About 16,000 properties were flooded in England last month during the wettest December in a century, the environment minister has said.
Written by Helen Pidd & Josh Halliday for The Guardian
Approximately 9,000 properties were flooded on Boxing Day in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, Liz Truss, the environment secretary, told parliament on Tuesday. Earlier in December, 7,000 homes and businesses in Cumbria were affected by record rainfall, she said.
But the minister told MPs that more than 20,000 properties were protected by flood defences as she defended the government’s response to the crisis.
Labour questioned whether the £2.3bn committed over the next six years for flood defence projects was enough, saying that the government had “underestimated the climate change risk”.
Making a statement in the Commons, Truss said: “The Met Office confirmed today that we have had the wettest December in a century. In fact, the north-west faced the wettest December on record.
“Later in the month, the rain fell on saturated ground, meaning that all the rivers in Lancashire were at record levels and in Yorkshire rivers like the Aire and the Wharfe were up to a metre higher than they’ve ever been. This resulted in the flooding of about 9,000 properties which, together with the earlier flooding in Cumbria, brings the total to around 16,000 flooded properties in England.”
The minister ignored a question from her Labour counterpart on whether the government had applied for help from the European Union’s solidarity fund. The fund, with a budget of up to £359m a year, was set up to provide financial assistance to EU countries struck by major natural disasters. In December, the EU commissioner, Corina Creţu, confirmed that the UK was eligible for the funding and said she was surprised no application had been made.
Nigel Evans, the Tory MP for Ribble Valley in Cumbria, one of the areas flooded on Boxing Day, pressed Truss on what help would be offered to homeowners who were not insured for flood damage. Truss said she had been “very struck” by the images of devastated homes in Ribble Valley and added: “We will do all we can to help those people get back on their feet; that’s why we have provided funding to the local authorities that people can apply for.”
More than 2,000 properties flooded on Boxing Day were in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, according to Craig Whittaker, the Conservative MP for the area. “Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Elland and Brighouse were five of six Calder Valley communities not just hit by floods but in some cases decimated by floods, and this just three and a half years after the last floods,” he told MPs.
He paid tribute to the hundreds of volunteers. “If I just may, in light of the current undertones of Islamophobia in our country, pay an incredibly special tribute to the small armies of young Asian men and women, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu, who came with mops, buckets, food, vans, lifting materials and all sorts and paid a huge part in the recovery process.”
Truss said the Elland bridge in the Calder Valley, which was damaged beyond repair last week, was “very definitely” on the transport secretary’s list of damaged infrastructure.
Source: The Guardian