Across Northern England and Scotland this winter proved to be a washout with numerous severe storms battering the region. York was unfortunately one of the worst affected areas by the flooding with images of water-damaged furniture, Christmas decorations and carpets on every national news channel and newspaper. Now that the water has receded and the clean-up operation is underway, the economic cost of the floods to the city and the surrounding area is starting to be assessed.
Householders face a difficult time waiting for insurance payouts to fix their flood damaged homes. The final bill for the approximately 600 flooded homes along the Ouse and the Foss will not be known until the loss adjusters have calculated the cost of the damage to households. Sadly, due to the speed at which the water rose, many residents could not defend their homes with sandbags, with many in the Huntington Road area being evacuated soon after the Foss barrier was raised.
One thing that is likely to happen is an increase in home insurance premiums both in York and nationally. Given the failure of the flood barrier on the River Foss, it is likely that home insurance premiums will rise in the areas around the River Foss, the worst affected by December’s flooding. This is because the risk to insurers has increased, with this additional cost likely to be passed onto householders. Nationally, the Association of British Insurers estimate that this winter’s storms are likely to cost upwards of £1.3 billion.
For businesses along roads such as Walmgate and Fossgate, many of whom are small retailers, the flooding will have damaged thousands of pounds worth of stock and the cost of replacing this will prove an expensive headache for retailers. This is coupled with the fact that most businesses which were flooded are small, independent retailers who may not necessarily have the capital available to replace the lost stock. York, as a commercial and tourist destination, is also highly dependent on footfall from visitors to the city. Footfall declined significantly, with retailers missing out on the Boxing Day rush, but it is slowly increasing again.
One of the biggest issues for retailers according to the York Retail Forum, has been the negativity following the flooding. Many businesses have raised concerns that York Council and the media have made the situation for York’s retailers more difficult by telling people to stay away from the city centre. Frank Wood, Chairman of the York Retail Forum, was recently quoted in The Press as saying that “It wasn’t helped by the police and the council asking people to stay away” and this negativity has led to calls from the retail and hospitality sector that people spread the word that York is still open for business. Many of the flooded businesses on Fossgate and Walmgate have reopened and are trading again.
In 2014, City of York Council’s flood consultation found that an extra £2 million needed to be spent on the Foss barrier
However, some good news for businesses and householders is that they can receive financial assistance from City of York Council. Householders who have paid council tax can receive a one off cash payment of £500 to assist with the clean-up of their property.
Flooded properties will also receive a council tax exemption until 31 March 2016. Additional support is available to those on a low income from York Disaster Fund, a charity set up after the 2000 Floods. Businesses can also receive a £2,500 assistance package from the Flood Recovery Fund.
In relation to students, at the time of going to print, City of York Council were unavailable for comment in regards to any specific provisions for University students affected by the flooding. This is particularly concerning for students given that many are council tax exempt and uninsured; their right to claim assistance from the council could be in question.
For Westminster and local government, the flooding in York and its widespread media coverage has already raised significant questions for the Environment Agency, City of York Council and the Flooding Minister. In 2014, City of York Council’s flood consultation found that an extra £2 million needed to be spent on the Foss barrier, which had to be raised due to water entering the pumping station. In addition, approximately £10 million is needed for new flood defence schemes in York. David Cameron, when he visited York earlier this month, pledged an extra £10 million for York’s defences but given that the current defences have failed to cope with levels it has previously dealt with, a rethink is almost certainly bound to happen in the foreseable future. The Press has reported that the Foss Barrier’s electrical systems may be placed on the roof to avoid flood water damaging the electrics, the main reason the barrier was raised, further adding to the expense of defending York.
The issue of flood defence funding has created a major political issue for the Conservative government. The former head of parliament’s environmental watchdog said in an interview with The Yorkshire Post that £2.3 billion planned for flood defences over the next six years needs to be matched with a similar amount for maintenance. Indeed, across Yorkshire and the country, criticism of underfunded flood defence schemes has placed increasing pressure on the government.
York will obviously recover from this latest round of flooding just as it did in 2000. However, with the failure of the Foss Barrier, the widespread damage to homes and businesses and the need for upgraded defences, it is likely to be a costly time for the city’s residents and its representatives.