Official documents show that the UK government’s own advisory body warned that a funding gap could leave swaths of the north vulnerable to flooding just weeks before the deluge this Christmas.
Head of the Yorkshire regional flood and coastal committee (RFCC) Prof Colin Mellors, said funding cuts could mean discontinuing some flood defences, according to minutes on the government’s website.
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The decision not to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the increased flood risk came in October just a few weeks before the flooding in Cumbria before Christmas and the most recent flooding in Lancashire and Yorkshire
The Guardian reports:
The disclosure came as opposition MPs representing northern constituencies affected by the floods rounded on David Cameron for neglecting defences outside the south of England, creating a north-south divide in preparedness.
There is forecast to be a brief period of respite on Tuesday with the weather conditions easing, but gales and downpours were expected to return from the evening, with Cumbria and southern and central Scotland most at risk of more disruption from Storm Frank.
Most of the nine remaining “severe” flood warnings issued by the EA for England and Wales – meaning potential loss of life – are centred on York, which was inundated on Boxing Day.
The government has ordered a major review of flood prevention strategy after 500 troops were deployed to help clean up in the latest incident after thousands of people were evacuated and others were left without power. The Environment Agency (EA) has promised a “complete rethink” of flooding preparedness.
In Mellors’ report to the committee, he said: “With ever tighter budgets, it is clear that there will need to be even firmer prioritisation, especially in relation to maintenance activity.”
In particular, he warned that the committee would “most likely be asked in the new year to consider sites where maintenance might be formally discontinued”.
Labour said his words show that key projects in the affected areas would need to be scrapped because of a lack of funding. Jon Trickett MP, the shadow communities secretary, said: “These documents show the devastating impact the Tory government’s cuts are having on the region.
“The Tories’ failure to adequately fund our flood defences mean key projects are being put at risk. Instead of posing for the cameras, it’s time David Cameron got a grip and gave the region the support it needs,” he said.
Several MPs questioned the government’s priorities on Sunday, following claims from local politicians that the government has found millions for flood defences in the south of England, but has abandoned plans for the north.
Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary and MP for Leeds Central, said the government had ignored previous warnings that the city was vulnerable to rising waters. The decision of whether to fund the Leeds defence system was put on hold in February 2011, he said.
“We have known for some time that Leeds city centre was at risk of serious flooding. However, in 2011, when we asked for funding for the full flood defence scheme, ministers made it clear the money wasn’t available. As a result we could only go ahead with a reduced scheme that is in the process of being built.
“When you look at the heartache and huge costs to residents and businesses in Leeds caused by the weekend’s flooding, the government clearly got it wrong when they refused to fund the full scheme. They must now put that right,” he said.