Talking Politics: Craig Whitaker (Con, Calder Valley)

Craig Whittaker MP
Craig Whittaker MP

Seven months on from the devastating flooding in the Calder Valley, as life for many of those who were affected returns to normal, the attention of many Government agencies and partners continues to be upon improving flood resilience in our local communities.

Following the allocation of £35 million by the Government for flood defences in Calder Valley, the Environment Agency (EA) are working up detailed plans for a full flood prevention model.

It is vital that these plans not only include physical flood defences, but also address issues in relation to upland management and sustainability as part of an effective long- term plan.

Many residents have strong feelings regarding both points and I know that the EA are carefully considering all of the submissions that they have received. Initial proposals for Mytholmroyd have been released already and as plans for other parts of the Calder Valley take shape, I will be working closely with the EA to ensure that the agreed timetable is delivered and that local people are always kept updated and involved.

Calderdale Council also have an important role to play in terms of working alongside residents and businesses to improve flood resilience.

Whilst their role in terms of co-ordinating the initial response and processing the grant funding made available by the Government deserves recognition, there are a number of serious questions regarding the council’s current approach:

Funding

From a capital budget of £189 million over four years, the Council have earmarked a paltry £1.5m for spending on flood prevention infrastructure. Less than 1 per cent of their total spend! For the last few years the Council have (quite rightly) been speaking of the need for investment in flood defences.

Well, the Government has stepped up to the mark and delivered its share of the bargain, so why hasn’t the Council done the same?

A £3 million fund approved by all parties was approved by Council earlier this year to support flood resilience work in the community; however this is not to be confused with monies for infrastructure.

For too long, the Council has indicated that flooding is a priority but has spectacularly failed to make capital funding available for flood prevention schemes.

The Council continue to allocate funding for different purposes on a completely ad hoc basis, whilst accepting little responsibility for contributing to the

costs of flood prevention, merely relying upon Government to step in and stump up the cash.

Although part of the Council’s capital funding programme supports vital projects such as repairing roads and schools, much of it is allocated to low priority schemes and this should be refocussed on protecting homes and businesses as an urgent priority.

We require leadership and a more strategic approach from the Council when it comes to funding flood prevention work, something we have yet to see from this administration.

Infrastructure repairs

My office continues to receive dozens of calls every single week in relation to the roads and bridges that still haven’t been fully repaired.

The closure of Elland Bridge and the delays on the A646 between Mytholmroyd & Hebden Bridge continue to cause disruption and untold misery to local residents and businesses.

It is unacceptable that seven months on, people continue to experience this level of disruption because the Council seem unable to complete these infrastructure projects in a timely manner. Money isn’t the issue here as the Government have allocated £24.4 million to repair Calderdale’s damaged infrastructure and so it really is time that the Council got on with the job. 

Support for the High Street

Calderdale Council have provided a level of support to some of those businesses who were affected but they need to be far more strategic and proactive in developing plans to support individual businesses and the town centres impacted across the borough, particularly Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd.

It is absolutely vital that we maintain a vibrant high street in our communities and the Council should have done more - and a lot sooner - to work closely with businesses and groups in each town to develop a plan which promotes their long-term economic sustainability.    

Furthermore, a recent Cabinet paper and a Flood Commission report both contain recommendations which the Council could, and should, have implemented several years ago following flooding in 2012.

Questions ranging from a lack of capacity in the Council’s highways and drainage team; to missed opportunities for discussions with Yorkshire Water in relation to controlling reservoir levels; to the need to put flood prevention at the very heart of the planning process.

Although these, and other opportunities have been missed in the past, it is imperative that all of the agencies involved here, including the Council, learn from what happened and now take steps to ensure that our communities are better protected in the future.