YET more unprecedented flooding has brought familiar misery to communities across the UK, but the Government’s latest package of support has been dismissed as public relations.
In the wake of Storms Ciara and Dennis, Boris Johnson has been criticised for his absence in public , as well as allegedly dithering to convene the COBRa committee, but the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) has announced that affected households and businesses will be able to access extra support.
This earned a dismissive response from Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Luke Pollard MP, who called it little more than a “PR exercise”.
“After days of inaction, ministers are now finally lurching slowly into action,” he said. “With the Prime Minister nowhere to be seen and calls to convene COBRA to help communities flooded again ignored, this smacks of being a desperate PR exercise.
“You can’t build flood barriers with government press releases and a decade of cuts to flood defence budgets can’t be undone by hurried announcements. What the communities that are underwater need is a new, comprehensive and funded plan for recovery to prevent this happening again.”
The Flood Recovery Framework measures announced yesterday by communities secretary Robert Jenrick MP include:
- Flood-hit households in affected areas can apply for up to £500 in financial hardship payments to give cash quickly to those in short-term need
- Households and businesses “significantly affected” by recent flooding will be eligible for 100% council tax and business rates relief for at least three months
- Small-to-medium sized businesses in affected areas that have suffered “severe, uninsurable losses” will be eligible for up to £2,500 from the Business Recovery Grant
- Flood-hit homes and businesses can apply for up to £5,000 to help make them more resilient to future flooding
- The Government will also convene the cross-Whitehall Flood Recovery Taskforce, including environment, businesses and transport ministers, to provide individual areas with bespoke support and guidance
“Storms Dennis and Ciara have severely impacted a large number of households and businesses – and I recognise how destabilising this can be,” Jenrick said. “This extra support, including new funding, will help people in the worst-hit areas to recover and get back on their feet as soon as possible.”
Environment secretary George Eustice MP added: “We’ve once again seen the devastating effects of floods on households and communities across the country. I want to thank our Environment Agency teams working on the ground around the clock with partners to deal with the ongoing impacts.
“We know climate change means extreme weather events like this are more likely, and are already investing £2.6 billion in flood defences by 2021, with over 600 projects already protecting 200,000 properties. This crucial funding will help people to make their homes more resilient and better protected if flooding happens again.”
Measures announced apply to those affected in district or unitary authorities that have 25 or more flooded households as a result of Storms Ciara and Dennis, MHCLG explained.
Earlier this month, the Government activated the emergency Bellwin scheme after Storm Ciara on 10 February and Storm Dennis on 17 February 2020.
Under the scheme, local authorities dealing with the flooding can apply to have 100% of their eligible costs, above a threshold, reimbursed by the Government. This could be for items including rest centres, temporary accommodation and staff overtime.
The scheme was activated for qualifying areas in West Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire which have seen significant impacts following Storm Ciara.
It has also been activated for qualifying areas in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, which have seen significant impacts following Storm Dennis.
As of 4pm yesterday, there were six severe flood warnings, 148 flood warnings and 188 flood alerts in place, with further heavy rain expected to fall on areas already affected by the wet weather later this week.
Over 900 Environment Agency staff are on the ground operating flood defences and temporary pumps, clearing debris from rivers, inspecting flood defences and supporting affected communities.
Environment Agency operational teams have put up more than 6km of temporary flood barriers across the country and flood defences have protected nearly 25,000 properties from the impacts of Storm Dennis.
“Every home flooded is a tragedy for that family and our hearts go out to all those who have been flooded and continue to feel the impacts of Storm Dennis,” said John Curtin, executive director of flood and coastal risk management at the Environment Agency.