MP accused of being ‘alarmist’ over claims that York businesses were ‘4m underwater’

‘York is open for business’ – Cllr Stuart Rawlings
9 Dec 2015 @ 8.50 pm
| News, Politics

York Central MP Rachael Maskell has been accused of being ‘alarmist’ and ‘misleading’ after she told the Commons that York businesses were four metres underwater.

During a debate about the floods on Monday (December 7), Ms Maskell asked Environment Secretary Liz Truss:

This morning I met businesses in York who are over four metres underwater.

This is the second flooding they have had within a month. Will the Secretary of State ensure that basics like sandbags and pumps are available free for businesses, because they pay a heavy price when flooding occurs?

Her intervention was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 during the Today programme on Tuesday (December 8).

But the Labour MP was accused of exaggerating the effects of the floods in York – and detracting from the areas badly hit.

Cllr Stuart Rawlings, the Conservative deputy group leader on City of York Council, said that these claims were “inaccurate and unhelpful to York traders in the run up to Christmas”.

He toured the city with the multi-agency York Flood Group on Monday and said the rising waters did indeed peak at 4.3 metres.

Cllr Rawlings said the measures taken by the council flood team and others were “extremely impressive”. “Fortunately flooding was limited to the usual areas affected when the Ouse overruns its banks and places such as St George’s Field were closed as a matter of course.”

He added:

Whilst not wanting to minimise any inconvenience experienced by those affected by this rise, York’s city centre was in no way impacted by this minor flooding, nor was access to our major shopping precincts.

Rachael Maskell’s alarmist comments on the floor of the House of Commons and broadcast on the BBC were therefore sending out exactly the wrong message at a time when businesses in York depend on increased footfall during the Christmas shopping period.

Her remarks also served to detract attention from areas of the country such as Cumbria which are truly suffering.

Perhaps next time she comments on York she will check her sources on the accuracy of her comments.

“York is indeed open for business and we wish all traders a very successful Christmas season,” said Cllr Rawlings.

‘Traders clearly upset’

Rachael Maskell in the House of Commons. Photograph: UK Parliament / YouTube
Rachael Maskell in the House of Commons. Photograph: UK Parliament / YouTube

But Ms Maskell hit back at the claims. She said:

On Monday morning I visited the Kings Staith/ Cumberland Street area and I met business owners who told me their businesses were badly hit by flooding.

Some had their cellars flooded and others were concerned that the contaminated flood water would prevent them from serving food and drink in the run up to Christmas.

This is one of their busiest times and they were clearly upset.

The MP acknowledged “all the hard work that the council, the Environment Agency and others are doing to help.

“However, some business owners told me that they had to pay for sandbags and pumps.”

She added:

I made the point in Westminster that flooding is an emergency and sandbags and pumps should be freely available to businesses when this happens.

We all need to pull together when the city is hit by flooding, it is not a time for political point scoring.