Government urged to roll out extra flood defence cash in Devon and Cornwall
A Government minister has dismissed Labour claims that flood defence funding is being cut, arguing thousands in the storm-battered Westcountry will be protected thanks to an injection of new cash.
Homes, businesses and transport were severely damaged when Devon and Cornwall suffered at the hands of three rounds of major flooding at the end of last year.
In the House Of Commons, Mel Stride, Conservative MP for Central Devon, said communities in the county had been "grievously affected" by flooding, and welcomed an increase in "partnership funding".
This is a flagship coalition Government policy where communities stump up money matched by government to get long-awaited protection built. But Mr Stride urged Floods Minister Richard Benyon to ensure that money is "rolled out as quickly as possible", and asked how many properties in Devon will benefit.
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As deluges hit last year, the Treasury promised an extra £120 million from April to get more schemes built.
Mr Benyon told the Devon MP that £35 million of the £120 million is already available for this year, and that the remaining £85 million will be allocated to schemes starting in 2014.
He said: "That means that 5,000 homes in Devon will benefit from additional funds."
But Labour has criticised the Government, claiming that less is being spent this year than in 2008. Labour MP Andrew Gwynne asked for confirmation of the cut, even with the extra £120 million.
Mr Benyon said the coalition was spending "roughly the same" over the course of four years as Labour did in the same period previously, and said the claim "must be laid to rest".
Mr Benyon added: "His Chancellor, in his last Budget statement, announced 50% cuts in capital budgets for departments such as mine.
"He cannot come here and try to compare apples with pears.
"Labour MPs must move on from this, and understand that we are doing what we need to do in very difficult financial circumstances."
Some £25 million will be spent in the South West in total this year. However, 63 proposed schemes will "not proceed" until after 2018 – defences totalling £50 million and protecting 2,500 homes.
Some £8.6 million is being spent on defences in Dawlish Warren and Exmouth, £3 million will be invested at the former Redruth brewery quarter and £3.7 million will be spent on 355 properties and businesses in Devon and Cornwall hit by floods last year.
Meanwhile, a £26 million flood protection scheme in Exeter, seen as the most important project in the Westcountry, will begin work in mid-2014. But other vital regional schemes to safeguard 2,500 homes have been shelved for five years.