Today’c columnist, Louise Haigh MP: Flood funding must be fair

Floods on The Wicker.   26 June 2007
Floods on The Wicker. 26 June 2007
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This winter whole swathes of Yorkshire and the North were hit by floods, devastating communities and local businesses.

These were a shocking reminder of just how vulnerable we are not just to the elements, but to the ‘grim injustice of chance’.

This time it was the communities of the Pennines, of Cumbria, of Leeds and Manchester. But in previous years it was us – we all remember the floods of 2007 in Sheffield and the lasting damage it caused.

But that is just the problem. At the moment our protection from flooding lies purely in chance and nine years on from floods which hit our city, what prevented Sheffield from flooding over Christmas was that the weather system happened to unleash its fury 30 miles up the road.

Our great cities in the North and across the country should not be left to stand or sink on the basis of chance – it should be based on a proper assessment of our needs and, crucially, on the Government providing us with the flood defence funding we need and which has so far been denied to us.

But since 2007 due to Government funding cuts the Environment Agency has 800 fewer risk management staff and many great northern cities have been denied the funding which – had it been forthcoming – could have meant the misery inflicted on thousands of people would have been avoided over Christmas.

Incredibly, not only have they not provided this funding but they have failed to claim European funding set aside for such disasters.

If the floods which rocked the North had happened on a weekday it would have cost the local economy £400 million. That is simply unimaginable in the South-East where hundreds of millions of pounds of funding poured into defences following the horrendous flooding in the Thames Valley.

And so it should, no home or business in any part of the country should suffer this catastrophe. But what we are left to ask here in the Northern Powerhouse is this: why is the funding which is rightly deemed so essential to protect the South-East not forthcoming for everyone?

The funding levels for flood defences in the South-East are welcome and they are necessary to protect a wet country where the harm done by flooding far outweighs the cost of the defences themselves.

But that principle should apply equally to the North, which is why the funding gap between what Sheffield needs and what Sheffield is actually getting is so galling.

Sheffield needs £43 million over the next five years to fund vital projects to protect not only the city but also prime land available for developing business and building homes.

Of this £43m the Government has offered £23m leaving a £20m shortfall in funds for the five projects that will aim to tackle flood risks.

The Government need to redesign the flood funding formula to ensure it includes future homes and businesses as well as current ones.

Julie Dore and many of my colleagues have been making this point and it’s time the Government listened.

We all know Sheffield has been named as one of the centres of the Northern Powerhouse but if some of the land where new businesses and homes will be built is at risk of flooding this will deter investment in our city.

We need this land to be protected here in Sheffield so that the Northern Powerhouse doesn’t sink before it has a chance to set sail.

But like many communities across the North and around the country, we have waited decades for investment to be put on an equal footing with investment in the South-East.

How much longer are we going to have to wait?