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08.12.15

Worst-affected councils to recover 100% of Storm Desmond costs

Councils can now apply to have 100% of their costs above threshold reimbursed after communities secretary Greg Clark opened the Bellwin scheme to mitigate the severe economic impact of Storm Desmond.

The Bellwin scheme was created to give local authorities financial assistance in face of exceptional events, such as flooding. In 2013-14, for example, it was used in response to floods in southern England, and later expanded.

These severe warnings have dropped to 16 today, although many flood warnings and alerts still remain in place.

Today, Clark said: “The effects of Storm Desmond will be devastating to communities and families whose homes have been flooded – with many suffering this for the second, or even third, time in the last decade.

“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 Bellwich scheme so councils starting the clean-up operation can be confident that they will get the support they need.”

Over the weekend, an unprecedented storm hit the northern regions, including large parts of Cumbria, Lancashire and Northumbria, which the environment secretary said rose waters to levels never before seen.

The Environment Agency issued 46 warnings of severe flood warnings in the north west yesterday, with a particularly worrying situation in Cumbria, where the storm shut down hospitals and schools and where displaced residents sought temporary shelter.

Bodies eligible for the reimbursement include councils, police authorities, fire and rescue authorities and National Park authorities.

They will be eligible for reimbursement of costs under Bellwin when they have spent more than 0.2% of their calculated annual revenue budgets on works.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, who is MP for South Lakeland in Cumbria and was affected by the flooding himself, yesterday called on the government to provide this extra funding. Upping the existing defence cash pool, he argued, should be done as part of the chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse vision.

Cumbria County Council’s leader, Cllr Stuart Young, said on BBC Radio 4 Today yesterday that the Environment Agency will have to investigate the region’s existing flood defences and, if it needs to revisit them, “then that’s what’s going to happen”.

The Environment Agency’s CEO, Sir James Beven, said it would carry out a review of what happened, but argued that current flood defences helped reduce the overall impact and gave people more time to prepare.

Shortly after, the EA stated that there would still be ongoing flooding across Cumbria and parts of Lancashire, with severe flood warnings remaining in place for the River Greta at Keswick, River Cocker in Cockermouth and River Eden and Appleby.

The organisation is working with councils and local flood wardens to maintain flood defences, clear blockages in rivers and monitor water levels, with staff moved to areas most at risk.

Its provisional figures from a rain gauge at Honister in the Lake District showed 341mm of rain had fallen in 24 hours over the weekend. According to the Met Office, the average rainfall for Cumbria for the month of December is 146.1mm.

Yesterday morning, the prime minister chaired a COBR meeting on the floods, and environment secretary Elizabeth Truss made a statement on the storm’s impact later on.

The LGA's environment spokesman, Cllr Peter Box, also said yesterday: "Councils have been working around the clock to support residents affected by the flooding. With more bad weather forecast for later in the week, they are working alongside the police, fire and rescue services and the Environment Agency, to ensure the safety of residents and businesses, shore up flood defences to protect homes and premises, and are drawing up plans to repair gullies and fix damaged infrastructure such as roads and bridges."

Defra’s Twitter account has been monitoring and posting updates on the issue throughout the day. It is also possible to follow the incident in real-time using the hashtag #StormDesmond.

(Top image c. Owen Humphreys/PA Images)

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