Boris Johnson 'warned repeatedly' over Yorkshire flooding risk, Labour says, as Government prepares emergency response

Yorkshire communities braced - yet again - for a deluge of flood water in coming days have pleaded with the Prime Minister to get ahead of the brewing crisis.

By Geraldine Scott
Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 5:45 am

Flood victims hit by devastation multiple times in recent years yesterday told of how they were still suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after previous floods, with one resident saying she could still hear water rushing down the road in her mind.

And while the Government said it was ready to respond - and a Cobra emergency committee meeting was held yesterday - Labour accused Boris Johnson of an “abdication of leadership”, and said he had been warned repeatedly that without swift action, Yorkshire communities would again find themselves underwater.

Flooding Minister Rebecca Pow said yesterday she had chaired a Cobra meeting on behalf of the Environment Secretary “bringing together teams working across Government to prepare for the risk of significant flooding across parts of northern, central and eastern England”.

Flood water rises up a sign outside a pub in York as Storm Christoph is set to bring widespread flooding, gales and snow to parts of the UK. Photo: PA

She said: “I was updated on the extensive preparations taking place to operate flood defences, put up temporary barriers and create Covid-secure rest centres for anyone who may need to be evacuated from their home. The Secretary of State is also receiving regular briefings and has updated the Prime Minister on these plans.

“I urge everyone to sign up to flood warnings and check the latest safety advice on GOV.UK.”

But Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis said the current situation “reinforces the need for a dedicated equivalent to Cobra for the North, to rapidly convene all the relevant agencies and actors in a time of crisis”.

He said the fresh risk “must end the debate about the need for greater investment in flood protection” as he said a programme to protect South Yorkshire had a £125m funding gap.

A man in flood water near Naburn Lock Caravan Park in York as Storm Christoph is set to bring widespread flooding, gales and snow to parts of the UK. Photo: PA

“I again ask the Government to commit to filling that gap - and to providing the investment needed across Yorkshire and the North, which have suffered a litany of serious incidents in recent years.”

A major incident has already been declared in South Yorkshire, with further flood alerts and warnings in place across the rest of the region.

Craig Woolhouse, Flood Duty Manager at the Environment Agency, said: “Environment Agency teams are out on the ground clearing grilles, screens, deploying temporary flood defences and closing flood barriers. We urge people to keep away from swollen rivers and not to drive through flood water – it is often deeper than it looks and just 30cm of flowing water is enough to float your car.”

And the complications caused by the country being in the grips of a third national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic only made the situation more dire.

Workmen prepare flood defences near the River Ouse, York, as Storm Christoph is set to bring widespread flooding, gales and snow to parts of the UK. Photo: PA

In North Yorkshire, health chiefs warned anyone with a Covid-19 vaccine appointment to take extra care and leave themselves extra time to get there.

More than 15,000 sandbags are ready to be deployed around England’s largest county council highways teams have been clearing drains and gullies at flooding hotspots.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The National Flood Response Centre has been stood up and is coordinating the cross-agency and Government operations on this.

“The important message whilst the alerts are in place is that we urge everybody to follow the Environment Agency’s advice and check their flood risk and sign up to alerts.”

Flood water in York as Storm Christoph is set to bring widespread flooding, gales and snow to parts of the UK. Photo: PA

But Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock, who is also Labour’s Shadow Flooding Minister, said: “Boris Johnson has been warned repeatedly – by MPs and council leaders, by Keir Starmer and by The Yorkshire Post - about the very situation people in Yorkshire are now facing. But once again he has been too slow to act and left communities exposed.

“The Government's response must be proactive and coordinated.

“Failing to take such action is not only abdication of leadership but a betrayal of all those who have battled so hard through the floods and through the pandemic to put their lives back together. Many of whom have only just returned home.”

Among those who had just managed to get back into their home were Neil and Jayne West, who lived in their back garden in Fishlake for months.

The couple said they were better prepared this time but for others the scars remain.

Debbie Twell, 60, said: “I can still hear the sound of the water running down the road in my head.”

Flood water in York as Storm Christoph is set to bring widespread flooding, gales and snow to parts of the UK. Photo: PA

Don Valley Conservative MP Nick Fletcher said he had visited those at risk yesterday, and was offering support.

And he said although there was no “silver bullet” many smaller changes had been made and residents told him they felt more safe this time around.

He said: “The council has been proactive this time, and they’ve been out all night dropping sandbags. I’ve had a briefing with [Flooding Minister] Rebecca Pow, so everybody is on it.”

He added: “People will always say ‘why have you not spent that £5.2bn [of investment announced by Government] over the last 12 months on flood defences’ but it is going to take years, I’ve always said - and I said last year - if it rains like this in 12 months time it will happen again, we can’t do major infrastructure things overnight.

“There’s no silver bullet with flooding, it’s lot of different things that will help, and it’s going to take a long time to sort it out.”

While Halifax Labour MP Holly Lynch said: “People have a sense of PTSD about flooding, every time it rains it brings back memories. It never goes away.”

She said she was grateful for the flood investment the Government had provided, and recognised it had made a difference.

But she said: “We need coordination and joined up thinking, the Environment Secretary said to The Yorkshire Post about holding a flooding roundtable, we don’t care how you do it but they just haven’t, and we would’ve been in a much better place.”

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesperson previously said: “Flooding has a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods, but since 2015 the government has invested £496m in flood defences in Yorkshire – more than any other region – better protecting more than 66,000 properties.

“And earlier this year we doubled our national investment in flood and coastal defences to a record £5.2bn over six years which will protect hundreds of thousands more homes, and Yorkshire is set to receive its share of this funding.”

Flood water in York as Storm Christoph is set to bring widespread flooding, gales and snow to parts of the UK. Photo: PA