MINISTERS have been forced to defend Government spending on flood defences as the clean-up from a weekend of flooding continued.
Flooding Minister Richard Benyon was in Yorkshire today to witness the damage caused amid Labour calls for more cash to be spent on defences.
He visited Hebden Bridge this morning where waist-high flood waters hit homes and shops after the River Calder burst its banks late on Friday night
Towns and villages in the Calder Valley were among the worst affected areas after torrential downpours which saw a month’s rain falling in 24 hours in parts of the country. Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Sowerby Bridge and Todmorden were all hit by flooding after the River Calder reached a record high of 3.2 metres.
The clean up efforts continued yesterday as businesses and residents come to terms with the damage. A group set up on the social networking site Facebook to support the victims of flooding in the Calder Valley already has more than 1,700 members and has been inundated with offers to donate furniture and electrical appliances to those affected.
Despite a brief respite over the next few days, forecasters have warned of the risk of more flash flooding as another band of heavy rain arrives later in the week which is expected to hit southern and central Scotland and Northern Ireland. The country could be on course for one of the wettest Junes of the last 100 years.
Labour demanded the Government rethink its 30 per cent cut in the spending budget for flood defences after parts of West Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire became the latest areas to be hit by flooding in the washout summer.
Shadow Environment Secretary and Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said: “Communities that have been devastated by flooding should not have to go through that terrible experience again.”
She said that investment on flood defences was 30 per cent down on 2010 levels, and urged the Environment Department to resist any Treasury attempts to cut even more from the flood defence budget.
And she demanded more cash for prevention measures, saying: “Every pound invested in flood defences saves £8 in costs further down the line.
“This weekend we had a reminder once again that floods are the greatest threat climate change poses to our country,” she said.
But Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman insisted prevention was “a vital area of the work of Government” and that Ministers were spending £2bn on measures to stop floods.
Answering an urgent question on the floods, Mrs Spelman told MPs that about 1,200 properties were hit last weekend.
“I do understand the devastation that is caused to people whose homes and businesses are flooded. It has happened to me,” she said.
“My thoughts go out to all those who suffered flooding, especially those in the worst-affected areas.”
She insisted that the country was better prepared than ever for flooding but admitted that in the changing climate it would be impossible to completely prevent floods.
Yesterday the Yorkshire Post reported that MPs and campaigners were urging the Government and insurers to end a long standing impasse over cover for at risk homes. A statement of principles – which guarantees cover for flood-risk homes – expires next summer and if no new deal is struck 200,000 home owners could be left without insurance.
The Environment Agency last night had just one flood warning in place. However with the Met Office warning of another band of heavy rain on Thursday expected to hit parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland, people are being urged to be prepared for more floods this week. Some areas could see up to 40mm to 50mm (1.6-2 inches) of rain.
Garforth Flood Support Group tested its flood community plan yesterday as it mocked up a flood scenario to alert residents and businesses, set up flood protection door barriers and ensure vulnerable people had the assistance they needed.