Funding imbalance in flood defence schemes

Inconsistency in contributions from utility companies is unfair and needs to be addressed urgently.
Inconsistency in contributions from utility companies is unfair and needs to be addressed urgently.

The following is an open letter sent by Cllr Derek Bastiman, leader of Scarborough Borough Council to The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the financial contributions for flood and coastal resilience schemes from utility companies.

Current legislation sets out that it is not mandatory for utility companies, whose assets and infrastructure directly benefit from flood and coastal resilience capital schemes, to contribute financially to the funding of the schemes.

However, as Leader of Scarborough Borough Council, I have seen how this imbalance can cause significant funding shortfalls for major schemes, very often delaying vital work indefinitely and greatly increasing the risk of failure or breach.

A recent example is the scheme to undertake major infrastructure repair and strengthening works to Whitby piers, as part of the Whitby Coastal Strategy, to ensure the town is protected for the next 100 years from the constant battering of the North Sea.

A benefits appraisal carried out by independent consultants, Royal Haskoning, as part of the Whitby Coastal Strategy, identified 4,242 metres of Yorkshire Water assets, 3,490 metres of British Telecom assets, 2,548 metres of Transco assets and 1,643 metres of Northern Electric assets being at risk. In addition, there are also service assets such as a pumping station and telephone exchanges at risk.

Much of the above mentioned infrastructure will therefore benefit hugely from the Whitby piers project and yet because we have no powers to compel beneficiaries to contribute, no contributions from them have been forthcoming and this has led to a dependency on other funding sources, such as the Environment Agency, Defra and the European Structural and Investment Fund, who are not direct beneficiaries, to grant the funding required.

Elsewhere in our borough, sometimes contributions from utility companies are forthcoming, other times they are not. Yorkshire Water contributed to preliminary works on a £1.5 million coastal defence project in Runswick Bay, with significant voluntary contributions coming from the local community (as direct beneficiaries) to allow the scheme to go ahead. Meanwhile, further down the coast, Filey Town Council (a parish council) contributed to the forthcoming Filey Flood Alleviation Scheme but utility companies set to benefit did not.

It is my opinion and that of Scarborough Borough Council’s Cabinet that the imbalance in how funding has to be sourced and the inconsistency in contributions from utility companies is unfair and needs to be addressed urgently. I therefore call on government to strongly encourage the companies to make financial contributions to schemes where it is proven that their assets will benefit. I would also encourage government to look at the merits of amending legislation to make such contributions compulsory.

Cllr Derek Bastiman

Leader of Scarborough Borough Council,

Town Hall, St Nicholas Street, Scarborough