Talking Politics: Reflecting on the devastation of the floods

Craig Whittaker MP
Craig Whittaker MP

It is now two months since the devastating floods on Boxing Day and when I reflect on the last eight weeks, the sheer scale of devastation across the whole of the Calder Valley never ceases to amaze me.

Whether it’s visiting people’s homes or many of our diverse businesses, seeing roads and walls damaged, schools still closed, bridges destroyed or walking many of the miles of rivers and canals over the last few weeks, the damage is immense. The bill for the council and damage to our canal network and river alone is in excess of £32m. The bill to home owners and business many times more.

28 January 2016.......      Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs makes quick visit to see Mytholmroyd following the floods over Christmas. . Picture Tony Johnson

28 January 2016....... Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs makes quick visit to see Mytholmroyd following the floods over Christmas. . Picture Tony Johnson

The Environment Agency alone has over 1500 calls logged for jobs.The Canal and Rivers Trust similarly have a plan, first to clear the tow paths so walkers and hikers can use the miles of facility, secondly clearing the damaged canal walls, then finally opening up the navigation channel for boats to navigate.

As readers will be aware, I’m not afraid to criticise the government when I feel criticism is due but I must say their response so far has been incredibly supportive. The Secretary of State for DEFRA was here on Boxing Day seeing first hand the devastation to the Calder Valley and she responded almost immediately to my pleas for money to help. A package of £12m was made available and some of the money was paid over to Calderdale Council within days. A package of £500 for flooded households to cover incidental costs, £2,500 for flooded businesses and a further £5,000 per home and business to put flood resilience measures in place when they put their homes or businesses back together. We have secured a massive £5.5m from government to rebuild Elland Bridge and put up a temporary footbridge. For those constituents who believe that Tadcaster got all the attention, in fact we got our footbridge in Elland built and open a full four weeks ahead of Tadcaster.

We have also secured funding for the building of flood defences in Mytholmroyd. The government have instructed the Environment Agency that they must have a plan complete by the end of May for Mytholmroyd so building can commence from June and that they must have a full catchment plan completed for the whole of the Calder Valley by the end of October. This must include the full catchment from the moors down to the valley bottom and mustn’t be just about building walls along the river – although that does play a part too.

We’ve also got up to £2m in matched funding on the donations towards the flood relief, which is to be shared out proportionately between all the areas around the country flooded by Storm Eva. I am currently lobbying government to see if we can get this raised further as due to the huge generosity of people, we in Calderdale have raised in excess of £2.3m alone.

People wade through flood waters at Mytholmroyd in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, where flood sirens were sounded after torrential downpours.

People wade through flood waters at Mytholmroyd in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, where flood sirens were sounded after torrential downpours.

Whilst the money is there for Mytholmroyd, we will need a huge financial input for the full catchment plan. Figures banded about prior to the floods suggest that we are about £15m short for flood defences. I suspect the shortfall will be higher by the time the EA have completed their plan for us in October. Calderdale Council and the Canal and Rivers Trust will also need help. The devastation and damage is too big and too expensive without government help. The £32m equates to about a 43.5 per cent Council Tax rise, just to highlight the scale of the money we need (just for the record, I am not saying people will have a 43.5 per cent Council Tax rise and only say this to highlight the scale of the problem!)

Finally we will need ongoing support for our business community to get flood covered insurance. As I highlighted in a recent debate that I secured in Parliament, there are far too many businesses that either can’t get flood insurance or the premiums or excesses are astronomical. If we can’t get protection for these businesses, many will move away or just fold and that will have an adverse effect on our communities, economies and indeed employment. For home owners who couldn’t get flood insurance after the 2012 floods, the good news is that from April 1 they will be able to do so via the new Flood Re scheme.

So whilst the start is good, the work is far from over.