Friday, 26 February 2016

Rossendale Free Press column - Friday 26th Feb (longer version)

Not a lot of people realise that Hyndburn, following the redrawing of and by Rossendale council of wards, particularly Greenfield ward in 2010 now extends to the River Irwell. It extends across it at Ewood Bridge. Hyndburn - or Haslingden and Hyndburn as I prefer to call it - also extends right down to Irwell Vale village and the farms before the village including the lane.

It seems rather strange and quite often confusing. All sorts of political literature gets sent through the wrong letter boxes.

Those confused at such political boundaries should be aware the government are at it again redrawing larger constituency boundaries for 2020.

The reason for mentioning this is the Boxing Day floods when I was asked to have a look at the damage the River Irwell had caused. It runs through Hyndburn constituency. Fortunately the village of Ewood Bridge in the constituency is above floodwater level with the exception of the cottages by the bridge.

I also went to Whalley to help out. Also on the boundary.

My visit to Irwell Vale was an eye opener. I was met by Jake Berry MP who I informed of my visit and who is the MP for the village.

I discovered that every property bar a handful had been flooded. Someone said 96 out of 100. Some had been unable to gain meaningful insurance following the previous flood in 2012. Those that had cheap pre-2012 flood insurance were clinging onto it and also hoping that premiums won't rocket as a result of 2015 flooding.

I walked around the river bank which is clearly compromised. Inwalked down towards the estate where residents were happy to see that someone had taken the time to see the damage and listen. I was told that some there had insurance but with an excess of £20,000 or more. I visited several properties. The water level had risen to the level of the light switches. Everything had been damaged. Electrics particularly. In many cases it had taken days to secure and get back on temporary electricity. The whole of the plaster downstairs would have to be removed along with kitchens and tiling. And this for a second time. I listened to all the issues and felt for them. It will be 6-9 months before they can move back in. Some were living upstairs with just a microwave for cooking.

My partner had been working overtime to get electrics back on. She manages electricity network from Cumbria to Cheshire. Not every substation can be repaired immediately and ENW have worked miracles given they had the challenging Cumbria flooding a month before.

British people are resilient. They just get on with it. I listened to the upset, the lost personal items as well as some criticism of the governments response. How Prime Minister David Cameron was quicker to respond to the floods down south last year. A burglary to an empty property had occurred to add insult to injury.

I was told that Rossendale council had been very helpful. Very swift in clearing the streets of the sludge and debris that had been deposited. They had also been in regular contact with residents.

Those with two floors had managed to move upstairs most of their valuables. It was the bungalows where you could see people had lost everything that they could not pack in the 60 minutes or so minutes when it became obvious the rising river levels would breach.

It was heartbreaking to see elderly people suffering. Worse: I wandered down to the bridge to the next village, the only road in. It was closed as it had become unstable. A disabled couple, one wheelchair bound now had no means of transport with the bridge closed for however long, maybe years?

After a long conversation with several residents I walked towards the cottages. Tiny and by the river. I spoke to a gentleman who explained he was the beneficiary of an historic policy but some of his neighbours had insurance. 'Why pay £3,000 to £6,000 when that is the amount you could lose if a storm comes?' Six of the 100 properties were uninsured I was reliably told. I asked "So what now for them?". Nothing I was told though the government have announced some flood relief money for victims. It's usually never anywhere near enough and I worry that it won't go where it's needed most. To the lady who was renting a property and had lost everything. Too poor to be insured. She didn't know what to do.

Whilst not my patch - the constituency ends just before the village - I said I'd do what I could and I will. The last property in Hyndburn is the farm on the bend.

Jake and I spoke in the village hall and I advised the young lady from the rented cottage to get help from her local MP. To often people feel helpless but MPs can help out.

I spoke with the residents who were heroically manning an abundance of charity - Britain at its best - laid out on temporary trestle tables. It clearly was a big help to villagers. I learned that the village had been brought together by the flooding but couldn't help but wonder why it takes a catastrophe for us to all care about one another? Society more broadly needs to change. Get back some traditional values.

As I left the village I was told that Lancashire County Council had been helpful too. I walked across the temporary bridge in situ as the historic bridge a few feet away remained closed. Ongoing structural repairs from the damage caused in the 2012 flooding.

Irwell Vale villagers (except the farms) are not my constituents so I won't be writing to them. That's for Jake. I have however taken up many of the issues they raised and that concerned me with ministers, the Environment Agency and both councils. I have written to all those in Hyndburn, primarily Ewood Bridge residents and the farmers to let them know. I have also spoken to the cabinet member at Lancashire County Council and she has now visited Irwell Vale village herself to see the damage and what more LCC can do. It makes me angry that they have to make another £262m of more cuts to redistribute to southern shire councils.

The government needs to take this issue more seriously. Two 'once in a hundred years' floods in 3 years is highly unusual. Flood defences cannot be just higher walls. It has to be better land management up stream, natural holding areas such as fields and the government needs to understand that it is the poorest who have suffered most from flooding. Those people need help and new helpful flood insurance going forward isn't going to help them for yesterday's damage.

I will continue to keep the people informed and if they have any issues on flooding or otherwise please do get in touch.

My office number is 01254 382283.

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Shorter version in the paper..

Bizarrely the Haslingden and Hyndburn constituency extends across the River Irwell at Ewood Bridge. It also extends right down the lane up to Irwell Vale Lane to the but not including the village. It also extends to the river Calder too.

The reason for mentioning this is the Boxing Day floods. I was asked to have a look at the damage the River Irwell had caused. Fortunately the village of Ewood Bridge is above floodwater level with the exception of the cottages by the bridge.

My visit into Irwell Vale village was an eye opener.

I discovered that every property bar a handful had been flooded. 96 out of 100 I was informed. Some had been unable to gain meaningful insurance following the previous flood in 2012. Those that had cheap pre-2012 flood insurance were clinging onto it hoping premiums wouldn't now rocket.

I walked the river bank which is clearly compromised. Down towards Meadow Park estate where residents were happy to see that someone had taken the time to see the damage. I was told that some residents did have insurance but with an excess of £20,000 or more. I visited several flood damaged properties. The water level had risen to the level of the light switches. Everything had been damaged. Electrics particularly. In many cases it had taken days to regain temporary electricity, necessary for dehumidifiers. All the plastering downstairs requires in every property r along with kitchens and tiling. Outside many properties had piled high carpets, curtains, electrical goods, furniture, kitchens and white goods. Devastating. And this for a second time.

It will be 6-9 months before they can move back in. Some residents were now living upstairs with just a microwave for cooking.

British people are resilient. They just get on with it. It makes me proud to British. I listened to the upset, the lost personal items as well as some criticism of the governments response.

I was told that Rossendale council had been very helpful throughout. Very swift in clearing the streets of the sludge and debris that had been deposited.

Those with two floors had managed to move upstairs most of their valuables. It was the bungalows where you could see people had lost everything that they could not pack in the 60 minutes or so minutes when it became obvious the rising river levels would breach. It was heartbreaking to see elderly people suffering. Trapped, unable to move anything anywhere.

Worse: I wandered down to the bridge leading to the next village Lumb, the only road in. It was closed as it had become unstable. A disabled couple, one wheelchair bound now had no means of disabled transport access.

After long conversation with numerous residents I walked towards the cottages. Tiny and by the river. I spoke to a gentleman who was the beneficiary of a £300 pre-2012 flood policy however some of his neighbours were less fortunate and had no insurance. 'Why pay the £3,000 to £6,000 every year when such a storm may not come?'.

Six of the 100 properties were uninsured I was reliably told. A lady a few doors down renting a property had lost everything. Too poor to be insured. She didn't know what to do. Jake Berry, the MP for the village and I spoke in the village hall about the disaster. I advised her to get help from her local MP. To often people feel helpless but MPs can help out.

The Church hall was alive with activity. Residents heroically manning an abundance of charity - Britain at its best - laid out on temporary trestle tables. It clearly was a big help to struggling victims. I learned that the village had come together as a result of the flooding. Strangers form nearby turning out voluntarily to help. I couldn't help but wonder why it takes a catastrophe for us to all care about one another? Society more broadly needs to change. Get back some traditional values.

As I left the village I was told that Lancashire County Council had been helpful too. I walked across the temporary LCC bridge aside the historic bridge a few feet away still being repaired from the 2012 damage.

Since my visit, I have taken up many of the issues that were raised and that concerned me with ministers, the Environment Agency and both councils. I have written to those in Hyndburn, primarily Ewood Bridge residents and the farmers at Irwell Vale village to keep them informed.

I will be revisiting in the coming months to see what progress has been made.

If you need my help please do get in touch. 01254 382283