A DEBATE over political leadership in the wake of Storm Arwen flared up at a council meeting.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County Council, said there would be an independent review and the public could have their say as she was questioned by Labour members.

Read more: Durham MP accuses Government of not caring about the region during Storm Arwen

She said the council, the military, communities and the County Durham and Darlington Local Resilience Forum (LRF) worked “above and beyond” to help and support people after the storm.

She said: “We do not intend to enter into a debate on this item as I know officers and members have been dealing with many, many queries and are still responding to the incident. However we will look at how a review is undertaken when we understand the national position.”

Despite attempts to keep questions and discussion on the storm out of the meeting, its continuing effects prompted debate.

Cllr Jake Miller said: “There was no leadership in Ludworth, a village that I represent. There was no support whatsoever. Would Cllr Hopgood agree that her and her cabinet failed the people of Ludworth and the wider county, and what does she say to those people in my community that are asking for her to resign?”

Cllr Hopgood replied: “No I wouldn’t say we failed it.

“I haven’t heard of any calls to resign but I’m sure you’ll send them to me in due course. What we will be doing is a full review.”

The Northern Echo: Amanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County CouncilAmanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County Council (Image: Contributor)

Deputy Labour group leader Cllr Rob Crute asked whether she thought she “did everything possible to mitigate the impact of the storm” and whether the leading coalition’s response let the people of the county down.

He said residents should never again “endure many nights and days in darkness and freezing temperatures, many of them scared and alone”.

He added: “There are certainly many questions to be asked in the aftermath of the storm and especially about the political leadership and response during and after the event.

“From the comments and the desperate pleas we’ve received from our communities and businesses over the last 10 days, we need to make sure that any inquiry includes the voices of those affected and covers questions around the political response.”

He said an inquiry should not just blame: “But we need to pinpoint precisely where and how things went wrong and crucially to ensure that lessons are learned from the mistakes made.

“The Labour group is putting the leader of the council and the coalition cabinet on notice pending the outcome of an independent inquiry into what happened after Storm Arwen.”

Cllr Hopgood said: “When it comes to political leadership, I was there first and foremost. And if you don’t think I’ve done enough, then you might want to speak to my family who haven’t seen me for the last 10 days.

“We will be learning but I’m not going to pre-empt any inquiry.

“We’re still dealing with a major incident. We’ve committed that we’ll look at this once everybody we know is safe and reconnected.”

Cllr David Boyes said: “Do we think we did enough? We had people who were sitting next to a Calor gas stove who were freezing cold.”

Amid apparent interruptions, he raised his voice and said: “This needs to be said. It needs to be said at this forum. We’re talking about people, not just numbers and procedures.”

Council chief executive John Hewitt thanked staff who worked “tirelessly to clean up and keep communities safe since the storm hit”, dealing with fallen trees, blocked roads, damaged buildings and storm damage.

He said: “It has been an absolutely fantastic effort, especially after almost two years of dealing with the Coronavirus emergency.”

Chief fire officer Stuart Errington said: “Not only were we the first LRF in the North-east to declare a major incident, we were actually the first LRF in the country to declare a major incident based on power outages.”

He said they would identify lessons learned and support reviews following the response to the storm.

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