No promise of funding, says floods minister on Westcountry visit
Government funding for flood defences had to be targeted to where it was "most effective", Minister Richard Benyon said yesterday as he witnessed the damage caused by the winter weather for himself.
Mr Benyon said he had not come to the Westcountry to make promises on spending but pledged the Government would act where it was needed most.
He was speaking on a visit to the village of Portwrinkle, in South East Cornwall, where a landslip has threatened a new seafront cafe.
"What people want to know is have I come with a cheque book in my pocket, and no I haven't," floods Minister Mr Benyon said. "I want to make sure that where Government can help it does, for example on repairing the coastal path, on making sure the clear-up costs of the flooding are covered under the Bellwin scheme and that councils can access that funding.
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"Then if there are other issues I will take those back and discuss them with ministerial colleagues. But I am not down here to promise anything."
Concerns have been raised that 25% cuts to flood defence maintenance budgets – more than £800,000 in Devon and Cornwall next year – could lead to increased risks in some areas.
But Mr Benyon said the Government was "spending a lot on capital funding and new schemes" and that more than 90% of flood defences were in "at least good condition".
"There are pressures on budgets but we want to make sure that we are not paying money with one hand and losing protection by spending it with the other," he said. "It is about targeting money where it is most effective.
"There are places where we have to continue ongoing maintenance and every flood event we look at to see whether we are getting it right.
"But if some people believe that somehow Government has pulled out from doing these things, then that is simply not true."
Landslides, both inland and on the coast, have caused significant problems in the region, blocking roads and railway lines.
Mr Benyon's visit coincided with a warning from Cornwall Council for people to take extra care when using the coast path and beaches. It has closed the South West Coast Path in 18 places.
"The types of cliff falls we are seeing have been exacerbated by the high rainfall over the past 12 months," Richard Hocking, the council's soils and materials engineer, said.
"In some areas we have witnessed catastrophic collapses whilst in others the whole cliff line has merely slumped.
"It's important to remember that these cliff falls can occur at anytime and I would encourage the public to be vigilant and to take care when in the vicinity of cliffs."