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Storm Damage

Volume 168: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1990

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4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assistance has been offered to the Highland region following the recent storms and floods.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
(Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

On 8 February, my right hon. and learned Friend confirmed that the provisions of the Bellwin scheme would be available to all authorities. We now await reports from them of expenditure that they think likely to qualify for special financial assistance. I can also announce that the Government are satisfied that additional assistance is justified for the repair of elevated flood banks. The rates of grant available under the farm and conservation grant scheme (national), which are normally 50 per cent. for the less-favoured areas and 40 per cent. elsewhere, are being increased to 75 per cent. and 60 per cent. respectively. Those rates will be available for six months from 1 March.

Is the Minister aware of Highland region's dissatisfaction and concern about the operation of the Bellwin formula, following its experience last year? In particular, will he reconsider the Scottish Office's refusal to offer grant for work on the river bed of the River Ness that is essential for the preservation of Waterloo bridge? Does he agree that the time limit that he mentioned is unreasonable because it is an arbitrary cut-off point for grant, when essential work may take longer?

I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's point. In relation to the River Ness, under the Bellwin scheme we allowed as eligible expenditure all the emergency costs of road and transport services up to 31 March 1989, amounting to over £300,000. The Bellwin scheme meets the cost of immediate works, but longer-term repairs should be built into local authorities' budgets. We have provided an additional allocation for water and sewerage of almost £500 million over the next three years.

May I underscore the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) that, based on last year's experience, the Bellwin formula does not take adequate account of the distinctive geographical problems that Highland region is facing? The Minister spoke of enhanced grants for flood banks, which were also announced last year, but will that cover the major expenditure that will be necessary in Fort Augustus, not only to shore up existing flood banks but to instal a completely new flood bank and other flood prevention measures which are now essential following evacuations there for the past two years running?

I shall give a specific reply to the details of the hon. Gentleman's last question, but he was incorrect in the premise on which he based his first question. Aid is given above a threshold which, broadly speaking, is lower, the smaller the population. The amount of financial support also reflects the scale of the immediate emergency work necessary to safeguard life and property, and that may also be lower in heavily populated areas. I agree that updating of the threshold is required, and we hope to make a statement on that to local authorities shortly.