Too little help to aid business floods recovery, MPs report

Flooding in Kirkstall Road.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Flooding in Kirkstall Road. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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When the River Aire burst its banks on Boxing Day, around 1,000 homes and 400 businesses were submerged, in the city centre, Kirstall and Otley.

But months on and the nightmare continues for many flooding victims.

During a visit to the area to speak to those affected, MPs on the parliamentary Environment Audit Committee (EAC) found that the issue of insurance was the overriding issue, with businesses not covered by the Government’s ‘Flood Re’ scheme.

Introduced in April, the scheme is designed to help people who live in flood risk areas get affordable home insurance.

According to the MPs’ subsequent report, which was published today, several businesses reported a lack of communication between organisations responsible for co-ordinating the response to the floods. They claimed that business owners had little warning of the scale of the floods and were unable to take appropriate mitigating actions in time.

In Calderdale, which also suffered badly from flooding after Christmas, the economic impact on small and medium-sized businesses was estimated to have cost £47m, with indirect costs totalling £170m.

Calderdale Council estimated that 70-80 per cent of businesses had been affected and would take two years to recover.

MPs said in their report: “We were told that there were little to no government funds to support future higher insurance costs in that area and that, as result, many businesses might not survive.”

And they added: “If the Government is serious about seeing these areas recover then concerns about lack of flood protection and affordability of insurance need to be addressed.”

Environment Minister Rory Stewart told the MPs’ inquiry an additional £700m of government spending on flood defences, including in Leeds, was necessary - as announced in the recent Budget.

Previously, the Coalition Government refused to back a £180m flood defence scheme on the Aire and instead, with Leeds City Council, funded a more modest £45m project which is due for completion next March.

Mr Stewart said a shortage of defence spending in Leeds missed “the fact that it has the third largest commuter hub in the country; it has the headquarters of major industries; it has fantastic growth potential, particularly in the finance and insurance industry; it is a very important hub for the whole of the north.”

Ultimately, MPs believe the Government is too reactive to flood management.

Wakefield’s Labour MP, Mary Creagh, the EAC’s chairman, said: “We know that flooding is projected to get worse and occur more frequently because of climate change, so it just isn’t good enough for government to react to flooding events as they occur.”