Prime Minister announces £40m package to repair Yorkshire flood defences

The big clean-up continues on Market Street, Hebden Bridge, after the Boxing Day floods, 2015
The big clean-up continues on Market Street, Hebden Bridge, after the Boxing Day floods, 2015

More than £40m will be spent to fix defences battered by Storm Eva, the Prime Minister has announced.

A quarter of the cash will be used to improve defences in York after they failed to cope during the storm.

The rest will be spent repairing defences on the Calder, Aire, Ouse and Derwent rivers in Yorkshire as well as the Wharfe, which runs through Tadcaster where the storm left the town split in two when an ancient bridge collapsed.

Charities raising cash for communities left devastated over Christmas by the deluge will also be matched by the Government up to a total of £2 million in a move echoing pledges to earlier flooding victims.

Thousands of homes and businesses across large swathes of northern England were hit by severe flooding as the storm wreaked havoc on Boxing Day.

More than 2,000 homes - including 1,000 in Leeds - were caught up in the flooding, the worst seen in West Yorkshire for decades.

Mr Cameron said: “I have seen at first-hand the devastation caused by flooding. And that’s why this work to repair and improve flood defences is so vital.

“We are already spending £280m over the next six years to protect thousands of houses from flooding in Yorkshire as part of our £2.3bn investment to protect 300,000 houses across the country.

“But now more than £40m will be spent to fix those defences overwhelmed by the record rainfall we’ve seen in recent weeks and to make them more resilient to further bad weather.”

Around £10 million of the funding package will be spent in York where the Environment Agency’s decision to lift the Foss Barrier - designed to protect the city - after finding its pumps were at risk of electrical failure - prompted widespread anger among residents.

It comes on top of £50 million of funding to help local authorities responding to the flood as well as money already pledged for those affected by Storm Desmond in Cumbria, Lancashire and Northumberland.

Mr Cameron has also made Transport Minister Robert Goodwill a “flooding envoy” for Yorkshire to oversee the response in the region and identify what must be done to protect the area in the future.

Mr Goodwill said: “The effects of the flooding in Yorkshire have been devastating and my thoughts are with every person affected by the catastrophic weather we have seen sweep across the North of England this December.

“As a Yorkshireman I am determined to ensure I do everything I can to help protect communities in this area from the devastation flooding can cause. This is about ensuring people get the support they need as they repair their homes and rebuild their businesses.”

It comes as the Environment Agency’s chief executive Sir James Bevan said building higher defences will not on their own be a solution to protect homes against flooding.

Sir James Bevan defended the EA’s handling of the crisis following criticism of chairman Sir Philip Dilley’s family holiday in Barbados at a time when parts of northern England were under water.

He insisted there was “no bar at all” on dredging following claims from Cumbrian residents who complained about a lack of action to clear silt from riverbeds.

“If we have to choose between people and wildlife, people will always come first,” he said, and insisted about £20 million had been spent on dredging in two years.

“Where it does make a difference we will do that,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But I do think we do need to think about how we react to these really extreme weather events that we have had. What everybody has said to me in the places I have visited up and down the country is that something has changed and that they have never seen anything like this and we need to think about what that means.

“Partly it will mean stronger flood defences but I don’t think the solution is just to build up flood defences higher.

“Partly it will mean thinking much more broadly about how we manage river catchments, so water doesn’t come straight down from the sky and straight into the rivers, so that we can slow the flow.

“I also think it is going to mean ... it’s not just about better protection for people from floods, though that’s a key part of it, it’s about helping people and communities be more resilient when flooding actually happens.”

Sir Philip came under fire after it emerged he was in the Caribbean on a family Christmas break after reporters were told he was at home with his family.

Sir James said: “He was at home with his family, who are from Barbados. He visited Cumbria on December 14, he came back on December 30 and went straight up to visit the North and that was the right thing to do.

“The person who is in charge of leading the Environment Agency’s response to the floods crisis is me. Sir Philip Dilley’s job is to hold me to account, he is doing that.”