Labour accuse Tories of neglecting North after government’s ‘woeful’ response to flooding

‘Just imagine this had happened in Surrey instead of Yorkshire and the East Midlands – I think it would have been a very different story,’ says Labour leader before visiting flood-hit Doncaster

Peter Stubley
Wednesday 13 November 2019 19:20
Jeremy Corbyn attacks 'woeful' government flood response accuses Tories of neglecting North

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Tories of neglecting northern England in favour of the south as he attacked the government’s “woeful” response to the severe flooding.

The Labour leader said spending on flood defences had fallen in Yorkshire, the northwest and the East Midlands since 2016 – while increasing in the southeast.

Speaking at a rally in Blackpool, he claimed if the flooding had happened in Surrey instead, “it would have been a very different story” and a national emergency declared.

Mr Corbyn rejected claims he was “taking advantage” of the situation politically as he announced that £5.6bn would be spent on flood defences over 10 years as part of Labour’s £250bn “Green Transformation Fund”.

“I think it is necessary and I think it is appropriate, so people understand we are very serious about providing the resources necessary to deal with what are the personal and human disasters of floods,” he said during a visit to one of the worst-hit areas in Doncaster.

He added: “This last week has confirmed what we’ve seen over the last decade – the Tories always ignore the north’s needs. The Conservative government’s response to the floods has been woeful.”

Businessman Shane Miller, who runs a doors and widows business in Doncaster, welcomed Mr Corbyn’s visit, saying: “We need to get the message out. It’s a national emergency.”

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson also criticised the government for not taking the problem seriously enough as she promoted her own party’s policy of spending £5bn on flood defences.

During a visit to Fishlake, where residents were ordered to evacuate on Sunday, she said the prime minister “should be declaring a national emergency so they can open up the ability to apply to the EU for the emergency funds that are available at times of extreme floods”.

Boris Johnson later emerged from a “Cobra” emergency response committee meeting to announce 100 extra armed services personnel were being deployed to South Yorkshire.

The prime minister also promised funding would be made available to those affected by the floods, in the form of a £2,500 “business recovery grant” and a £500 “community recovery grant” for households.

He said the authorities are working “flat out” to deliver an adequate response, adding: “I know there will be people who feel that that isn’t good enough.

“I know there will be people who are worrying about the damage to their homes, who will be worried about the insurance situation, worried about the losses they face.

“All I want to say to those people is that there are schemes to cover those losses.”

Mr Johnson said the Cobra meeting had resolved to flexibly interpret insurance schemes to “recognise the particular circumstances that people face”.

The flooding came after several areas in Yorkshire and the East Midlands were deluged with a month’s worth of rain in a single day last week. Annie Hall, the former high sheriff of Derbyshire, died after she was swept away by floodwater in Darley Dale, near Matlock.

Further rainfall is expected on Wednesday and Thursday, with the Met Office issuing yellow weather warnings for the midlands, parts of Wales and the southeast.

However five severe “danger to life” flood warnings for the River Don near Doncaster were reduced to the standard warning level by the Environment Agency on Tuesday night.

Doug Wilson, the agency’s flood duty manager, said: “More heavy rain could bring further and severe surface water and river flooding to parts of South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on Thursday and Friday.

“Areas of South Yorkshire will remain affected by ongoing high river levels today through to Saturday.”

Labour said their analysis of spending by the Environmental Agency between 2016 and 2018 showed it had fallen 15 per cent in the northwest, 14 per cent in Yorkshire and 3 per cent in East Midlands, while spending rose in the southeast by 14.5 per cent over the same period.

In 2017 a separate assessment by the climate website Carbon Brief suggested that constituencies in London and the southeast were allotted 60 per cent of the government’s planned funding, despite accounting for 32 per cent of England’s population.

To secure funding, a flood protection scheme has to demonstrate it delivers more in benefits than it costs to implement and maintain the defences. Research suggests that this method could tilt the system towards richer households and areas where house prices are higher.

Around 5.2 million properties in England, or one in six properties, are at risk of flooding, according to a government assessment for England.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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