Yorkshire flood damage: is a North/South spending divide to blame?

The river Ouse rises high, damaging homes and businesses along the river front. Image credit: Allen Harris on Flickr. Creative Commons license.

The river Ouse rises high, damaging homes and businesses along the river front. Image credit: Allen Harris on Flickr. Creative Commons license.

The floods that ravaged much of the north of England over the christmas period were some of the worst seen in decades.

Swathes of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Scotland were severely affected by flood water brought about by storms Desmond, Eva and Frank.

The damage was on an unexpected and unprecedented scale.

Thousands of properties were drenched, businesses suffered huge damages and the infrastructure of entire communities has been severely affected.

Like Tadcaster in North Yorkshire, which lost the use of a vital connecting bridge.

Damage caused by the surging river Wharfe led to the bridge closing on Boxing Day.

After more heavy rain and flooding, on the evening of the 29th of December it had partially collapsed.

Without the bridge, which connects the north and south of the Town, a long detour is necessary.

Work to repair the bridge is estimated to take twelve months and will cost £3 million.

Twelve miles away in the historic City of York, the flooding was widespread.

Thousands of residents were evacuated from their homes, many businesses had to close and deal with damage to stock and the flooding of major roads and railways left the city virtually unreachable. 

With roads submerged, the only way to get around was by boat. By Richard Scott from York, UK (York Floods 2015 #23) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

With roads submerged, the only way to get around was by boat. Image Credit: Richard Scott (York Floods 2015 #23) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

University of York student Alex Light said that although York does get hit by annual floods in certain areas, this flooding was much worse. He said:

York has flooded previously, however usually its just one of the rivers that floods, this time its both of them.

So instead of just a few areas being hit its the whole city.

This widespread flooding took many residents by surprise and meant that numerous homes were left physically unprotected.

In addition to this, some homes and business were underinsured or not insured at all.


Flood waters took many people by surprise, including the owner of the submerged Mercedes. Image credit: Allen Harris on Flickr. Creative Commons license.

Flood waters took many people by surprise, including the owner of the submerged Mercedes. Image credit: Allen Harris on Flickr. Creative Commons license.

LMMN reporter Al Riddell has been to Walmgate in York, a historic street renowned for its thriving independent businesses. It is also an area not usually prone to flooding.

Al spoke to Walmgate business owners who were continuing the clean up operation.


The cost of the flooding is expected to surpass £5bn mark.

The total burden on the UK insurance industry is likely to reach up to £1.5bn alone, accountancy firm KPMG said.

Justin Balcome, KPMG’s UK head of general insurance management consulting, said:

The scale of the flooding has seen communities across large sections of Northern England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland severely impacted,” said Justin Balcombe, KPMG’s UK head of general insurance management consulting.

In 2007 when a similar pattern of flooding hit, total insured claims were £3.2bn, however, we consider that the actual financial impact far exceeded this. We are assessing this month’s events through a number of economic lenses, resulting in an initial total cost estimate of £5-£5.8bn.

According to KPMG, spend on re-building infrastructure and flood defences will hit £2.75bn.

But, was enough money invested in the North’s flood defences? And, will enough be spent in the future?

Although the water in places like York has subsided, a tide of criticism has washed up at the feet of government ministers, whom it is claimed have neglected opportunities to sure-up flood defences in the North.

Many suggest that the government are favouring investment in Southern flood protection schemes and are turning a deaf-ear to similar projects in the North.

For instance, last December the government put forward £297m to pay for new flood defences for the Thames Valley, yet ignored pleas from MPs in February 2011 for Ministers to press ahead with a £180m scheme in Leeds which would have covered a 12-mile stretch of the river Aire and protected 4,500 properties.

This scheme was eventually replaced with a smaller strategy costing £45m.

The recent flooding, combined with a rail network perceived as desperately in need of investment, has fuelled the feeling among taxpayers in the North that they are second-class citizens when it comes to investment.

“We’re beginning to feel that very strongly”

This ill-feeling has been echoed by Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, who asserted that this kind of damage would not have been tolerated in the Home Counties.

She said:

I think we’re beginning to feel that very strongly. At that time there were other flooding events in the north that didn’t get anywhere near the support that we saw going into Somerset [last year].

In Leeds, Judith Blake’s constituency, approximately 2,000 homes and 400 business were damaged.

“We have to try to be fair”

Rory Stewart, floods minister, responded to the claims, saying:

There are going to be different parts of the country where people are going to be pushing for bigger schemes.

We have to try to be fair; we are putting a lot of money into this and we are making sure we are spending it in the most cost-effective way we can.

The prime minister also responded:

We spend more per head on flood defences in the north of England than we do in the south of England.

Embed from Getty Images

Prime Minister David Cameron meets with soldiers deployed to help deal with the flooding.

David Cameron was technically correct, but only according to the way flood defence spending is calculated by the environment department (Defra).

The department announced that over the next six years £54 per head annually would be spent in the north and east region and £42 in the south-east.

However, the way Defra geographically carve-up the country to calculate to these figures must be taken into account.

The north-east region is defined as including Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.

While Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, which may consider themselves as being in the north, are classed as West, along with Somerset and Devon.

The south-east is defined more conventionally.

The Defra figures also neglect the fact that the population in the north is lower than in the south.

Furthermore, to add to the anger felt by people who feel these figures are misleading, the department has failed to provide figures for the previous five years.

Many also blame cuts and increasingly tight council budgets for the devastating impact of the floods.

“devastating impact”

The shadow Communities Secretary, Jon Trickett, said that the vulnerability of Yorkshire to flooding of this scale is proof of ‘the devastating impact the Tory Government’s cuts are having on the region.’

LMMN reporter Al Riddell has the facts and figures.

The Prime Minister promised that the Government will operate a “bell-wind” scheme, meaning that local councils will be reimbursed for flood damage recovery spending, above a threshold.

Mr Cameron also denied that spending on flood defences had been cut.

He told Sky News:

We spent more in the last parliament than the previous parliament and we are going to spend even more in this parliament. So it is a rising budget – £2.3bn on capital schemes that will make a real difference up and down the country.

“complete re-think”

The deputy chairman of the Environment Agency, David Rooke, said there would have to be a ‘complete rethink’ during a potential period of ‘unknown extremes’ of weather.

This would involve not just flood defences, but designing homes with features like solid floors, waterproof plaster, and even electrical sockets and features placed higher up walls.

All to avoid damage, where possible.

For the people picking up the pieces in places like York and Tadcaster, their focus will be on recovering as quickly as possible from the flood damage.

However, the debate about a so-called North/South spending divide is unlikely to end anytime soon.


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