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Yorkshire Post

Warning of extra tax for flood defences

Published Date: 05 October 2009
By Jonathan Reed and Simon Bristow
FLOOD-threatened communities have been warned they face council tax surcharges and businesses may be forced to pay extra if they want more flood defences.
Despite increasing spending on flood prevention, the Government still cannot afford all the projects necessary to protect homes and businesses, a Minister has admitted.

Environment Minister Huw Irranca-Davies said communities should be prepared to consider ideas such as a council tax surcharge if there is local support to pay for schemes which are not considered enough of a priority to win central funding.

Businesses could also be asked to stump up the cash as more "imaginative" ways of improving flood defences are thought up in a bid to prevent a repeat of the 2007 floods, when thousands of homes across Yorkshire and Gloucestershire were damaged.

Two years later, some homeowners are still only now returning to their properties.

The suggestions were dismissed by one Yorkshire Labour MP, who warned having different councils acting differently would risk simply transferring problems from one area to the next.

An East Riding Tory MP, however, said it was time to stop paying lip service to the needs of local communities and called for a clear policy to assist landowners, councils and community groups who wanted to protect their land and property.

Mr Irranca-Davies floated the ideas at a fringe meeting at Labour's spring conference, pointing to a referendum held in the South West by a local authority seeking to raise extra funds for projects. "These are the sort of ideas we need to think about," he said.

He added: "I think we ought to think seriously if we have doubled the spending, as we have, in flood prevention measures and we're saying that isn't enough.

"We have to get pretty serious about how we lever in additionality to enhance what we can do. Are we willing to grasp that opportunity of local collaboration and local ownership as well as the input of the Environment Agency and others?

"In the long-term how do we reconcile that there's never going to be enough simply for central government or local government to help. Is there an argument I think there is to say other actors playing a part in this?"

But Rother Valley MP Kevin Barron, whose constituency has been badly hit by flooding, said increasing taxes in one area but not the neighbouring one would not tackle the problems.

"I can't see how we're going to progress any comprehensive system of getting over the problems we've got in South Yorkshire on the basis of one local authority feeling they're prepared to risk an increase in local taxes for some form of flood prevention when the one next door doesn't," he said. "It'll just tip water from one place to another."

Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart, whose constituents were among the worst hit in 2007, said: "I want to see properly funded flood protection at national level, but if local communities do have to contribute then we need a clear process by which that would work and that's what we haven't got.

"No guidance has been produced by the Government and two years after the 2007 floods it's not good enough."

Coun Carl Minns, leader of the city council in Hull which was the worst hit local authority in the country, with 8,000 homes and hundreds of businesses affected said it was "unacceptable" to expect people to pay more than they already did in taxes for flood defences.