Government help sought for repairs

Lancaster And Morecambe Citizen: Councils want the Government to create a highways maintenance emergency fund Councils want the Government to create a highways maintenance emergency fund

Councils hit by the extreme wet and windy winter are calling on the Government for help in meeting repair bills running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

The Local Government Association (LGA) wants the Department for Transport to create a highways maintenance emergency fund following the recent spate of heavy rain and flooding.

The LGA said the severe weather had left behind a trail of destruction to coastal defences and infrastructure and caused further damage to already dilapidated highways.

A similar fund was created following similar severe flooding in 2007 and was designed to help affected local authorities with capital funding for emergency and unforeseeable capital works to their local roads network.

It added that the Government help plan - the Bellwin Scheme - to assist in times of extreme floods - only goes so far.

The LGA is warning that vital investment in local growth and infrastructure projects could suffer if government does not step in to ease the cost of flood repairs.

The LGA's environment and housing board chairman Mike Jones said: "Councils have worked round-the-clock since the bad weather began last month to protect residents and minimise disruption and will continue to help those who remain affected by flooding.

"The severe weather has left behind a daunting trail of destruction for councils to clear-up and fix.

"We were already facing a £10.5 billion repair backlog to bring our highways up to scratch and the damage to our roads by this recent flooding will be considerable and costly."

He went on: " "While we are pleased the Bellwin Scheme will be activated, the fact remains that Bellwin is severely limited as it does not cover most capital costs.

"An emergency highways maintenance fund would provide essential support to those councils who now face hefty and unexpected repair bills as a result of the flooding.

"These bills are likely to place significant financial pressures on already stretched council finances and it is vital that local communities are not left to suffer as a result.

"Local communities and local economies need to recover as quickly as possible.

"This can only be achieved through extra government cash which covers repairs excluded from the Bellwin Scheme."

Flood Recovery Minister Brandon Lewis said: "As communities start to recover from the recent severe weather, the Government is now fully focused on helping those affected get back on their feet.

"The Department for Transport is providing over £3.4 billion in this Parliament and over £5.8 billion in the next for local highways maintenance. It is the responsibility of authorities to manage their highway assets and to ensure that they have appropriate contingencies in place to deal with any severe weather that may occur from time to time."

He went on: "Councils know emergency financial assistance is available through the Bellwin Scheme while Defra and the Environment Agency have committed millions for repairs and flood defence. In addition we are now looking at other ways to provide further support to affected areas and expect to announce this shortly.

"I would like to thank all those emergency responders, local authorities and charitable organisations who continue to work so hard to support those who have suffered damage and loss."

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "In 2010 the Government carried out a major review into how we cope with extreme weather. This followed the travel disruption and damage caused to roads by the snow and ice during the previous winter.

"But this year's experience shows we need to look beyond the cold and consider further how we keep Britain moving when are confronted with floods and gales."

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