Thousands of Storm Desmond victims to get council tax and business rates waiver
An estimated 5,000 households and companies forced from their properties by flooding in Cumbria and Lancashire are to be given temporary relief from their council tax and business rates.
The tax waiver was agreed at a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee in Whitehall, as thousands of people across the north of England and Scotland were clearing up after the devastation caused by Storm Desmond.
Ministers were told that the situation on the ground was improving following the record rainfall seen at the weekend, but that emergency services remain on "high alert" with more heavy rain forecast.
The Met Office has issued a yellow warning for wind and rain across northern England and Scotland, with gusts of up to 70 mph predicted on Wednesday.
The Environment Agency (EA) said one severe flood warning, indicating there is a risk to life, remained in place at St Michaels in Lancashire, while there were 22 less serious flood warnings and 29 flood alerts.
A band of rain forecast overnight will bring the potential for further disruption across Cumbria, as well as parts of Lancashire and North Yorkshire, the EA added.
Flood warnings may be reissued for Appleby, Carlisle, Keswick, Cockermouth and Kendal but rivers are not expected to return to levels observed last weekend, it said.
Chris Wilding, the EA's flood risk manager, said: "Our thoughts are with everyone that has been flooded. Environment Agency teams are checking and maintaining flood defences, clearing blockages in rivers, monitoring water levels and working with local flood wardens in the areas worst affected."
The Cobra meeting, chaired by Communities Secretary Greg Clark, heard that power has been restored to all properties in Lancashire which lost electricity during the storms, while the lights were back on in Cumbria with the exception of buildings which have had to be evacuated and left empty because of flooding.
Police said there had been "some isolated incidents" of flooded properties being targeted by "a couple of opportunistic individuals". On Monday a burglary took place at a business in Walkmill Crescent, Carlisle, where alcohol and cash worth £4,000 was stolen.
Tools valued at £3,000 were also stolen from a flooded property in Edenhall, Penrith, between 4.30pm on Sunday and 11am on Monday. Extra patrols have been deployed in areas that have been severely affected by flooding.
Virgin Trains reopened West Coast Main Line rail services through Cumbria and military engineers have been assisting highways authorities in getting roads back into use.
Mr Clark's Department for Communities and Local Government is finalising details of precisely who will qualify for council tax and business rate relief, and how long the waiver will be available. No estimate of the overall cost of the move was available.
Electricity North West engineers restored power to Lancaster, Morecambe and surrounding areas early on Tuesday, but customers were asked to use electricity sparingly and to be prepared for possible managed power cuts while repairs continue.
Meanwhile, some 1,047 properties remained without power in Cumbria.
Cumbria Police said its estimated worst-case scenario was that as many as 6,425 homes were flooded in the county after Desmond struck. The EA had previously put the figure at around 5,200.
Three lives have been claimed by the extreme weather. The body of a 78-year-old man was discovered in the swollen River Kent in Cumbria, while Irish police recovered the body of Ivan Vaughan, 70, in Co Monaghan.
A 90-year-old man, Ernie Crouch, died after he was apparently blown into the side of a moving bus by strong winds near Finchley Central Tube station in London on Saturday.
Setting out the council tax relief, Mr Clark said the Government was "determined to do all we can to help" people in Cumbria and Lancashire hit by the floods.
He said: "One thing that businesses and families should not be worrying about is paying their council tax and business rates if they have been affected by the floods.
"So what we agreed at Cobra today is to send a clear message out now that if you have had to move out of your home or if your business is disturbed then you will not have to pay business rates or council tax until you are back trading or back in your home."
Mr Clark said leading insurance firms had given him a "cast iron guarantee that they stand ready and have the capacity to respond straight away to all of their customers".
He warned that people should "stay vigilant" with more bad weather forecast over the next few days.