District council considers creating disaster emergency fund

Flooding in July 2019. Photo: Guy Carpenter.

Richmondshire District Council is to look at creating a disaster emergency fund, despite hearing claims the government could use it as an excuse to refuse granting aid again.

The authority has also agreed to appeal to the government over its decision to reject matching the flooding grants it gave to villages in South Yorkshire hit by floods in November.

A full meeting of the authority heard councillors had been infuriated by the government’s response to a plea to help communities in Swaledale, Arkengarthdale and Wensleydale that were still suffering from July’s inundation, as it had stated the area had suffered the wrong type of flooding to qualify for relief.

Swaledale councillor Richard Good said while Two Ridings Community Foundation had done “an amazing job” spending the £300,000 that had been raised locally for flood relief, if the government continued to refuse granting aid the authority would have to look at funding work to get the community back on its feet.

He said: “I am sure there is not a single member in the room who is not absolutely disgusted and amazed that a government that has a senior minister as our MP can write a letter like that to the people who have suffered absolutely appallingly.

“Small businesses are suffering appalling still, six or seven months since the original flooding. We are so far down the line from the original flooding now that it would be difficult to bring in the sort of fundraising efforts that brought £25,000 and £30,000 not long after the flooding.”

Councillor Stuart Parsons said it seemed very odd the government was prepared to considerably more money into areas that were not Conservative-held before the election in the hope of gaining votes and abandoning their own voters who had experienced “absolute hell”.

He said: “We have had more flooding since and this second set of flooding was the ‘right rain’, where they seem to feel that our rain in July was not the right rain.”

Councillor Yvonne Peacock called for the authority to set aside £200,000 from its reserves to create an immediate disaster relief fund.

She said last July council officers had to make many immediate decisions to help residents and she wanting funding in place to enable quick responses to disasters.

Cllr Peacock said: “I want to be absolutely clear that officers have that ability to react very quickly.”

Councillor Ian Threlfall said the district council had so far faced costs of £122,000 due to the flooding that would not be covered by the government’s Bellwin scheme.

Numerous councillors had said they felt it would be “a dangerous precedent” to set aside council taxpayers’ money when the council would be looking to government to respond to emergencies, but if the authority was seen to have available funds it could count itself out of government disaster relief.

Cllr Threlfall said: “If there is a precedent, there’s a precedent that we do need funds. Be aware there may be another disaster around the corner and we need to reassure our community we are ready for it.”