David Cameron surveyed flood defences which failed so miserably at Christmas and promised desperate victims in Lancashire: “We are here for the long haul.”
The Prime Minister saw for himself yesterday the work going on to repair the damage caused by Storm Eva and pledged to do all he could to avoid it happening again.
We have spent £19m on Lancashire flood defences in the last five yearsDavid Cameron
“We have spent £19m on Lancashire flood defences in the last five years,” he told The Gazette on a flying visit to Croston, one of the villages worst-hit by the Boxing Day deluge. “The plan is to spend £114m in the next six years.
“A lot of that is on coastal defences. But these are all important schemes and we have to make sure we push ahead with them.”
The PM’s visit came more than a month after Eva wreaked havoc across the North West, leaving villages like Croston, St Michael’s and Whalley under water. Many residents are still unable to return to their damaged homes and it could take many months yet before things are back to normal.
Mr Cameron pledged help from the Government to speed things up.
“We recognise people have suffered a lot. It is horrible being flooded, particularly at Christmas time and having to throw all the wet and mouldy furniture and carpets out and wait for re-plasterers to arrive and the insurance companies to pay out.
“It is a miserable thing and we will do everything we can to help.
“I was very keen to come here because obviously there were a lot of visits during the crisis period by ministers, but I wanted to come now and see the ongoing operations to try and build the resilience and put in place better flood protection and hear how that is going.
“There are always lessons to learn, but my sense is this time the Environment Agency were very quick off the mark. We brought the military in faster with the Chinook (helicopter) that dropped the sandbags. The Government’s schemes to pay out money to households and businesses worked more rapidly. But there is a lot more to do.”
Mr Cameron stopped off in Lancashire before flying off by helicopter to visit the Lake District and then Scotland.
The Prime Minister said: “We are on the case. We recognise that the response to flooding is not a matter of a few days and a few weeks. We want to stay with it for the long course.
“My message (to the people of St Michael’s) is we will do everything we can to help.
“On the roads we have a £40m scheme for Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria. We are helping with the insurance product that comes forward from April so that people who have been flooded and who can’t get insurance, can get insurance.
“We are helping with schemes for businesses and households that are paying out faster.
“One of the things that strikes me here is that this is very much a man-made environment.
“This river, like the rivers in Somerset, has got built-up banks. Man-made environments need man-made solutions to make sure they don’t breach their banks and we need to make sure that happens.
“I think if you look at what is happening you will see that the flood protection that has been put in has protected thousands of houses that would otherwise have been flooded.
“But we have still had many thousands of other houses flooded and to me that says that we shouldn’t accept that this is not just a natural thing that happens. We have got to think all the time what can we do to improve our resilience and improve our flood defences.
“I am committed to doing that and the money is there to spend on that. I think people find it frustrating when people say, ‘Look, it’s a once in 200 years event’. It does seem to be happening more often.
“I will leave it to the experts what is climate change and all the rest of it. I can just say that these events are happening more frequently. The public rightly expect us to take more action.
“Part of that are engineering solutions like dredging, like higher flood barriers and more protection and we need to put these things in place.
“We also need to do more to protect critical infrastructure. Again I think that has been better than on previous occasions.
“But here in Lancashire a lot of people lost power and we need to do more to protect electricity sub-stations. So we have a resilience review going on.”
£1m cashpot to boost Blackpool tourism
To coincide with his visit to the North West, Mr Cameron announced £2m more funding to repair infrastructure damaged by the floods in the Lake District and also a £1m public relations fund to encourage families to spend their half-term and Easter holidays in the North.
“Lancashire has important tourism income,” he said.
“But I think the Lake District is a real jewel in the crown of Britain’s entire countryside.
“The £1m is in addition to the £10m plan we already have for the North of England. It is an opportunity to send the message that Britain’s open for business.
“It is a standing rebuke to our country that 54 per cent of overseas visitors’ money is spent in London and, while I am a great fan of what London has to offer, if you come to England and you don’t go to the Lake District and you don’t go and see some of the castles in Lancashire, or you don’t visit the coast, you don’t go hiking in the Pennines ad you don’t see the Derbyshire Dales then you are missing out. We have to get more of the tourism money out of London and get people to stay longer and visit more parts of our country.”