UK floods: PM pledges £40m to fix defences

David Cameron in York on 28 December Image copyright PA
Image caption The prime minister visited York last week to meet flood relief workers

Flood defences "overwhelmed" by recent record rainfall will be fixed and bolstered in a £40m package of spending, the prime minister has said.

Thousands of homes across northern England were affected after Storm Eva hit on Boxing Day.

The £40m package for Yorkshire comes on top of £50m funding to help local authorities' response to the floods.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has accused David Cameron of providing only a "short-term fix" for the problem.

The leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake, said the funding was a "first step" in tackling the issue but was not going to be enough to repair all vital infrastructure.

Amber warnings for rain, meaning the public should "be prepared", are in place for parts of north-east and central Scotland for Sunday and Monday, and further flooding is likely with rivers expected to peak later.

Parts of northern England and north-east and central Scotland have been among the worst affected by flooding after several weeks of heavy rain, with hundreds of people forced to leave their homes over Christmas and thousands left without power.

It has also emerged that ministers were presented in November with a document from the Association of Drainage Authorities which said not enough money was being spent on the day to day maintenance of equipment to prevent floods.

Since 2000, the UK has had its five wettest years on record, yet the Environment Agency's overall spending on flood management fell by 14%, the association said.

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Image copyright PA
Image caption The Wharfe runs through Tadcaster, where a bridge collapsed in the floods

About £10m of the new funds will be spent on improving defences in York. The Environment Agency was criticised after officials decided to lift the Foss Barrier, designed to protect the city, after finding its pumps were at risk of electrical failure because of water entering the building.

The rest of the money will be spent on repairing defences on the Calder, Aire, Ouse, Derwent and Wharfe rivers in Yorkshire.

Mr Cameron said: "We are already spending £280m over the next six years to protect thousands of houses from flooding in Yorkshire as part of our £2.3bn investment to protect 300,000 houses across the country.

"But now more than £40m will be spent to fix those defences overwhelmed by the record rainfall we've seen in recent weeks and to make them more resilient."

'Small down payment'

The government has been criticised after proposals for a £190m project to protect homes and businesses along the River Aire in Leeds were axed in 2011 on cost grounds.

Council leader Ms Blake queried the detail of how the £40m would now be allocated "so residents and businesses can be offered some reassurance".

Money has also already been pledged to help those in Cumbria, Lancashire and Northumberland affected by Storm Desmond.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, whose Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency was hit by flooding, questioned how much of the £40m was new money and described it as a "small down payment" compared to the £500m bill faced in Cumbria.

He said: "Time and time again, David Cameron offers warm words and a little bit of funding for a short-term fix.

"This money wouldn't be needed now if he had followed through with so many previous commitments to truly protect homes threatened with flooding."

Shadow environment secretary Kerry McCarthy said there had been cuts in flood defence spending every year since 2010 - apart from after the Somerset floods in 2013-14 - with further cuts of £115m due this year.

"A lump sum of £40m is a short-term, sticking-plaster approach," she said.

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According to the Observer, the document issued to ministers by the Association of Drainage Authorities said that annual flood and storm damage costs are estimated by the Association of British Insurers to be £1.1bn.

It also says the number of households at significant risk of flood damage could increase from 330,000 currently to 570,000 in 2035, as a result of "a reduction in our capacity to manage water levels".

But Treasury minister David Gauke said the leaked report had been written before the announcement of a £2.3bn investment in flood prevention made in the Autumn Statement.

He said: "We're spending an unprecedented amount on our flood defences... Now the reason we can do that is because the economy is stronger and we've got the resources to do it. But even in the last Parliament where we faced significant difficulties with the public finances - capital spending on flood defences increased in real terms. "

Transport minister Robert Goodwill has been made a "flooding envoy" for Yorkshire and it has also been announced that charities raising cash for communities hit by floods will have contributions matched by the government, up to a total of £2m.

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