Cautious welcome for flood funding, with warnings more cash will be needed

Cautious welcome for flood funding, with warnings more cash will be needed
Dozens of businesses in Downpatrick were severely impacted by the floods.

There has been a cautious welcome for funding announced for flood-affected businesses by the Secretary of State, with warnings that more money will be needed.

A number of towns and cities in Northern Ireland were devastated by severe flooding at the end of October, including Newry, Downpatrick and Portadown with scores of business owners left reeling by the damage done.

Businesses on Sugar Island in Newry were seriously damaged, with shops including Gordons Chemist, a Post Office branch as well as Friar Tuck’s restaurant and clothing shop, McCartan Brothers badly impacted by flood water and sewage.

Similarly, countless businesses and properties in Downpatrick were severely damaged with some owners unable to enter the buildings until the flood waters subsided.

Business owners have been left counting the cost of the damage and many fear having to pay thousands of pounds of their own money to pay for repairs.

Market Street in Downpatrick was one of the worst affected areas.

On 8th November, Chris Heaton-Harris MP visited Newry and Downpatrick and spoke to business leaders, some business representatives and the Chief Executive of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

While in Newry, the Secretary of State announced that £15 million would be made available in funding for flood-hit businesses. He stated that they would work closely with the NI Civil Service and local councils to “ensure that support gets to those who need it as quickly as possible”.

However, while there was a cautious welcome for the funding, many of those affected by the flooding have said it is not enough.

President of Newry Chamber of Commerce, Julie Gibbons said the meeting with the Secretary of State had been “very engaging” but said there was much work to be done.

“While we welcome his engagement and the £15m he has announced through the reallocation of existing NI funds this is a positive start, but it is only the beginning,” said Ms Gibbons.

“We do not yet know how this scheme will be administered but it will need to be agile and swift and we will keep businesses informed as more details emerge.”

Scores of businesses have been left reeling from the extensive damage caused by the floods.

NMD Council Chief Executive Marie Ward made a strong case for more funding to come from the UK Government, stressing that the current projected need in the area is “at least £37 million”, with this figure likely to grow in the coming weeks.

“The businesses at the meeting made an impassioned plea for significant financial support and the Secretary of State acknowledged the scale of the financial need to help get the economy of this region back on its feet,” added Ms Gibbons.

“It is imperative that the analysis required to prevent this devastation from happening again begins as soon as possible and the necessary infrastructure investment follows.”

Meanwhile, Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster jointly welcomed the announcement of the £15m as a first step toward recovery.

Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster Chief Executives Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill said: “This is a welcome first step towards the recovery and reopening of the impacted businesses. The next challenge will be getting the funding structure in place and payments distributed as quickly as possible.

“While this funding is welcome, much more will be needed to ensure Newry, Downpatrick and the other areas affected can rebuild for a speedy return to normal trading.

“Speed is of the essence to ensure that these businesses do not miss the vital Christmas trading season.”