March 14 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Calls have been made for the government to find extra cash to help battered communities in Norfolk and Suffolk recover from the floods which have wrecked people’s lives.
Departments across Whitehall met yesterday to discuss the government’s response to the floods, but it is understood that, other than a grant scheme previously announced, no decision has been made on whether further money to help will be made available.
And that is not good enough, according to the leader of Norfolk County Council, who said this is a time for action.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson said earlier this week that a scheme to reimburse local authorities for their immediate costs in the wake of the pounding from the sea had been enacted.
But that scheme - The Bellwin Scheme - does not include the ongoing costs of recovering from the biggest tidal surge in 60 years.
Some councils, including West Norfolk Council and Norfolk County Council fear they will not be eligible for any of that cash.
Officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Environment Agency and the Ministry of Defence were among those who met late yesterday afternoon to consider the government’s response.
And following that meeting, Whitehall sources said it was too early to say whether money, other than the Bellwin cash for those councils eligible for it, would be winging its way to Norfolk and Suffolk.
And the Bellwin scheme does nothing to help families whose homes have been damaged and businesses whose livelihoods have been put at risk.
Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, acknowledged that and said he was exploring whether there were any other avenues which could help.
He said: “My interest is in ensuring all the clean up costs for North Norfolk are recovered and, if there are infrastructure costs which need to be paid for, if they can be recovered as well.
“But there is no obvious scheme to help those people in Walcott whose homes have been so badly damaged. I am exploring that, but I do not know what the answer is.”
Great Yarmouth MP and local government minister Brandon Lewis will chair a meeting about the next step in the government’s response next week, but said the Bellwin grants were currently all that was available.
He said: “The outcome of yesterday’s meeting today will feed back to ministers over the next few days, but a lot of the clean-up costs will not be known for some time as councils still do not know what those costs are.”
Mr Lewis and Mr Lamb, along with Waveney MP Peter Aldous and Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey met yesterday to discuss coastal erosion in Norfolk and Suffolk.
And a further meeting, to co-ordinate the recovery from the floods, took place yesterday at Norfolk County Council.
The council organised more than 100 vehicles to transport people to rest centres and drafted in extra staff to clear roads and highways, but is unlikely to qualify for any money under the Bellwin scheme.
And County Hall leader George Nobbs said the government needed to find cash to help the flood-ravaged county without delay.
He said: “We and district councils did not have the luxury of waiting to do what needed to be done. The sea did not wait for us, so I do not see what excuse the government has for waiting.”
The Bellwin scheme will only pay out if costs exceed 0.2pc of a local authority’s revenue budget. If that threshold is met, then 85pc of the costs will be paid out.
While West Norfolk Council and Norfolk County Council believe they have not hit that threshold, North Norfolk District Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council are more optimistic.
North Norfolk District Council leader Tom Fitzpatrick is due to meet with representatives from the DCLG today to discuss the council’s application for Bellwin cash.
• Do you think the government needs to make extra cash available to help Norfolk and Suffolk recover from the floods? Write, including your full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.