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Cornwall's Sandbag U-Turn

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11:46am 14th February 2014
(Updated 11:46am 14th February 2014)

As Cornwall's battered by up to 4cm of rain and 80mph winds Cornwall Council has done a u-turn on sandbags.

Up till now County Hall has told flood victims to buy their own from builders' merchants or its own contractor.

Now, after the Duchy has suffered more than £20m of damge, it has come under pressure from David Cameron and Nick Clegg on a visit to the Duchy.

They say the government will pick up the bill.

Late on Thursday night the council announced the bags will be free from Friday morning, "as soon as possible."

On Friday, Cornwall Council released this statement:

"Following yesterday's Government decision to enable local authorities to recover the costs of distributing free sandbags, the Council has been working with its partners to identify the areas in Cornwall which are currently at the greatest risk of flooding.  In accordance with the latest advice from the Met Office and the Environment Agency the Council will distribute all the sandbags currently available to the Helston, Penzance, Looe and Bude areas.

Crews from the Council will be distributing up to 1,000 sandbags in each of the following locations:

Penzance:  Wherry Town car park

Looe:  Millpool car park

Helston:  Coronation Park car park (including Mullion and Porthleven)

Bude:  Crescent car park

Members of the public in these areas will be able to collect up to 10 sandbags from these locations from 1pm on Friday.

"Over the past few hours we have been working with our partners to identify the areas which are at greatest risk of flooding as a result of today's severe weather conditions" said Peter Marsh, Interim Director of Environment. "Sandbags are being distributed in these areas so they are prepared for tonight’s high tide. For operational reasons sandbags will not be available directly from Council depots.

"The weather conditions are then set to improve tomorrow afternoon and into next week giving us a respite from the risk of flooding. We will, however, continue to monitor the situation and are on standby to respond if the weather deteriorates."

Up until yesterday the council's website advised people "If you require sandbags as a precautionary measure you will need to make your own arrangements to purchase them from local sandbag suppliers. If you would like to purchase Sandbags for your own stock these can be obtained during normal working hours ... by contacting Cormac Solutions ... Please note these bags will be charged at £3 a bag, and can be collected from Bodmin or Scorrier stores."

That advice was removed yesterday and the council issued a statement insisting it did not charge for sandbags, on behalf of Geoff Brown, the Council's Cabinet Member for Homes and Communities: "The approach to sandbags differs across the country and in Cornwall we do not currently provide them as this is not a statutory duty.

"There is also the question of storage and distribution and ensuring that with 300 miles of coastline, they are located where most needed. Residents have been well advised of the source of sandbags and those in vulnerable areas are well prepared. That said, given the very recent announcement by the PM of additional funding, it would be appropriate to review our strategy to ensure that our communities are best protected."

That review happened speedily, some time between 5pm when the original advice was still being issued to the media and shortly before 11pm when the announcement was made.

It came after David Cameron specifically named the authority during an interview: "I've said to local councils - including Cornwall and Devon County Council ... we will reimburse 100% of the money you spend.

"If there are sandbags needed, if the military is needed, if you need emergency service responses - all of those things will be paid for."

Following a meeting between Nick Clegg during his visit to Cornwall and senior councillors a fresh statement was released overnight.

It read: "Cornwall Council will issue free sandbags to households who are affected or at risk of flooding from this morning (14th February). The process of filling and distributing the bags will take some time, but the council will be using all of its resources and those of partner agencies to make sure that sandbags and flood prevention advice is available to any household at risk as soon as possible."

Geoff Brown said: "The previous policy of the council, agreed by the last administration, was that the council would not provide sandbags, free or otherwise. It advised residents to purchase them for domestic use. This has been adhered to and, contrary to reports, the council has not sold sandbags to any residents."

"We have now been able to get assurances from media reports of the Prime Minister's speech and from the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, during his visit to Cornwall last night that the government will fully reimburse councils for providing sandbags. We are grateful for that assurance after some considerable uncertainty."

The council's website has now been updated, removing reference to the bags being available for £3 from its wholly owned contractor.

11:46am 14th February 2014

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