FRESH calls have been made to invest millions of pounds on the region’s coastal and river defence schemes after this month’s extreme weather served as a timely reminder of the power of the elements – and the potential effect on our lives and livelihoods. Tom Murphy investigates what protection is available, and how it could be funded


STRETCHING as far as the eye can see, Morecambe Bay’s coastline is adored by thousands.

However, hundreds of people, including those living close to the banks of the region’s rivers, regularly wait with bated breath as water laps perilously close to their buildings.

Coastal homes and businesses at Sandside, Arnside and Ulverston, along with properties along the River Kent, are most at risk.

The effects of climate change and freak weather are only likely to exarcebate the problem for future generations.

Luckily, during last week’s extreme weather the region escaped severe damage.

But it did lead to a new appeal from MPs, businesses and homeowners to bolster protection from the sea.

Sadly, as with everything in the current economic climate, money is tight, and schemes often cost in the seven figure region.

So how exactly could coastal defences be funded?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has set a £2.3bn budget from 2011 to 2015 to tackle flooding and coastal erosion.

Next month, the Government will announce how much it will spend on flood defences in the coming year.

The Environment Agency (EA) and Cumbria County Council put forward what they consider to be worthy schemes and are responsible for allocating central government funding.

The money cannot be released without approval from the Treasury, which has ultimate control of the purse strings.

Prior to bidding, the EA produces scoping and feasibility studies based on how much it will cost and the benefit to the community.

It then gives potential projects a score based on value for money – but sometimes lower scorers can get bumped up in response to events.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron gave the issue a national platform when he spoke on the floor of the House of Commons last week.

He asked for the Government to prioritise local flood relief schemes and flooding minister Dan Rogerson MP said he would meet Mr Farron to look at the plans closely.

The Lib Dem president has also called for an explanation as to where £325k, previously allocated for schemes on the River Kent, had ‘disappeared’ to.

He pin-pointed four schemes which he hoped would be given the green light in next month’s announcement, including:

* Sewage works at Steeles Row, Burneside l Protection for houses at Mintsfeet

* Protection for houses on Aynam Road and Waterside

 * Sea defences for the Kent Estuary

 Mr Farron said: “Residents and businesses need certainty and we need to make sure communities are protected.

“Last week’s bad weather shows that more funding must be spent on flood defences. This is not a case of whining without reason.”

In November, the EA staged a series of events to help the local community be prepared for flash flooding.

The River Kent and Stock Beck flow down short, steep-sided valleys, meaning flooding can occur suddenly with little or no warning – potentially before emergency services can get there.

A ‘pop up shop’ was crammed with a photographic history of Kendal’s flooding to warn people how to react to flooding.

The EA’s flood risk manager for Cumbria, Andy Brown, said: “Kendal has some flood defences in place, but it would be impossible to build flood defences big enough to contain a major flash flood along the River Kent and Stock Beck.

“We are doing what we can to continue reducing flood risk in the town, but it is essential local people know the signs of flash flooding, and know what to do if flash flooding occurs, so they can react quickly.”