Representatives warn businesses will ‘go under’ without financial support
A council has agreed to write to the Health Minister asking him to update the protocol for emergency services in the event of flooding.
It comes after hundreds of homes in the Derry and Strabane District Council area were impacted by flooding on Saturday evening.
Sinn Fein expressed concerns that current protocols mean the emergency services have to wait until waters have entered homes before they can act, rather than respond immediately.
At a council meeting on Thursday evening, Chief Executive John Kelpie said it has been a “really awful” number of days for residents and businesses across the district.
Lead Assurance Officer Denise McDonnell said a meeting will be held on Friday with the Department of Infrastructure, NI Water and other stakeholders.
Ms McDonnell said DfI Rivers had difficulty restocking sand bags, so that issue has been taken up with them, and funding has been sourced to restock in the next day or so.
Head of Health and Community Wellbeing, Seamus Donaghy, said there have been just over 450 requests to inspect domestic properties impacted by flood waters.
Over 95% of those properties have been inspected by the Environmental Health team and approximately 100 have been approved, with the aim of having those processed by close of business on Friday.
Council solicitor Philip Kingston said a paper was ratified at the end of May for a short-term solution at the Ballycolman estate which involved re-routing flood waters into the Melvin playing fields.
Council officers have been working “proactively”, he said, to put legal agreements in place.
Those agreements will be brought before the council for ratification, he added.
Sinn Fein councillor Michaela Boyle praised the response to the flooding by the community in Strabane.
It was “horrendous” for people who have suffered flooding for the fourth or fifth time in their homes and she insisted that a solution should be found for Ballycolman residents.
She said: “It impacts their mental health and well-being, it doesn’t just affect the family in the house, it affects the whole family and indeed the neighbourhood.”
Ms Boyle also acknowledged damage to businesses and spoke of revising the protocol for emergency services so they can respond immediately to flooding rather than having to wait until waters have entered homes.
She proposed writing to the Health Minister Robin Swann to revise the protocol.
Alliance councillor Rachel Ferguson said remediation works need to progress, such as a flood prevention scheme for residents, including those in social housing.
She is aware of at least 13 businesses with a “huge bill” to pay and argued a mechanism needs to be put in place to protect businesses or they “will go under”.
SDLP councillor Brian Tierney criticised access to sand bags and suggested they should be made available in every district electoral area (DEA).
He pointed to an issue with a fork lift truck hindering access to sand bags at the DfI depot at Lisnagelvin which slowed the process.
The Ballyarnett councillor proposed a special meeting with stakeholders to discuss the impact of flooding.
Sinn Fein councillor Patricia Logue raised concerns about the lateness of a weather warning provided by the Met Office as she believed that acted as a trigger for other agencies.
She highlighted flooding to homes in the Little Diamond area of the city which hadn’t received much coverage.
The Foyle Road and those connected to it experience flooding after heavy rain up to four times a year, Ms Logue added.
She stressed solutions need to be found for people living in the Moor area as well as it is a gateway to the city.
People Before Profit councillor Maeve O’Neill was critical of the response by DfI, as was UUP councillor Darren Guy who described it as “shocking”.
Aontu councillor Emmet Doyle also said the response “from the top down at DfI” leaves “a lot to be desired” as these events “have been happening for years”.
DfI has defended its response to the flooding with Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd saying the quick actions of his department helped to save many homes.
The Eglinton community has, however, said it was the quick actions of young farmers that saved properties.
Independent Strabane councillor Paul Gallagher said DfI workers on the ground did their best and instead pointed to the inadequate pay for emergency staff on standby at weekends.
He questioned the eligibility criteria for homeowners, saying the emergency payment is for those who endured “severe inconvenience” and argued that those running up electricity bills by having to use de-humidifiers for days should be compensated.
The emotional distress caused by having to repeatedly clear sewage water from homes should also be considered, he said.
With regards to the lack of support for businesses, the Department for Communities (DfC) is aware of a “one off scheme” to support non-domestic properties, including small businesses dating back to 2015/16.
A spokesperson added: “In 2016 the Executive agreed that an Emergency Financial Assistance Scheme be established for non-domestic properties, including small businesses, affected by flooding during the period 7 November 2015 to 31 January 2016.
“This was a one off scheme, the remit for which was never extended and therefore it was not applicable outside of the specific timeframe of 7 November 2015 to 31 January 2016.
“Any future changes to the SEFA, to include non-domestic properties, would require Executive agreement.”
The Met Office has been contacted for comment.