Focus on utility firms’ contribution to coast and flood defences

County Hall, Northallerton.

An inquiry has been launched into whether utility firms should be required by law to contribute towards the flooding and coastal defences which safeguard their infrastructure.

A North Yorkshire County Council scrutiny committee will consider whether it should be mandatory for companies such as Yorkshire Water, Northern Electric, Transco and British Telecom to make financial contributions towards coastal erosion and flooding resilience and mitigation schemes without passing the cost on to customers.

Defra’s current partnership funding policy only encourages financial contributions towards flood defence schemes from all beneficiaries, including utility companies, meaning councils which are facing mounting funding pressures are having to foot the bill.

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

The North Yorkshire inquiry was triggered by a notice of motion by councillor Derek Bastiman, who said there was growing political support for fresh legislation.

He said when he was leader of Scarborough 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”.

Cllr Bastiman said the situation was placing an additional strain on local government resources in coastal communities and others prone to flooding.

He said: “A recent example is the scheme to undertake major infrastructure repair and strengthening works to Whitby piers, as part of the Whitby Coastal Strategy, to ensure the town is protected for the next 100 years from the North Sea.

“A benefits appraisal carried out by independent consultants Royal Haskoning identified 4,242 metres of Yorkshire Water assets, 3,490 metres of British Telecom assets, 2,548 metres of Transco assets and 1,643 metres of Northern Electric assets at risk.

“Much of the above will benefit hugely from the Whitby piers project and yet because we have no powers to compel beneficiaries to contribute, no contributions have been forthcoming and this has led to a dependency on other funding sources, such as the Environment Agency and Defra, who are not direct beneficiaries, to grant the funding required.”

A Defra spokesman said the challenges being experienced in getting utility firms to contribute to schemes had been noted.

He added it was reviewing long-term investment needs and funding options after 2021, including considering the Government’s role in supporting the resilience of communities and seeking to attract more non-public sector investment.

Industry bodies for utility companies are yet to comment on the calls.