York Flood update – Environment Agency announces dates of meetings with victims

flooding in YorkThe Environment Agency has announced a series of drop-in meetings in York for next month to help people learn more about flooding.

Rather than hosting a large, public meeting, the idea is that smaller, “one-on-one” sessions will allow people to ask bespoke questions about how the city manages rising waters.

Experts will be on hand to answer ANY questions, including why the controversial decision was taken to raise the Foss Barrier during the Boxing Day floods.

Details of meetings:

  • 2nd February, 3 to 8 PM at Southlands Methodist Church, Bishopthorpe Road, York YO23 1NX.
  • 4th February, 3 to 6:30 PM at New Earswick Folk Hall, Hawthorn Terrace, York, YO32 4AQ
  • 8th February, 3 to 7:30 PM at St Aelred’s Community Centre, 216 Fifth Ave, York, YO31 0PN.
  • 9th February, 3 to 8 PM at National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York, YO1 9TL.
  • 10th February, 3 to 8 PM at York Saint John University, Lord Mayor’s Walk, York, YO31 7EX.
We can only hope that the Agency has learned a few communications lessons.
They should invite written questions and make sure that the answers are published “on line” before any meetings take place.
Time at the meetings can then be concentrated on dealing with follow up questions and matters of outstanding concern.

Car park charges set to be frozen in York

 Castle Car Park ()Car park charges look set to be frozen across York to “help local businesses bounce back after the Boxing Day floods”.

Leaders of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Executive have announced plans to freeze charges in council-run car parks as part of next month’s 2016/17 Budget.

This means prices will be unchanged for the next 12 months at car parks including Castle, Foss Bank, Marygate, Monk Bar, Piccadilly, and St George’s Field.

Recent trends under Labour - click to enlarge

Recent trends under Labour – click to enlarge

The freeze will be  the first since the Council was led by the LibDems in the period up to 2011.

Car parking charges were held in check by that administration for a record seven years.

When Labour came to power, they introduced large increases. Over their four years in office, some charges nearly doubled.

In the end, the law of diminishing returns meant that the Councils parking income actually fell.

Although the freeze is likely to be generally welcomed, it fails to address immediate concerns.

We suggested a few days ago that the Council should reduce the charges at its Foss Bank “shoppers” car park at least until the end of March. 

Unfortunately this idea has not been followed up.

Instead the City of York Council has confirmed that it will contribute £50,000 to a new UK-wide campaign to promote York. Tourism bosses in the city say this will be their biggest ever marketing campaign as work continues to promote York following the floods.
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York Council defends flood funding policies

Arial photo of York floodingIn the wake of growing concerns about the transparency of the York Floods Disaster Fund allocation processes, the York Council has issued a statement summarising what other financial assistance is available for victims.

The Council statement reads,

York residents and businesses could receive up to £5,000 to support the resistance and resilience of their property as part of a package of financial support available.

The Government is providing the funding to enable local authorities to provide grants of up to £5,000 to homeowners and businesses that have been flooded as a result of Storm Desmond and Storm Eva to help fund additional flood resilience or resistance measures for their properties

The resilience grant will enable those who have been flooded to better prepare their homes for future flood events, both to prevent flood water from entering the property and to speed the recovery if it does.

In addition to the grant, the council is continuing to provide a raft of financial support citywide to residents and businesses.

To date, the council has helped to provide:

  • £137,000 recovery grant to 274 residents (with a one-off payment of £500)
  • Ensured 342 properties directly affected by flooding will be exempt from paying council tax, to a total value of£114,173.91
  • 92 businesses directly affected by flooding will be exempt from paying business rates, to a total value of £416,022.11
  • paid out £72,000 in grants to businesses affected.

If residents or businesses would like support to talk through these options face-to-face, help is available at the council’s West Offices, Station Rise during offices hours.

Other financial support includes:
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Floods Update – Oh dear, that didn’t go too well

Last night’s public meeting, called to hear resident’s views on the recent floods, gets a bad press today.

Flood alert 26th December 2015Deservedly so as, despite a promising start when the Councils version of the timeline for the critical events of 26th and 27th December was published on Thursday, no further written briefings were provided.

The expectation was that a presentation covering what happened, and when, by the Environment Agency would be backed up by an audio visual commentary.

By now, the Agency should have had time to produce maps indicating flooding levels as the weekend progressed, details of the flood alerts/warnings which had been issued and using what channels, while they should also have been able to  explain diagrammatically how the Foss Barrier and its control equipment came to be overwhelmed. 

No attempt was made to do this, and with BT making unlikely claims about the vulnerability of its equipment to flooding and the Council making even less likely claims about the success of its communications response, it is hardly surprising that residents left the meeting feeling frustrated.

So where now?

The Environment Agency is promising that during the next 2 months it will start to invest heavily in upgrading the Foss Barrier.

The Council has promised a “public inquiry”. However last night’s meeting suggests that it is not the right body to lead what will have to be a far reaching review across many agencies and public bodies.

 The Government needs to step in and appoint an experienced Inspector to drive any review.

Clearly the Council does need to review its own performance not least in the important areas of emergency planning, communications and flood recovery. It should get on with appointing a (scrutiny) committee to publicly review its performance and make recommendations for improvement.

The Council may also now reflect that a combination of an inexperienced leadership on the member side together with the use of an interim Chief Executive, has left a vacuum in the decision making and management arrangements.  Add in the absence of the wise counsel that an experienced local MP can offer, and you have the setting for the “perfect storm”.

Permanent, high quality, appointments need to be made quickly now to reinforce the City’s management team.

To regain some credibility, all the Agencies involved must agree to provide authoritative answers to resident’s questions using a dedicated Q and A web site. Any site should be moderated to weed out trolls and point scorers – thereby avoiding some of the distractions of yesterday’s meeting.

Only by establishing an open and honest channel of two way communication can the City hope to move on quickly from its recent troubles.
Appeal now seeking £1,000,000

Appeal now seeking £1,000,000

NB: The Council is resisting a Freedom Of Information request for details of how the York Flood Disaster Fund is being used. It claims that is entirely up to the “Two Ridings Community Foundation”.

That organisation has so far failed to tell those, who have now donated over £483,000 towards the £1 million target for the Flood Disaster Appeal Fund, how the money is being used or to revealed the assessment criteria that it is using.

York floods update: Insurance questions, muddled message concern

The number of properties flooded during the recent floods, which did not have insurance cover, has yet to be revealed by the authorities.

York Disaster fund
York Disaster fund

The number should be clear from the volume of applications for assistance made to the York Disaster Fund.

Grants are not normally made to those with appropriate insurance cover.

The level of grants made to date has also not been revealed by either the Council or the Two Riding Community Trust, who now run the fund.

Donations at 10th Jan 2016
Appeal reaches £244,000

The Flood Appeal meanwhile seems to have stalled just short of its original target of £250,000. By 10th January £244,000 had been raised. However, the proceeds from several fund raising events, including a Barbican concert as well as the governments matched funding, have yet to be added to the total.

The number of uninsured properties is a matter of considerable interest as a new government underwritten guarantee scheme is due to come into effect in April.

Flood Re logo The company coordinating the new cover – “Flood Re” – will provide “affordable” insurance cover for homes in high risk locations. It was first suggested in 2011 but setting up delays – it was to have launched last summer – have piled pressure on its Chairman, former Tory MP Mark Hoban who apparently pockets a 6 figure sum for the part time role.

Flood Re is a collaboration between the insurance industry and the Government and will cap the insurance of home owners in flood-prone areas to £210 a year for Council Tax “Band A” homes to £540 a year for “Band G” homes. The scheme will cover 500,000 properties at risk of flooding, including top-end houses in council tax “Band H”.

The subsidy will be funded by a levy of “around” £10.50 on all household premiums across the country.

In the past, the scheme has been deemed “unworkable” and “needlessly expensive” by policy experts, because while it will include riverside mansions, it will exclude thousands of other, more modest properties, such as leasehold flats and homes that are let.

Shops and other businesses will not be covered by the scheme.

Properties built since 2009 will also remain exempt in order to discourage the development of properties on flood plains.

MPs musings

Meanwhile York’s MP has been holding a series of meetings with affected local flood victims. She is right to do so, although the formal inquiry set up by the Council is likely to look at how engaged and effective the Ward Councillors for the flooded Guildhall, Heworth and Clifton Wards – together with the MP herself – were on the ill-fated evening of the 26th December.  

Residents will expect a professional report, on the outcome of her meetings, to be written and that it will be submitted to the official inquiry.

 In the meantime It would be a mistake for any elected representative to indulge in public criticism of any agency or the work of volunteers until all the facts are known.

“Sound bite” interviews are not helpful.

Fire Brigade response
Rapid response vehicle

Rapid response type vehicle

The MP rightly praised the work of the Fire Brigade in York in a tweet on 27th December. Later questions emerged about the failure to utilise the local rescue craft available for the brigade while importing rescue boats from hundreds of miles away.

Now questions are being asked about how appropriate the design is of the new “rapid response vehicles” which the Fire & Rescue Authority wants a substitute for more conventional Fire tenders. Any reduction in the capability of rescue vehicles able to operate on flooded roads would be a concern.

Floods latest – Independent Public Inquiry ordered as York Council issues advice on selection of flood damage repairers

Calls for an independent review into the causes of, and response to, the recent flooding in parts of the City have apparently now led the York Council to agree to mount an Inquiry.

The historical Merchant Adventures Hall was one of the victims of ht flooding.
The historical Merchant Adventures Hall was one of the victims of the flooding.

Press reports suggest that it will take a similar format to that of a Select Committee.

What will be critical will be the terms of reference of the Inquiry and the clarity of any written evidence published before witnesses are called.

In our view the Council should encourage written questions and representations using “open dialogue” socal media channels to allow all those with concerns to contribute.

The move comes at a time when the Environment Agency has confirmed that water entering the control cabin (which was supposedly watertight) on 26th December led to the decision to raise the Foss barrier.  

This threat had not been identified as an issue prior to the recent floods.

It is likely that any Inquiry will want to scrutinise carefully the actions of not only the York Council, but also the Emergency Services, local MPs, the Environment Agency, power and telecoms companies, and the Yorkshire Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (RFCC)

Inquiry members will no doubt also familarise themselves with the many reports that have been published on the flooding threat in the City over the last few years.

These include: 

Skip Fossgate welcome to YorkshireCouncil reminds flood-hit homeowners to employ reputable trades people

There are some tell-tale signs which can help spot the difference between a ‘cowboy’ trades person and the genuine thing.

Be very careful about taking on someone who:

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Floods update: Public meeting on 15th January to get feedback on floods

Arial photo of York flooding

As part of its Emergency Planning, City of York Council is inviting residents and businesses affected by the recent floods to a public meeting at the Barbican with partners involved in the operation, on Friday 15 January from 6-8pm.

It is unclear whether a report, on the circumstances surrounding the Food Barrier failure, will be published by the Environment Agency before the meeting.

With so many unanswered questions remaining about timeline, communication channels and decision taking processes, it is unlikely that, any meeting would satisfy the concerns of those attending.

Similarly milestones should be published for the £13 million upgrade to the Foss barrier which has now been promised.  

East York would continue to be vulnerable to further flooding during the likely 2 year construction phase for any upgrade.  

The Council says, “The city’s response to the floods, the recovery and clean-up operation and the way forward will be discussed, with a focus on the practical support offered across the city.

People will be able to talk directly to representatives from those organisations at the heart of the operation, including the Environment Agency, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, British Telecom, North Yorkshire Police and the council itself.

Further opportunities will be available to residents to give feedback at ward meetings and in flood-affected areas. These will be attended by partner organisations. The dates and locations of the local meetings will be publicised very shortly and where people are unable to attend, other ways of sharing feedback will be put in place”.
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Floods update: York Flood Appeal target raised to £500,000 as calls for Inquiry grow

Appeal now seeking £500,000

Appeal now seeking £500,000

The York Flood Appeal has doubled the target amount that it hopes to raise. The Appeal Committee hasn’t yet made it clear whether this total includes the promised matched funding from central government.

Click here to donate

Meanwhile the Council is being urged to coordinate the use of surplus materials and clothes, donated by residents to help flood victims, but which was subsequently not required.

While some may be donated to other charities, the value of any items sold should be donated to the official appeal fund. 

Meanwhile there have been calls for an inquiry into the flooding. Concerns continue to be raised about the timing and justification for the decision to raise the Foss Barrier and the subsequent effect that this had on east York. 

The fate of the flood report, considered by the York Council’s Cabinet on 9th September 2014, is also likely to be a matter of consideration over the next few days.
Confused messages about York Disaster Fund on Council web site.

Confused messages about York Disaster Fund on Council web site.

York flooding victims to get cash payment

York residents to receive £500 to support clean-up process as part of financial support package for residents and businesses

Swan at window

York residents whose homes have been internally flooded will receive a one-off payment of £500 from City of York Council later this week to help support the clean-up process.Residents who pay their Council Tax by Direct Debit and have been identified as having their homes being flooded* will receive the funding directly in their bank account.

Those paying by other methods will need to collect their payment by bringing photographic ID (e.g. a passport or driving licence) and a proof of address (e.g. utility bill) to the council’s Customer Contact Centre at West Offices on Station Rise. If someone is collecting payment on behalf of a resident, they will need to bring proof of ID and address for themselves, as well as the same ID for the flooded resident.

Residents whose homes have been flooded internally will also be entitled to a Council Tax exemption from 27 December 2015-31 March 2016 inclusive. Residents of all internally flooded properties will automatically receive an updated bill over the next few days.

Anyone who hasn’t received their amended Council Tax bill by 15 January should email council.tax@york.gov.uk or phone 01904 551558.

Refunds will be issued over the next few days to Council Tax payers who are in credit after the flood exemption has been awarded.

There are also a number of other financial support options for residents affected by flooding:

·  The York Financial Assistance Scheme (YFAS) provides help for residents in financial difficulty to continue to live in the local community. More information about the Scheme is available at www.york.gov.uk/yfas email yfas@york.gov.uk or phone 0808 1685238 (during normal office hours 8.30am to 5.30pm).

· York residents whose homes have been flooded, who are on a low income, have little capital and who are not adequately insured, may be eligible for help from York’s Disaster Fund, a registered charity which was established after flooding in York in 2000. Applications for this will be managed by the council for all customers, including those who do not qualify for YFAS. For more information about how to apply please email yfas@york.gov.uk or phone 0808 1685238.

£240,000 has so far been donated towards the £250,000 target for the York Flood Appeal. Click to donate

£240,000 has so far been donated towards the £250,000 target for the York Flood Appeal. Click to donate

· Up to £5,000 Future Flood Prevention Funding is available for property owners and those who are responsible for maintaining the fabric of a property that has been flooded. This is to improve the property in order to prevent future flood damage. To apply for this please contact the council tax team on council.tax@york.gov.uk or phone 01904 551558.

Businesses which have been affected by the floods are currently being visited by City of York Council representatives.

· Up to £2,500 is available for businesses affected by the floods through the Flood Recovery Fundfor businesses.

Businesses can email business@makeityork.com or phone 01904 554455 to make a claim.

· Businesses which have been flooded will need to apply for an exemption to their Business Rates. Please contact the business rates team at business.rates@york.gov.uk or phone 01904 551140.

· Up to £5,000 in Future Flood Prevention Funds (Commercial)is available for commercial property owners and those who are responsible for maintaining the fabric of a property that has been flooded. This is to improve the property in order to prevent future flood damage. To apply for this please email business@makeityork.com or phone 01904 554455.

Steve Stewart, Chief Executive of City of York Council, said: “We hope that these one-off payments will help York residents and businesses whose homes and properties were flooded to get back on their feet. However, we would still advise people who are covered by insurance to liaise directly with their insurance companies and ensure they employ reputable trades people to undertake work on their property.”

The government has also agreed to match-fund any York flood-related donations made to registered charities, such as the York Flood Appeal. More information about how to donate to the Appeal is available at www.trcf.org.uk/

Communications probe in wake of York floods failures

Twitter 2

How events unfolded on “twitter” click to enlarge

A media release issued by the York Council on the afternoon of 26th December assured residents that “provisions were in place to protect the City” from flooding.

Less than 14 hours later the Foss barrier had failed, 700 homes and businesses had been flooded and telecoms were down.

The Council issued a further media statement late on 27th saying “The north east of the city is protected from flooding by a flood protection scheme, called the Foss Barrier”.

Which rather demonstrates the need for prompt and informed communications when a crisis develops.

As one of our commentators points out,

“We seem to receive at least one severe warning each year without a trickle of water being seen in the street (Huntington Road). I guess that it’s institutional ‘crying wolf’. Neighbours say that if there had been a real local warning – from, say, a tannoy fitted to a police car, then they would have been able to save more possessions. We are all going to have to move out of homes for six months for reconstruction”. 

Cllr Andrew Waller has agreed to take up any communications issues with the appropriate authorities

Coincidentally the Council will debate next week (11th Jan) a study on “E-Democracy”.  The review prompted the so called engagement survey where residents were asked to say how they would prefer to communicat with the Council.  Ironically the failure to publicise the survey led to a derisory level of engagement with it!

The study also failed to report on the speed of response to issues reported using existing “on line” systems. *

However, more intelligent and timely use of digital systems is undoubtedly at least part of the way forward.

Real time updates on flood levels should be possible even now, while many organisations in the business support and voluntary sector (and others) need to take a hard look at how well they have supported their clients over the last week.

Meanwhile the City remains grateful to the relatively  small number of organisations and individuals who, from Monday onwards, organised themselves to meet the emerging gaps in the provision of flood relief services

*It has been confirmed that the much hyped but dysfunctional issue reporting system launched in October is in fact an interim “fix” aimed at replacing a system lost when computer systems were transferred to West Offices 18 months ago.

 The new “all bells and whistles” personal account based system – originally promised for introduction in spring 2015 – is now expected to be available later this year and may be soft tested later this month.