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Saturday, 02 August 2014

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Survey asks Cockermouth residents if they would pay flood defences tax

A survey is to be carried out in Cockermouth to find out whether residents would be happy to pay extra council tax to help fund £5.2 million flood defences.

The plan, which would see people pay an extra 95p a month, could raise £40,000 a year for the next three years.

The survey is being carried out by the town council to gauge reactions.

The Environment Agency, which has been working on flood defences, said this week that an original shortfall of £300,000 for the scheme had spiralled to an estimated £1.5 million.

The town, led by its flood action group, was hoping to raise £200,000 – partly by increasing the council tax precept – and £100,000 has been earmarked by Cumbria Community Foundation for the project.

The agency said it will work with the community to raise the extra cash and look at other ways it can make up the £1.5m shortfall, including saving money in design and construction.

Christine Smith, town mayor, said: “Given recent events the future protection of Cockermouth is a very important issue.

“The town council has been faced with an unusual and difficult decision.

“Flooding is a community issue and the town council feels it should play a part in securing this funding. Obviously other community funding will also be required to meet this shortfall.”

Sue Cashmore, chairman of the flood action group, said: “The group feels the town should not be made to pay any more than the £200,000 plus £100,000 from the foundation quoted in the initial stages.

“We are a small community and I cannot see how we can raise any more.”

An agency spokesman said it was working with the community and town council to explain the anticipated shortfall.

He added that the figure would be reviewed and residents updated on a regular basis.

The action group held an opinion poll and said around 99 per cent of residents were in favour of an increase in council tax by £10 a year per property to raise £200,000.

The proposal comes after law firm KJ Commons & Co, said it believed that poor river maintenance in Cockermouth may have been a key cause of the floods.

The firm, which is behind a legal claim by victims of the 2009 floods, has asked experts to investigate after finding evidence to suggest that an accumulation of gravel upstream of Cockermouth’s Gote Bridge may have acted as a dam when the rivers rose.

About 180 people have already expressed an interest in a mass claim.

Joe Fagan, 59, landlord of The Bush pub in Main Street, Cockermouth, said the smaller arches under Gote Bridge were built specifically to carry away excess flood water when the bridge was extended in the 1930s.

He said: “I am not aware of any work being done on them to remove gravel over the last 10 years.”

He believed that if the arches had been cleared this would have helped water to escape in the early hours of the flood.

He added: “But there was an exceptional amount of water on that day and even if those arches had been clear I don’t think it would have stopped the flood.”

It was reported in 2008 that the Environment Agency planned to remove gravel from the River Derwent around Gote Bridge to improve flood protection.

But Marcus Nickson, of Kevin Commons, said the work was never done.

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