Council leaders demand huge funding rise after floods

Josh Halliday and Helen Pidd
Photograph: Richard McCarthy/PA

Leaders of councils across northern England have called for “massive” increases in funding to deal with major incidents, as the Guardian learned that around 1,800 homes and businesses have been badly flooded in the region.

Dozens of weather warnings remain in place around the country, from Oxfordshire to Yorkshire and across the West Midlands, where more than 100 schools were forced to close on Thursday.

The mayor of the Sheffield city region, Dan Jarvis, described the flood-stricken village of Fishlake, near Doncaster, as having “the feel of a disaster movie”.

As flood-affected families braced for further downpours, the leaders of six councils demanded immediate and long-term financial support to recover from the devastation.

The leaders of councils in Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield, Barnsley, Bassetlaw and Kirklees warned of “considerable and lasting damage on a wide scale”, including to power plants and transport infrastructure, and called for funding increases to help them cope with future floods.

In the absence of detailed official figures, the Guardian contacted local authorities in all flood-affected areas and found that at least 1,758 properties had been flooded across Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

The figure is more than double the official Environment Agency estimate of 830 properties flooded.

The worst effects of the floods were felt in Doncaster, where 970 properties were affected and more than 1,200 people were evacuated after the River Don burst its banks nearly a week ago.

There were a further 450 properties flooded in Nottinghamshire – 200 in the centre of Worksop, 30 in Retford and 50 in the pit village of Shireoaks, with Mansfield and Newark also badly hit — and more than 40 in Lincolnshire. In Sheffield, 30 residential properties and five commercial premises were flooded, while 158 properties were hit in neighbouring Rotherham.

Floods map

Boris Johnson has faced criticism for his response to the floods, which began a week ago, and for refusing to classify them as a national emergency last Friday. He ordered 200 soldiers to help the recovery effort in Doncaster but was accosted by angry residents when he visited the flooded village of Stainforth, near Doncaster, on Wednesday.

Nearly 70 flood warnings were in place across England on Thursday night, meaning urgent action was required, along with a further 140 weather alerts warning that flooding was possible.

The Met Office warned there was a danger to life in large swathes of the Midlands, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire going into Thursday evening, with fast-flowing or deep flood water possible. More homes and businesses could be flooded, meteorologists said.

As the rainfall spread south, firefighters were called to rescue a number of people from vehicles stuck in flood water in Oxfordshire while rail services were suspended on Chiltern Railways between Stratford-upon-Avon and Hatton in Warwickshire because of flooding. Lines were also blocked between Hereford and Great Malvern and Worcester and Birmingham at Bromsgrove.

Jarvis said after visiting Fishlake: “People are in a pretty difficult situation. I worry about what’s going to happen in the coming days and weeks.

“There is quite a bit of developing anger ... My concern is that, whilst we have got the media focus over the next few days or perhaps even weeks, there is a danger we will be completely forgotten about, so I am asking Boris Johnson to make some meaningful commitments.”

Jarvis has written to the prime minister asking him to help those “without insurance or whose policies have been deemed invalid”. He also asked for the Environment Agency to lead a review into the type and scale of flood defences required for the River Don. He said that 4,220 properties had been affected in South Yorkshire alone, including those hit by power cuts and evacuation warnings.

Though the government reimburses local authorities for costs incurred as part of their immediate response under the so-called Bellwin scheme, the council leaders demanded help to pay for long-term recovery.

In a letter to the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, they wrote: “There is likely to be considerable and lasting damage on a wide scale, including, but certainly not limited to, vital infrastructure including power plants, roads and bridges which is likely to have long-term impacts, such as disruptions to supplies of clean water, wastewater treatment, electricity, transport, communication, education, and health and social care. Previous floods have also resulted in a reduction in economic activity which can leave communities vulnerable.”

Core funding for councils has fallen by almost £16bn in the last decade, and a further £1.3bn was cut from the revenue support grant to councils this year alone, they noted, warning: “Five more years of cuts to council budgets will make dealing with major incidents like this increasingly difficult. Councils need massive increases in day-to-day funding rather than just one-off funding commitments. It is vital that you commit to reversing these cuts as Labour has, and provide the funding we will need to help our communities recover in the long term.”

Related: Weatherwatch: floods can be controlled by natural means

The leaders also asked the government to extend the two-month deadline by which each local authority has to complete all works paid for by the Bellwin scheme, on the grounds that they are all busy preparing for an “unexpected general election at an unusual time of year”.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 4,321 properties have been advised to evacuate across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, with more than 800 flooded.

The Environment Agency said since flooding began last Thursday, around 14,400 properties had been protected by flood defences, including 5,000 in South Yorkshire.

In Matlock, where the prime minister was filmed helping to mop up flood water in a Specsavers on Friday, around 50 businesses suffered flood damage but there were no evacuations, according to Derbyshire Dales district council.