Councils ‘will have to cut key services to pay for UK storm damage’ | Weather United Kingdom
Councils will have to cut key services to pay for the ‘soul-destroying’ damage caused by three unprecedented storms across the UK, local leaders have said.
Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin brought hurricane-force winds and heavy rain to large parts of the UK last week, leaving more than a million homes without power and hundreds under water.
Local authorities said they faced multimillion-pound bills to clean up and repair damage to roads, bridges and other infrastructure, at a time when many were making sweeping cuts to essential services due to a 37% drop in their government funding since 2010.
Lezley Picton, the Conservative leader of Shropshire council, said: ‘We need emergency funding. A million pounds is what it costs to clean up – after that it’s a lot more if you factor in the long-term damage it does to our motorways.
She added: “It has to come out of council coffers and we are not very well funded; 84% of our budget goes to social assistance. It means cutting our fabric accordingly and it probably means not doing something we were going to do.
Figures provided to the Guardian show that at least 650 homes and businesses have been flooded in Shropshire, Worcestershire, York, Wales and the village of Tadcaster in Yorkshire, although the actual number of properties affected is believed to be being much higher.
The Environment Agency said ‘unprecedented weather conditions’ had brought river levels to historic highs in some areas, causing flood barriers to burst. However, he said around 40,000 properties had been protected.
Council leaders have complained about the lack of a long-term strategy on the part of the government to contain the heavy rains upstream. They said flood prevention strategies too often focus on relatively small areas instead of regional or cross-border mitigation measures.
Picton said: ‘The floods of 2000 were supposed to be a flood every 30 years and since then we’ve probably had seven or 10. Now it seems there’s one every year and we can’t go on like that. For some people it’s the third [flood] in three years. It’s soul destroying.
In York, around 60 properties were flooded when the River Ouse approached its highest level on record on Tuesday.
Paula Widdowson, Lib Dem councilor and executive member for the environment of York City Council, urged the government to establish an emergency funding pot of £200-300million which areas could easily access during the devastating storms.
Local authorities can retrospectively apply for funding from the government’s Bellwin scheme, although this only covers costs incurred in the immediate response to weather events and does not fund repairs or long-term recovery.
Widdowson said York needed to find more than £1million to repair the flood-damaged Lendal Bridge, a 159-year-old iron bridge linking the historic city, along with thousands more to clean up.
She said: ‘It’s the local governments that are going to have to fund this with their council tax or somewhere, whether it’s patching potholes in the road, not looking after it properly children or to close the library.
“We’re not going to take it from kids and we’re not going to take it from libraries, so that’s where can we take it from? We all have very, very, very low budgets.
The historic site of Ironbridge in Shropshire, a World Heritage Site, was flooded for the third time in as many years and dozens of homes were evacuated as the River Severn nearly overran flood barriers this week.
Shaun Davies, the head of council at Telford & Wrekin, said there was a need for “a more permanent solution” to protect the site from repeated inclement weather. He said: “We need to see changes to the local government funding formula to both support our role as local flood agencies and allow us to support investments in flood defenses to recognize rural needs, heritage, history and tourism.”
In South Yorkshire, where low-lying villages were devastated by storms in 2019, Storms Eunice and Franklin caused huge disruption to major transport networks as Rotherham station was flooded and the main road Snake Pass, linking Sheffield to Manchester, was closed for several weeks due to landslides.
Dan Jarvis, the mayor of Sheffield City Region, said there was a £118m funding shortfall from the government which meant it could not start 27 development projects. “priority” flood defenses, including nine that could start later this year with the right support.