Barnstaple flood victims could get £1,000

Barnstaple floods on 17 August (courtesy: Caitlyn Ebsworthy)

August’s downpour caused chaos

Barnstaple’s flash flooding victims could be set to get up to £1,000 in compensation.

Torrential rain in the afternoon of Monday 17 August left parts of the town under as much as three feet of water, while traffic came to a standstill as floodwater made parts of the town impassable.

People from basement flats were rescued by fire crews, with several made temporarily homeless. More than 100 properties, including the town’s Queens Theatre suffered damaged.

North Devon Council’s strategy and resources committee has agreed to set up a funding mechanism to help those in need, but funding will come from councillors’ community funds rather than the covid-19 hardship support fund.

Councillors agreed that while they wanted to help the victims of the flooding, there was a fear that using the executive contingency fund could lead to a precedent being set for future extreme weather events, and that the £92,000 remaining in the hardship fund was probably going to be needed over the winter.

The committee heard that two levels of grants could be provided. The first is £500 where households have incurred significant loss of personal possessions and or damage to property or furnishings, and do not have sufficient resources to replace lost items and or pay for repairs or refurbishment. The is £1,000 where there is also an immediate health and wellbeing risk, with the money used to provide any measures which will ensure the health, safety and welfare of the occupants.

Cllr Ian Roome called for some financial support to be given to residents who were affected, saying that when he helped out with the clear-up on the day, they were left in tears as they had no access to money.

He said: “For some of these people, 50p is a lot of money. We should be seen to be community leaders and for them to say ‘when we are in desperate and in need, the council is there for me’. None of the money should be given to those who have claimed on insurance or financially well off, but some of these families have to sit on floors because sofas have been damaged by flood water.”

Cllr Caroline Leaver added: “The downpour came and there was no warning about it. These people were not able to prepare for this – they went upstairs, came down, and there was a foot of water in the living room. It feels very clear to me that whichever budget it comes from, and if we the council are not able to prioritise these people then what are we here for?”

But Cllr John Patrinos said that flooding is not unique, and asked what would happen next time Braunton ends up under water due to unprecedented flooding. He said: “I have every sympathy with these people – who doesn’t – but the knock on impact of covid will outweigh that and we have to do all we can to marshal the resources.”

Cllr Graham Lofthouse added that while the flood victims needed help, it shouldn’t be at the expense of helping those affected by covid-19, particularly as when the furlough scheme ends at the end of the month, they were expecting a large amount of claims, and Cllr Louisa York said: “The covid money is for covid and we don’t know the full extent and we will need a lot of money for that.”

Ken Miles, the council’s chief executive, said that once the money in the covid hardship fund was gone, it won’t be replaced, so that it was up to the councillors to decide if they wanted to divert it from those who had suffered hardship because of the pandemic to those who had suffered as a result of the flooding.

Cllr Malcolm Prowse said that while the council could use the executive contingency fund, how would the council defend not spending any money if somewhere else flooded? He said: “We need to make sure it is a one off thing dealt with by one off Barnstaple money.” He proposed that they agree the funding structure and delegate the funding amount to officers, with proposals to use the community councillor grants, as well as existing hardship funds, as to help the flooding victims.

The committee unanimously agreed to the recommendation, and that anyone applying must have registered the flood damage with Devon County Council.

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