County council aims to force utility companies to share cost of flood defences

Flooding earlier this year in Swaledale. Photo: Guy Carpenter.

North Yorkshire County Council has agreed to spearhead a drive to force utility companies to contribute towards the cost of flood protection schemes.

Members of North Yorkshire County Council approved writing to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure where the assets and infrastructure of utility firms such as Yorkshire Water, Northern Electric, Transco and British Telecom are protected flood and coastal protection schemes all such firms are required to make “a proportionate and appropriate mandatory level of financial contribution”.

The authority’s letter will emphasise that utility firms should not be allowed to pass on the cost of the flood defence contributions to their customers.

While the council has been left counting of the cost of devastating flooding destroying infrastructure in the Yorkshire Dales in July, members said they were aware neighbouring authorities in South Yorkshire and Cumbria had also faced significant bills.

The authority also gave approval to former Scarborough Borough Council leader Councillor Derek Bastiman, who is vice chairman of the Local Government Association Special Interest Group to highlight the issue with other relevant agencies.

The action has been launched following an inquiry by the county council’s scrutiny committee concluding it was wrong that costly flood defences were being paid for purely through the public purse.

With the UK predicted to be one of the country’s worst affected by rising water levels, Cllr Bastiman said the issue was pressing as while councils were able to use “contributions secured from major beneficiaries” to help fund the construction of flood defences, they were unable to compel the private sector to contribute.

Since 2015 £204m has been invested in flood and coastal resilience schemes by local authorities and £119m from local authority local levy funding that has been allocated to specific schemes. Over the same period the private sector has contributed £31m, but only about £2m of that is from utility companies.

Despite this pressure on council resources being raised with ministers, Cllr Bastiman said the Government had not acted to resolve the situation across the country.

However, in 2015, the government announced it would contribute £220m towards The River Thames defence scheme following extensive flooding the previous year, but businesses and utility companies would be expected to chip in.

Councillor Derek Bastiman said when he was leader of the borough council he had seen how the funding “imbalance can cause significant funding shortfalls for major schemes, very often delaying vital work indefinitely and greatly increasing the risk of failure or breach”.

He said: “I think it is worthwhile continuing to investigate this because public utilities should be contributing to protecting their own infrastructure.

“South Yorkshire is a good case in point, but that said it could be said they need to step up to the plate anywhere in England. I hope Government, whichever colour it is after December 12 will take it more seriously than they have done.”