Damp optimism after winter rainfall

Following the extreme weather that has affected much of the UK in recent months, the government has announced substantial investment to support households and businesses.

Here, Government Business analyses the government response and what more needs to be done.

Heavy flooding at the start of December brought chaos to parts of Cumbria, turning many roads into rivers and causing damage to houses and businesses. With the worst affected areas including Carlisle, Keswick, Kendal, Cockermouth, Appleby, Glenridding and St Michael’s, it has been estimated that over 5,000 homes were flooded.

In the wake of Storm Desmond, Environment Secretary Liz Truss set up the Cumbrian Floods Partnership to analyse how defences can be improved in the communities hit by record rainfall. The Partnership is made up of community groups, the Environment Agency and local authorities, and will look to further reduce the impact of extreme weather.

Truss said: “After seeing first-hand the impact of the flooding in the north of England, it is clear that the growing threat from more extreme weather events means we must reassure ourselves, and those communities at risk, that our defences, our modelling and our future plans are robust.

“We are already spending £2.3 billion over the next six years to better protect 300,000 homes from flooding, but we need to be sure we have the very best possible plans in place for flood prevention and protection across the whole country.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has since promised a funding package of more than £40 million ‘to fix those defences overwhelmed by the record rainfall’ and to make them ‘more resilient to further bad weather’ in the aftermath of Storm’s Desmond and Eva.

The promise of extra funding brings the overall investment just shy of £200 million. Among a number of programmes and support initiatives, the money will help improve York’s Foss Barrier, expected to cost £10 million, while the remaining £30 million will target defence reparations on the Wharfe, Calder, Aire, Ouse and Derwent.

Building bridges
Following the heavy rainfall, 22 bridges in Cumbria remained closed due to damage at the start of the new year, forcing engineers to assess a total of 1,600 bridges across the county. The closed bridges, including important crossings in Carlisle, Penrith and Cockermouth, are in need of underwater inspections, which are being hampered by river levels and the speed of flow.

As part of the £40 million investment to help repair flood damaged roads and bridges, Highways England experts will help communities recovering from floods by assisting with repairs to damaged transport links. They will focus on three major engineering projects, including: rebuilding the A591, the road which runs north to south through the heart of the Lake District; examining the replacement of Pooley Bridge; and investigating how Eamont Bridge in Penrith can be rebuilt to be more resilient against future flooding.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “This has been a very difficult time and I have enormous sympathy for people flooded out of their homes at Christmas. A good local transport system is the lifeblood of this region and Highways England’s engineering expertise, backed by £40 million funding from the Department for Transport, will support the work already being done to repair local roads and bridges damaged by the storm.”

Over 40 additional Environment Agency pumps have been dispatched to the north of England to ensure that flood water is pumped away as fast as river levels will allow. Craig Woolhouse, director of Incident Management at the Environment Agency, said: “We will continue to work with local authorities to support communities that are recovering from the devastating impacts of flooding and our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by these terrible floods.

“In many parts of northern England the overall situation has improved but we are keeping a close watch on the potential impact of more wet weather tomorrow and Monday in the south-west and north-east of England. Our teams are working around the clock to repair flood defences, protect communities, and pump away flood water.”

The case for Carlisle
Carlisle is situated on the flood plain of the River Eden with three rivers meeting in the city.

The catchment is made up of the rivers Eden, Eamont, Irthing, Petteril and the Caldew, as well as smaller rivers and streams draining into the Eden estuary. The catchment covers approximately 2,400km2 and is home to approximately 244,000 people. Carlisle has a history of flooding with flood events recorded as far back as the 1700s. In recent years there have been significant floods in 1963, 1968, 1979, 1980, 1984.

On 7 January 2005, following a month of heavy rainfall, Carlisle experienced two months of rainfall in just 24 hours onto already saturated ground. Three people died after the storms flooded homes and cut off power to thousands. A 63-year-old man was crushed after a barn collapsed on his caravan in Cumbria, and two elderly women died in flooded properties in Carlisle. At the time, The Environment Agency described the chances of it happening again in Carlisle where three rivers meet as ‘once in two hundred years’.

Craig Cowperthwaite, from the Agency, said: “The old flood defence system was good, it didn’t fail, it was just the sheer amount of water that overwhelmed our defences. I don’t think anyone thought that would happen.”

Consequently, the Environment Agency, who had already been looking at improving the defences for the city, provided £38 million to be spent ensuring this level of flooding could not take hold of Carlisle again. In the ten years since the 2005 flooding, more than 30 flood gates and 10km of raised flood defences were installed to contain flood water, while United Utilities spent £13 million replacing 2.49 miles of drains and pumping systems.

Cowperthwaite commented after the funding that it was ‘money well spent’ and that Carlisle was now ‘a well protected city’. It would appear that when David Cameron visited Carlisle on 7 December, he may have been a tad embarrassed.

The £38 million pledged and spent in 2005 failed to stop this winter’s weather – extreme as it was. More rain fell than anyone could have imagined (measuring 14 inches at Honister Pass in the Lake District), but the solutions in place didn’t solve the problem.

Recovery Schemes
The Bellwin Scheme enables councils to get financial assistance in the wake of exceptional events, such as flooding. This is in addition to record government investment in flood defences, with a clear commitment to build 1,400 more flood defences and protect 300,000 more homes from flooding across the country.

The Bellwin scheme compensates authorities for the exceptional costs incurred in incidents such as flooding. Authorities are eligible for costs under Bellwin when they have spent more than 0.2 per cent of their calculated annual revenue budgets on works.

As councils continue their clean-up operations, Communities Secretary Greg Clark confirmed that the Bellwin Scheme would be opened, so councils can apply to have 100 per cent of their costs above threshold reimbursed. Eligible authorities include: councils; police authorities; fire and rescue authorities; and National Park authorities.

Speaking in December, Clark said: “We’re determined to stand squarely behind affected communities for the long haul, to help them get back on their feet and into their homes as quickly as possible. That’s why today we’re taking the first step on the road to recovery by offering support through the Bellwin scheme so councils starting the clean-up operation can be confident that they will get the support they need.”

The government’s Communities and Business Recovery Scheme is also available to help households affected by the storms. As part of this scheme, the government has provided funding to affected local authorities worth over £500 per household to help with recovery costs, such as provision of temporary accommodation.

It is for each local authority to decide how to spend the recovery funding received from DCLG, to best meet local need.

Further Information
www.gov.uk/government/organisations/environment-agency

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