‘Shambles’ after flood letters go missing

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THE department in charge of the Government’s response to flooding has been accused of being in a “shambles” after it admitted losing hundreds of letters from concerned residents.

A senior member of staff at the office of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told a researcher to Diana Johnson MP on Wednesday that they could not find 300 letters she had personally delivered to Mr Paterson on October 23.

The correspondence was from residents in her Hull North constituency seeking assurance over the lack of flood protection cover being offered by insurers. Many were victims of the floods that devastated huge swathes of the county in June 2007.

Ms Johnson raised the issue in the Commons yesterday, asking the Leader of the House what he advised her to do.

However, hours after being contacted by the Yorkshire Post yesterday, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the letters had been found and were being processed. “We have the letters,” a spokesman said. “We will respond in due course.”

Ms Johnson said: “First, the previous Defra Secretary told me in the Commons on 25 June that the Government had ‘found a way forward with the insurance industry’ and would make an announcement ‘shortly’. Then we heard no more for several months.

“I then chased the issue up, to be told that negotiations between the Government and the insurance industry were unfinished. Yesterday, Owen Paterson’s private office told me that the 300 letters that I delivered to Defra, addressed to him, on 23 October had been lost.

“Now we’re told that the letters have been found, five weeks after being delivered. This shambles is getting like an episode of The Thick of It, with Laurel and Hardy as special guest stars.”

She added: “All I want is for my constituents to be given a proper answer to their letter and hopefully one that gives them hope that they will be able to get flood insurance in future.”

The mix-up will have done little to inspire confidence among the thousands of home owners who are today still picking up the pieces after heavy rain caused widespread flooding and damage to property and livelihoods, including the loss of a row of 150-year-old terrace houses in Whitby.

Work to demolish the row of cottages overlooking the historic harbour after a landslide left them in danger of collapse will be “a long, laborious task”, engineers said.

Preparatory work began yesterday to knock down five homes in Aelfleda Terrace that are precariously balanced above the River Esk. But contractors said it will almost certainly be this afternoon before work on the buildings themselves begins.

The gardens and patios of the properties slid 30ft down towards the harbour in the early hours of Tuesday.

And the slope has continued to move since, with a block of rock and earth the size of a minibus crashing into the next building down.

It also emerged that Malton came within two feet of disaster yesterday as the swollen River Derwent tested the market 
town’s £10m flood defences to the limit.

Last night there was no end in sight for flooding misery for residents – now being caused not only by overflowing drains but fresh spring water flowing in torrents through homes. The Environment Agency called in more heavy-duty pumps as 999 services tackled flooding across the town and over the river in Norton.

The 999 services face a delicate balancing act – pumping out properties means they have to drain the water into the Derwent, which was only 2ft below the defensive walls.