THE ex-head of Parliament’s environment watchdog has challenged the Government to provide a far more “radical” response to Yorkshire’s floods.
Former North Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh also says the Government’s six-year plan to invest £2.3bn in new flood defences must be matched by a similar sum being spent on the maintenance of existing schemes.
Writing exclusively in The Yorkshire Post, the Tory peer also challenges the major insurers to make a greater financial contribution towards the protection of flood-hit communities.
As the respected chairman of the environment select committee in the last Parliament, the call by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering increases the political pressure on Mr Cameron after it emerged that the road bridge over the river Wharfe at Tadcaster will not reopen until Christmas.
This come after the Army said it would be impractical to build a temporary crossing near the current bridge, or further upstream, which would spare local residents a lengthy detour via the A64 dual carriageway.
Even though Mr Cameron – and Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss – said this was “a national priority”, the Department for Transport’s £3.3m grant only covers repairs to the existing structure, which is 300-years-old, and the construction of a temporary footbridge. There will be improved pedestrian access to a former railway viaduct which is being used as an alternative crossing.
As Mr Cameron’s flooding envoy Robert Goodwill, a junior transport minister and also the Scarborough MP, prepares to visit Tadcaster, it also emerged that this announcement does not extend to Calderdale Council where the closure of storm-damaged Elland Bridge is also inconveniencing residents and local businesses.
“The Royal Engineers were part of discussions held by the Department for Transport and North Yorkshire County Council,” said a spokeswoman for Mr Goodwill. “It was decided that a temporary footbridge was the best solution for residents in Tadcaster. The aim is to have fully constructed road bridge back in service by next Christmas.”
Even though it will be several weeks before the footbridge can be lifted into place because water levels are still dangerously high, the town’s MP Nigel Adams accepted the situation. “The Army were contacted very early on about a Bailey bridge and made it very clear that they could not do it,” said Mr Adams who stressed that Tadcaster is still open for business.
“I’m really pleased with the positive way in which the Government has responded. They have put their money where their mouth is.”
However Baroness McIntosh, who represented Thirsk and Malton before standing down at the last election, says the Government and insurance industry need to do far more after the Association of British Insurers said the bill for the winter storms could reach £1.3bn.
“There is no magic wand the Government can wave, but we must seek new forms of funding,” writes Baroness McIntosh. “I urge the Government to be radical, to attract money from the private sector to fund future flood defences. It costs the insurance companies, and all of us as their customers, a fortune in settling claims. Would it not be possible for them to contribute to long term flood protection and resilience measures that would negate such claims arising in future?
“We need to match the welcome six year spending programme on capital with a similar one for maintenance.”
Baroness McIntosh, vice president of the Association of Drainage Authorities, says schemes to slow the flow of rivers, like a project in Pickering which protected the town from the floods, could be more cost-effective than major infrastructure projects.