WERE County Durham's communities "abandoned" or given "strong support" by the Government during Storm Arwen?

The response to the storm - and how matters might improve in future - was discussed at a Durham County Council meeting.

"We didn't anticipate the severity of the impact of the storm," strategic manager Kevin Edworthy told councillors.

He said: "It was going on much longer than we were led to believe.

"The additional staff that we called up were overwhelmed and it did take time."

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He gave a report on Storm Arwen and "civil contingency planning" to the council's safer and stronger communities scrutiny committee.

Councillor Dan Nicholls said: "From my view it was a total abandonment by central Government really.

"We know with climate change that this is going to continue to happen. It's going to get worse effectively. What is the national Government actually going to do to help local authorities basically prepare more for this?"

The Northern Echo: Cllr Dan Nicholls. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Dan Nicholls. Picture: Durham County Council.

Mr Edworthy replied: "At this stage I'm not aware that there's any additional money being identified for things."

He said money could be claimed for responding to major incidents and the council was looking at Government funding.

Chief fire officer Stuart Errington said there would probably be more full-time workers on the Local Resilience Forum, a "coalition of the willing" which deals with such responses.

He said: "There is a significant amount of work going on in this area.

"There's almost been a little bit of... 'benign neglect' from Government over the last 20 years or so around civil resilience.

"As austerity has bitten, lots of organisations have taken out roles that really did build resilience.

The Northern Echo: Stuart Errington. Picture: Northern Echo.Stuart Errington. Picture: Northern Echo.

"Having said that, I think there is a positive way forward.

"In defence of the government to a certain extent, when Storm Arwen was going on we had significant support from the centre."

He said they had calls with Secretary of State Kwasi Kwarteng and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He added: "For all that I think we're starting from a low base and certainly in a worse position than a lot of other European countries, there is a determination from government to make some fairly significant improvements.

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"The vision from government is to be the most resilient nation.

"Let's hope they follow through with that and provide all the funding and support.

"All in all we're probably on a much better path. Let's hope that things change over the next year or so."

Asked about legislation to make sure power companies were legally responsible, he said he believed there would be "punishments" for organisations which are not resilient.

He added: "I think there will be stronger legislation in place in the next year or so."

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National reviews and strategies are due in the summer, which "hopefully will give us clarity around who's responsible for what", added Mr Edworthy.

He said they were working with Northern Powergrid to improve communications, intelligence and data.

Cllr Nicholls said: "For members of the public it's terrifying. You don't know what's going on.

"The biggest criticism I had as a councillor was that the advice given by council, most of it was on the internet and people didn't have access to the internet so they didn't know what that advice was, including the telephone numbers."

Cllr Mike McGaun said communications of providers like Northern Powergrid were "at best poor, at worst abysmal" and "exceptionally frustrating" to residents.

Reliance on electricity, housing regulations, solar panels and alternative sources of heat were also raised in the discussion.

Cllr Joyce Charlton, chairing the committee, said: "All emergency services across the county, thank you so much for your assistance and for your commitment to the people of Durham county.

"You did an amazing job in the most unprecedented times."


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