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Flood-risk areas fear loss of insurance; UK GOVERNMENT URGED TO SUBSIDISE MOST VULNERABLE.

Byline: DARREN DEVINE

WELSH homeowners and businesses in high-risk flooding areas could be left without insurance unless the UK Government bows to industry calls to offer subsidies to the most vulnerable properties, it has been warned.

The Association of British Insurers has an agreement with the Government to offer flooding cover to every property in Wales and England until June 2013.

But the industry says the deal will not be renewed and successive governments had done little to improve flood defences since the agreement, or statement of principles, was reached in 2000.

Once the agreement ends the industry wants the Government to offer subsidies for premiums on the most vulnerable properties.

Environment Agency Wales (EAW) figures suggest up to 64,000 properties here are at "significant risk" of flooding - defined as a one in 75 or a 1.3% chance in any given year.

Even under the current statement of principles insurers are not obliged to cover these properties and it is feared their position will be more difficult still after June 2013 depending on the quality of local flood defences.

ABI spokesman Malcolm Tarling said: "If we cannot reach some kind of agreement in terms of how we can best protect those who are most at risk of flooding then there could inevitably be some people who are effectively priced out of flood insurance.

"We're not in that position and we're going to do everything we possibly can to avoid that position."

Mr Tarling said elsewhere in Europe, such as in France, insurance subsidies were offered to properties facing the greatest risks.

Tim Maddox, who runs the Tu Hwnt i'r Bont (Beyond the Bridge) cafe, in Llanrwst, Conwy, said he feared the impasse could leave him without insurance.

Mr Maddox, whose Conwy Valley business has flooded virtually every year in the past decade, said a deluge without the security of cover could spell disaster for the cafe.

The 46-year-old businessman, who runs the cafe with wife Iyla, said: "We've had regular floods, but we've always known it was coming so we've moved everything out of danger and never had to claim.

"But we see [insurance] as a necessity because one day something bad is going to happen and if we did flood when we weren't ready for it that could obviously cost us a considerable amount of money."

In its first national assessment of flood risks in Wales in 2009 EAW said around 357,000 properties, or one in six, were at some risk of flooding. The risk varies from the low (a one in 200 chance), to the moderate (between a one in 200 and a one in 75 chance), to the significant.

Conwy is the Welsh local authority area with the highest number of people at significant risk of flooding at just under 10,000. Conwy's risks are associated with its coastal geography. In February 1990 the resorts of Kinmel Bay and Towyn saw 2,800 properties flooded after sea defences failed.

EAW said homeowners and businesses could help protect themselves by taking "resistance" and "resilience" measures.

These could include using waterproof doors and windows or water-resistant wall plaster.

The UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has estimated that repairing a house after a flood can cost between pounds 10,000 and pounds 50,000. The 2007 floods cost the insurance industry pounds 3bn.

Meanwhile, last February coalition Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced 20% cuts in flood defence spending.

A spokesperson for Defra emphasised they were working with the insurance industry to ensure flooding cover remained widely available after June 2013.

She said: "As part of these discussions, over the next few months we will consider whether there are feasible, valuefor-money ways of targeting funding support to those most in need. We will make further announcements in spring next year."

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesperson said they were making significant investments in flood defences, risk management and awareness-raising programmes. "Funding for flood and coastal erosion risk management in Wales has more than tripled since 1999, allowing significant investment in our defence infrastructure."

CAPTION(S):

* Flooding in the Conwy Valley in September inundated Llanrwst
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 29, 2011
Words:690
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