Northumberland council leader and Government at odds over flood-response map

The River Till flooded the basement of Heatherslaw Mill in the storms in early January.
The River Till flooded the basement of Heatherslaw Mill in the storms in early January.

Northumberland County Council's leader has criticised the launch of a new map aimed at showing the county is open for business following this winter's floods.

Labour's Grant Davey said the Government failed to brief the council fully before it went live. But the Government's Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) disputes the claims, saying a council representative had been informed as part of weekly meetings.

Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton

Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton

The new interactive map was launched last week by Northern Powerhouse Minister James Wharton and aims to give traders, tourists and residents the chance to put details of their local firms online, to show they are open for business.

However, Coun Davey claims the Government didn’t let anyone at the council know the details of their proposal until the scheme had actually gone live - and a news release was issued by central Government.

The map offers real-time updates on the businesses that have re-opened in the wake of the floods, with information crowd-sourced from companies and their customers.

Coun Davey said: “It’s disappointing that we are doing all we can to try to support businesses and get residents back on their feet, but the Government doesn’t have the courtesy to brief us fully about a major new initiative in our county before it goes live.

Northumberland County Council leader Grant Davey.

Northumberland County Council leader Grant Davey.

“We are already supporting businesses through business rate relief, business support grants and offering grants to make their premises more resilient and resistant to future flooding and the majority of the 90 affected businesses in the county are back up and running and continuing to trade.

“And, while on one hand Mr Wharton said his Government is determined to do everything it can to support those businesses affected by flooding this winter, it has been very quiet in letting us know if we are getting any of the funding we desperately need following our flood damage.

“Businesses and residents in rural areas rely on a good road network and bridges being opened which connect communities. The lack of feedback from Government to our requests is worrying.”

But a spokesman from the DCLG said: "As flood-affected businesses get back on their feet and open their doors to customers, we’re determined to do everything we can to support them. It is disappointing to hear these comments and completely untrue that the Council weren’t briefed on the map.

“A representative from Northumberland Council takes part in a weekly meeting with Government Ministers where it has been discussed prior to the launch.”

The floods in the aftermath of storms in December and January affected more than 80 local businesses in Northumberland, along with hundreds of homes.

The damage to infrastructure alone amounted to £24million. This includes an estimated £6.5million on bridges, £8.8million on landslips and over £7million on roads and drainage.

The council has written to the government calling for financial support but has yet to hear what, if any level of funding to repair infrastructure it may receive.

Those wanting to upload details of companies re-opening in flood-affected areas can visit http://communities.maps.arcgis.com/apps/GeoForm/index.html?appid=ceeb04f94f36408abda8c545bab24eaa where they can complete a simple form with details of the business – including location and opening times.

Anyone uploading details will also be able to tweet them, using the dedicated #OpenforBusiness hashtag.

Coun Davey added: “While we welcome any initiatives to help the county get back on its feet and remind people we are open for business, it would be useful if the Government ensured it was getting its communications with local authorities right.”