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Norfolk’s chief fire officer warns: ‘No money, no flood response’

Lynn's flood defences hold - but only just. The South Quay looking from Marriott's Warehouse towards the Boal Quay. ENGANL00120130512212727
Lynn's flood defences hold - but only just. The South Quay looking from Marriott's Warehouse towards the Boal Quay. ENGANL00120130512212727

The head of Norfolk’s fire service has said he will not send crews to flooding incidents unless the service is funded properly.

The stark warning has been issued by the county’s chief fire officer, Roy Harold, who is calling on the government to change the way it allocates money for flooding issues.

Norfolk Chief Fire Officer Roy Harold ANL-150923-102355001
Norfolk Chief Fire Officer Roy Harold ANL-150923-102355001

Although some new money has been set aside by ministers, Mr Harold fears he may be left with less than a quarter of the amount he needs to fund the county’s current units.

And, despite an apparent willingness of county councillors, who oversee the fire service, to support the work, he says it can only be done with full funding.

He said: “My professional advice to the fire authority is either we do flooding properly, or we don’t do it at all.”

At present, it is not a formal requirement for fire services to respond to incidents of flooding and Mr Harold supports calls for the area to be made a statutory duty.

Campaigners say that would make it easier for them, the other emergency services and authorities to plan their response to floods.

Although such a move was recommended in Sir Michael Pitt’s review following the 2007 floods, it has still not been implemented.

And Mr Harold says that needs to be addressed, along with the funding crisis that is now facing the service.

Agenda papers from last week’s meeting of Norfolk County Council’s communities committee, which oversees the fire service, revealed that Mr Harold met South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, then the environment secretary, in July to discuss the issue.

The papers said: “The minister was not able to confirm any further funding, and advised that there was no allocation within DEFRA budgets to replace expiring grants.

“She did undertake to discuss with other ministers the desirability of aligning and integrating the range of current central government flood initiatives into a more joined up and coherent approach, but we should not expect further government funding to preserve Norfolk’s current flood rescue teams.”

Although £750,000 has been allocated to flood response units across the country since then, Mr Harold said he could be left with as little as £35,000 for that work in Norfolk if the rest of the 100 teams undertaking similar work elsewhere in the country also take a share of that money.

The county currently has 17 flood response units, which cost £150,000 a year to run. Most of that is spent on equipment and training.

Although funding was secured to cover the work five years ago, that has now run out and Mr Harold said that work would end in February next year unless a solution is found.

He said he understood that funding flood rescue was likely to lead to cuts in other areas of the county council’s budget if they choose to pay for it.

But he added: “I don’t want to send crews to deal with an emergency without the proper equipment. That goes for any emergency.

“It’s not what we want to do. But that’s the risk.”

He argues that the allocation of an extra one per cent of the money that is currently spent by the government on flooding would address the problem.

He said the required figure was also “far, far less” than the 50 pence a week on council tax bills that he said was needed to maintain the fire service in its present form last year, when a number of stations were at risk of closure.

And he will write to Norfolk’s MPs to urge them to help him make the case for that change to ministers.

He said he was not seeking extra money, but the reallocation of a small portion of the amount being spent on defences to responses instead.

He pointed out that, during the tidal surge of December 2013, there were 200 breaches of Norfolk’s flood defences.

He added: “The Government spends £300 to £400 million a year on flooding. By all means build flood defences, but you have to accept that, sooner or later, one of those defences will fail.”

But North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said he did not want to take money away from work on defences.

He said: I’ve always been in favour of treating the causes of flooding, rather than the symptoms.

“All we can do is take all basic, practical steps and that has to look at protection, mitigation and response. It has to be all three.

“I look forward to working with Roy and the Government to find a way forward.”

A Defra spokesman said: “Flood rescue teams are always on the frontline wherever flooding strikes and we’re committed to keeping their equipment at peak capacity this winter.

“We’re investing £750,000 in grants for flood rescue teams to maintain their equipment – that includes the rescue boats operated by the Fire and Rescue Services.”

The department says money from the new grant will be available to rescue teams currently on the National Flood Asset Register.

But their spokesman insisted that decisions on how the funding would be allocated to individual schemes had not yet been made.

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