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Defra in firing line over flood aid delays

Farmers battling the fall-out from winter’s floods have criticised the Government’s Farming Recovery Fund (FRF) for not going far enough to help producers get their businesses back on track.

Olivia   Midgley

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Olivia   Midgley
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Many are still reeling from the flooding caused by Storm Desmond, Eva and Frank this winter
Many are still reeling from the flooding caused by Storm Desmond, Eva and Frank this winter

Delays to payment authorisations from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and bureaucracy surrounding how repairs can be executed have compounded farmers’ efforts to restore farmland.

 

Many are still reeling from the catastrophic flooding caused by Storm Desmond, Eva and Frank this winter.

 

Sarah Chaplin-Brice, Low Bridge End Farm, Keswick, blamed a disconnect between Government agencies including Defra, the RPA and the Environment Agency.

 

“Nearly four months on and we have not had the go ahead to do anything,” said Mrs Chaplin-Brice, who said it was ‘ludicrous’ Defra has asked affected farmers to supply three separate quotes for all work required.

 

“We cannot get the contractors in until the application has been signed off nor can we get paid until the work has been carried out and we prove it on a bank statement,” she said.

 

While the £20,000 offered through FRF would ‘barely scratch the surface’ of the estimated £200,000 clean-up bill on her farm, Mrs Chaplin-Brice said the money could cover the cost of removing the thousands of tonnes of gravel which washed onto her land, wiping out a third of her grazing.

 

“As well as being forced to shut down our camping barn, cafe and self-catering businesses, and knowing we will miss the summer season, we are having to use a lot more feed for sheep. Some of those with twins and triplets have not got enough milk.”

 

Douglas Chalmers, chief executive of Friends of the Lake District, said while many producers wanted to ‘do the best thing for the future of the land’, some were reluctant to make anything but like-for-like repairs for fear of being reprimanded.

 

NFU national flood management and access adviser Martin Rogers said he understood the RPA had been dealing with major delays to the Basic Payment Scheme, but a number of members had raised concerns about the FRF roll out.

 

He said: “We have spoken to the RPA and asked if there is any way they can agree to some of the work so people can get going, and then focus on the other parts of the application form.”

 

The Environment Agency said it had provided consent for five of the six flood defence applications from Mrs Chaplin-Brice.

 

A spokesman said the sixth application had not yet been sent to Natural England for approval. He added it was taking longer as it was a bespoke permit.

 

A Defra spokesman sought to reassure farmers their claims would be considered on an individual basis ’with flexibility on the top level’.

 

He said: "If farmers believe they have costings of more than £20,000 they should contact the rural services helpline on 03000 200301 for advice.

 

 


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