Report calls for overhaul following Yorkshire floods

The Kirkstall Road area of Leeds was badly hit by last winter's floods
The Kirkstall Road area of Leeds was badly hit by last winter's floods
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A RADICAL overhaul of the way flood risk is managed is needed in the wake of the devastation suffered in Yorkshire last winter, MPs said today.

A new report calls for the Environment Agency to be stripped of its role managing rivers and flood defences.

MPs propose the appointment of a National Floods Commissioner overseeing the managing of flood risk alongside the creation of a new English Rivers and Coastal Authority.

The report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of MPs argues the move would streamline the way coastal and river flood defences are managed.

Yorkshire is preparing to mark a year since Boxing Day storms saw homes and business across the region left under water.

Committee member Angela Smith, the Penistone and Stocksbridge MP, said it had been impressed by the way Holland approaches flood management and felt a “dedicated agency” was needed.

She said: “There have been thoughts for a while about whether we should have a body dedicated to delivery of flood risk management schemes, so I don’t think the idea will be dismissed out of hand.

“The Government really needs to look at other countries that manage these things much better than we do, like the Netherlands.”

Alongside major changes to the bodies responsible for flood management, the committee recommends more work should be done to trial new ways to reduce the risk.

In particular, it calls on the Environment Agency to extend its work on “catchment” approaches which see measures such as tree-planting and upstream storage used alongside engineered defences.

Tim Swift, council leader in Calderdale which was one of the areas hardest hit, said it was important local voices were represented in any chance to the way flood risk is managed.

He added: “The committee is right to recognise that the response to the floods is not just about increased spending on flood defences – vital though this is – but must include a comprehensive catchment-based approach covering natural flood management, designing to slow the flow, better development planning, and support for communities and businesses affected to create greater resilience.”

The committee’s call for Government to help small businesses access affordable insurace was welcomed by Rachel Reeves, MP for Leeds West where a large number of firms suffered damage.

She said: “It is up to the Government to take urgent action to prevent a recurrence of last year’s devastating floods.

“Businesses and households face the intolerable situation of a winter of uncertainty, not knowing whether they will again be forced to endure a fresh set of floods.”

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake said she was still waiting for the Government to back a comprehensive flood defence scheme for the city.

She said: “As many residents and businesses in Leeds know to their cost, the Government’s current approach to flood risk management is wholly inadequate.

“I welcome the select committee’s report as it recommends a whole catchment area similar to the approach now being developed for the River Aire, which could include the use of extensive tree planting and natural flood storage to provide flood protection.

“Following my recent meeting in London with the Environment Minister, we’re still waiting for the new Government to confirm its support for funding for the comprehensive flood defence scheme Leeds needs to prevent a repeat of the devastation caused by Storm Eva.”