Minister hopeful on flood cover

A NEW national deal on flood insurance could be imminent – and a Morpeth model may be a key part.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon visited the town on Monday to get an update on the flood alleviation scheme and discuss concerns with residents and councillors.

He heard that obtaining affordable insurance cover is a priority as the Government’s previous Statement of Principles agreement with the industry was due to end this month and has only been extended until the end of July.

Mr Benyon said another meeting was due to take place in Downing Street that day with the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and he was hopeful a deal could be announced shortly.

“I hope we are very close to a deal, but I can’t be more specific on that,” he said.

“The industry has extended the Statement of Principles, the agreement that was due to come to an end this month, for another four weeks. I think that is an indication of how close we are to a deal.

“All of the departments are working hard to make sure that everyone in flood risk can get insurance.”

A working party, made up of Morpeth Town Council, the Morpeth Flood Action Group (MFAG) and Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, presented a model for flood cover in 2011 whereby a levy would be applied to all policyholders to ensure affordable insurance in high-risk areas.

ABI has included many elements of the proposal in its own submission, which includes a temporary overdraft facility from the Government.

And Mr Benyon said the Morpeth model has been helpful in negotiations.

“The Morpeth model has been very useful. It has been a key part in what we have been considering and the proposal that we hope we will be able to announce in the near future. The Morpeth model is a wellthought-through scheme,” he said.

“I’m not sure what the final scheme will be, but I think it is going to be important for people in Morpeth to make sure that they can get insurance and that they can get it at a level they can afford.

“However, it is also important that people who aren’t at flood risk are protected. We don’t want to see the taxpayer pay an unreasonable amount of money in some sort of cross-subsidy. It has to be fair.”

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said it is vital that a deal is struck soon.

“Flood insurance is a massive issue and I have raised it lots of times in Parliament because of the necessity of getting something in place by the end of July,” he said.

“The Minister has suggested that talks with ABI are well on their way and perhaps there could be an announcement in the not too distant future.

“Insurance for people’s homes is very important. It needs to be accessible and affordable for the people of Morpeth.”

Morpeth working group Chairman David Parker said: “The Minister recognises that there is a lot of concern in Morpeth about flood insurance.

“I came away feeling that the matter is still being seriously considered and therefore I am reasonably hopeful, but I’m not sure that things are going to go the way that we want them to go.

“I’m quite clear that the Minister understands that this is a big issue affecting not just Morpeth residents over the two years, but thousands of people across the country and really somebody does need to get some arrangements agreed so that people can get insurance and that it is affordable.”

MFAG Chairman Alan Bell said: “I think the meeting went very well. All the relevant people were there, which shows the commitment of the different organisations.

“There are still a number of things that have to be sorted out, particularly the Cotting Burn, surface water problems and the insurance issue.

“Things are progressing, but we have got to keep a high profile. It is not just about the flood defences.”