The UK government’s spending on flood defences has come under criticism after it emerged that a prevention scheme for the Cumbrian town of Kendal, which was submerged by up to 5ft (1.5 metres) of water after the weekend’s storm, was repeatedly postponed.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, whose constituency covers Kendal, demanded a meeting with David Cameron after the Guardian revealed that a £4m project to protect 440 properties from flooding from the river Kent, which runs through the heart of the town, has not been started even though it was initially in line for funding in 2011.
“I believe the money you save and the misery you prevent is infinitely greater than the outlay on those schemes,” said Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.
“I am contacting the prime minister to urge him to meet with me and council officials to agree this project [the postponed Kendal flood scheme] ASAP.”
Police said the estimated worst-case scenario was that as many as 6,425 homes were flooded in Cumbria. The Environment Agency had previously put the figure at about 5,200. Kendal was one of the places worst affected, with an estimated 1,400 people left temporarily homeless.
Flood waters were largely receding across the county on Tuesday, with the clean-up beginning in towns such as Carlisle, where footballers from Carlisle United were among those joining volunteers. The costs of the storm are estimated to be between £400m and £500m.
But there were fears of further bad weather as the Met Office issued a warning for more rain and wind in Scotland and north-west England for Wednesday and Thursday. The Environment Agency said 16 severe flood warnings remained in place for north-west England.
In Cumbria, 1,000 homes remained without power and the local electricity supplier, Electricity North West, called on people to use energy sparingly and warned that managed power cuts may be needed later if demand exceeded capacity.
The West Coast mainline rail service reopened, although links in Cumbria remained shut. Hospital services at Cumberland infirmary in Carlisle – where the power supply had been cut off – and the West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven will return to normal on Wednesday, with the local trust thanking the “resilience and hard work” of staff who had “gone out of their way”.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had on Monday highlighted a £115m fall in spending on flood risk management this year compared with last when spending peaked after the floods of winter 2013-14.
Liz Truss, the environment secretary, said: “It’s completely wrong [to say] that we are cutting flood defences. In fact, we are increasing real-terms spending on building our flood defences. We will be spending £2.3bn over the next six years.”
However, the National Audit Office has previously concluded that funding fell 10% in real terms in the last parliament, when one-off emergency grants were excluded, and the government’s own climate change advisers warned of a £500m hole in spending.
Labour also criticised the number of major flood defence schemes that are yet to be constructed, saying that more than half of those listed in the government’s infrastructure pipeline were still in their “scoping” phase, with no progress from this status in the past year.
Jonathan Ashworth, shadow minister without portfolio, said: “This is yet more evidence of how the Tory government’s record on infrastructure is all rhetoric … Those affected by the devastating floods this week will take no comfort from warm words by David Cameron and the Tories on their future plans; they need action now.”
Ministers agreed to give an estimated 5,000 households and companies forced from their properties by flooding in Cumbria and Lancashire temporary relief from their council tax and business rates. The waiver was agreed at a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee in Whitehall.
Cumbria police said they had seen a small rise in burglaries compared with a similar weekend last year, with opportunistic thieves targeting evacuated homes and businesses in the area.
Two people were killed in Storm Desmond, which battered the country on Friday night and Saturday. A 78-year-old man was found dead near Kendal after he was swept away. A 90-year-old man, Ernie Crouch, died after he was apparently blown into the side of a moving bus by strong winds in London on Saturday.
Plans were made to start funding the Kendal flood prevention scheme in 2014 and then in 2015, but they were postponed and 2016 is now the earliest proposed start date. The repeated postponement of the river Kent protection scheme was revealed by a Guardian analysis of annual Environment Agency spending plans since 2010. This shows that the scheme was in line to receive £325,000 of initial funding from 2011.
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “The Kendal project has not been postponed. Like all projects included in the programme, it has been subject to scheme appraisal (including options, costs, benefits and funding). For this project in particular, the proposed options are still being developed and the costs and funding requirements are not yet known.”
By Damian Carrington, Rowena Mason and Josh Halliday. Source: The Guardian
Add your voice
At the same time that the UK is being bombarded by record breaking weather, government leaders are gathered in Paris for UN talks on climate change. Whatever the outcome of the Paris summit, the last few days have given us a stark vision of the future we could face – a future where ‘once in a lifetime’ storms take place several times in a generation.
David Cameron has pledged to help people suffering in the wake of the destruction. That’s a start. But in the aftermath of such ferocious storms, we need to make sure he joins the dots to climate change.
The decisions that David Cameron takes next will be felt far beyond the day when floodwaters have cleared. As well as plugging the gap in funds to flooding defences, he needs to tackle the root cause of increasingly extreme weather – and that means scaling up plans to tackle climate change by throwing his weight behind renewable energy. Please sign the Greenpeace petition.