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15.12.15

Cumbrian flood defences and critical infrastructure to be assessed

Local authorities, the Environment Agency and community planning groups will come together under a new Cumbrian Floods Partnership to consider what improvements are needed to the region’s defences.

Announced by environment secretary Elizabeth Truss today, the partnership will look at upstream options for slowing key rivers to reduce the intensity of water flows at peak times and build better links between local residents and flood defence planning groups.

Chaired by floods minister Rory Stewart, the group will publish a Cumbria Action Plan next summer. Stewart will also be taking on a special Floods Envoy role across Cumbria and Lancashire, the two worst-affected regions, to coordinate the flood recovery operations over the coming months.

Truss, who created the partnership in response to the devastating impact of Storm Desmond, which hit the north of England last weekend, said: “After seeing first-hand the impact of the flooding in the north, 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.”

Also announced today, a National Flood Resilience Review will be tasked with better protecting the country from future flooding and increasingly extreme weather disasters.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs will look at how Whitehall calculates flood risk through the new cross-government team. As a result of findings, the government will update ‘worst case scenario’ planning, consider the future impacts of climate change and carry out a risk assessment of critical infrastructure, such as electricity substations.

This review, led by minister for government policy and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Letwin MP, will also be published next summer. Its members will include DCLG, the government’s chief scientist, Defra, DECC, the Treasury and the chief executive of the Environment agency, Sir James Bevan.

Environmental campaigner and journalist George Monbiot has earned the ire of farmers in Cumbria by saying their practices contributed to the flooding. He wrote: “A rational policy would aim to prevent the flood from gathering in the first place. It would address the problem, literally and metaphorically, upstream.

“A study in mid-Wales suggests that rainwater’s infiltration rate into the soil is 67 times higher under trees than under sheep pasture. Rain that percolates into the soil is released more slowly than rain that flashes over the surface. But Cumbria’s hills are almost entirely treeless, and taxpayers, through the subsidy regime, pay farmers to keep them that way.”

Referring to the government’s upcoming review, Bevan said: “Whenever an exceptional event happens, it’s important to review what happened and how to prepare for the future.

“The National Flood Resilience Review and the Cumbria Floods Partnership give government, the Environment Agency and community groups the forums to review and ensure we are directing our resources to protect people most effectively.”

Measures already applied on the ground to help displaced residents and devastated communities include opening up the Bellwin scheme, allowing councils to apply to have 100% of their costs above threshold reimbursed.

More recently, communities secretary Greg Clark MP also lifted council tax and business rates bills requirements for the residents and businesses in the north. This closely followed the announcement for an extra £51m investment to support communities, providing councils with over £500 for each household and £2,500 for each business.

A new council-run Community Recovery Scheme worth nearly £40m is also providing targeted support on the same basis as in the floods that affected the south west in 2013-14.

(Top image c. Owen Humphreys/PA Images)

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