Belfast Telegraph

Flood defence grants to replace damage payouts

By Noel McAdam

Stormont ministers are set to draw up a grant aid programme to help protect homes from floods – rather than pay compensation afterwards.

Recommendations from the Rivers Agency and Finance Minister Simon Hamilton are expected to go before the Executive in the next few weeks.

It comes after the agency revealed a total of 46,000 properties across the province were at risk from flooding.

A number of households have received a £1,000 after-the-event payment two or three times – and David Porter, of the agency, told a Stormont committee: "They do not thank you for it."

Mr Porter, the agency's director of development, said the early signs for the proposal were positive.

"Part of the argument in our business case is that we would much rather give people money before their premises flood than after it," he said.

"In most cases, £1,000 does not come near the impact. We now have examples of people having that payment twice and thrice.

"They do not thank you for it. The first time, it was a little bit of assistance; it wears a wee bit thin the second time; and the third time they are asking, 'Why did you give it to me? It doesn't cover the cost; can you not help me in some other way?'

"That is part of the argument that we put into the business case.

"Government should try to help people before such situations occur, and not make a token gesture afterwards."

Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan told the meeting of Stormont's agriculture and rural development committee: "I believe that it is right to give people £1,000 every time their premises are flooded.

"However, if you keep throwing £1,000 at the problem, the problem does not go away. The money would be better donated to helping to alleviate that."

Mr Porter also told MLAs: "There are 46,000 properties across Northern Ireland at risk from rivers and the sea.

"About one-third, or 15,500, benefit from some sort of defences: the culvert network and sea and river defences. In a typical household, there are two to five people, so there are an awful lot more people at risk from rivers and the sea."

Philip Mehaffey, the agency's director of operations, said: "For the designated defences that we look after, everything that we do is on a cost-beneficial basis. It is often not viable to provide protection at the public's expense to individual isolated properties on the coast.

" That is an unfortunate fact," he added.

The DUP's Michelle McIlveen said: "Property owners who spoke to me said that they were given assurances in the past 10 years that additional defences would be put in place so that their properties would not be damaged in any future storm, yet no assistance whatsoever was given to them."

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