousands of homes and businesses from flooding as families across Yorkshire last night continued to face up to the impact of this week’s deluges.

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, yesterday unveiled a £120m fund to boost flood defences nationally, suggesting Leeds is a “leading candidate” for the cash at a meeting on the banks of the River Aire.

But although he said the city’s plans for flood protection were near the top of the list he made it clear there were no guarantees the city would get a slice of the funding, which has to serve the whole country.

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Mr Alexander said: “It (Leeds) is very much top of the list; we will have to go through the normal process.”

Sheffield, Ipswich, Exeter and Derby are the other four cities with flood defence plans that could benefit from the funding.

An £11m scheme in the Lower Don Valley in Sheffield would help protect 300 businesses in the city’s industrial heartland which experienced severe flooding in 2007.

The news came as parts of Yorkshire were still coming to terms with the devastating consequences of this week’s floods. In Whitby, the demolition of five cottages, overlooking the harbour, is due to get underway today. Despite standing solid in the town for 150 years, they have to be demolished after torrential downpours caused a landslip.

Announcing the £120m fund yesterday Ministers said £60m would be targeted at areas where improving defences against flooding could unlock investment and growth in the area, and the rest would go to speed up delivery of up to 50 schemes already in the pipeline.

The Government estimates the money, which will be delivered between next year and 2015, will improve flood protection for up to 60,000 homes and provide £1bn in economic benefits.

Potential projects which could benefit from the funding targeted at unlocking economic benefits include Leeds, where the riverside area is regularly threatened by floods and defences could protect 250 businesses, employing more than 100,000 people, and more than 3,100 homes.

Ministers have faced criticism that they have cut flood defence spending at a time when their own advisers say hundreds of millions of pounds more cash is needed to help the UK cope with greater risk of flooding as the climate changes.

This summer, Government climate advisers said flood defence spending is 12 per cent below levels in the last spending review period, with a gap opening up of £860m between money pledged for 2011-15 and what is needed to maintain protection.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said last night: “This year’s floods have shown how short-sighted the Government was to cut investment in flood defences by £95m a year, leaving homes and businesses unprotected.

“Flooding is the biggest threat the UK faces from climate change, yet even after today’s mini U-turn the Government will still be spending less on flood defences next year than in 2008.”

This week has once again highlighted the devastation that flooding causes. In North Yorkshire over 40 roads remained closed yesterday.

Insp Andy Everitt, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “North Yorkshire County Council is working with partner agencies to get the local road network on the move again.

“However, patience will be required over the coming days while all routes are assessed and debris removed to ensure public safety.”

County Bridge, which spans the River Derwent between Malton and Norton, is expected to remain closed to vehicles and pedestrians until engineers have carried out a full structural inspection.

High volume pumps were continuing to be used to ease the flow of the River Derwent and other flooded locations.

Further details on funding will be set out in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday.