Northern Ireland

Concerns over lack of flood relief payments as Downpatrick railway faces £500,000 repair bill

Downpatrick and Co Down Railway was completely swamped by floodwater last month. Now facing an estimated repair bill of around £500,000, they have been ruled out of a flood relief scheme along with many other affected businesses.
Downpatrick and Co Down Railway was completely swamped by floodwater last month. Now facing an estimated repair bill of around £500,000, they have been ruled out of a flood relief scheme along with many other affected businesses. Downpatrick and Co Down Railway was completely swamped by floodwater last month. Now facing an estimated repair bill of around £500,000, they have been ruled out of a flood relief scheme along with many other affected businesses.

A railway visitor attraction in Downpatrick and other businesses affected by recent flooding have said a relief scheme is not getting to all those who need it.

The relief scheme worth £15m is being administered by Newry Mourne and Down District Council, offering a one-off payment of £7,500 as well as rates relief for affected businesses.

But it has been reported that lfewer than half of those who applied (106 out of 236) across the Newry, Mourne and Down area have been successful.

Among those turned down was the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway, which has been unable to reopen since the floods.

Ruled ineligible as they have flood insurance, the charity said that at best this would only cover half the damage which they have estimated as high as £500,000.

Read more

Government ‘underprepared for extreme weather impact on people and businesses'

Downpatrick railway attraction and town centre swamped by flood waters

Newry law firm provides staff with vouchers to spend at flood-hit businesses

After a month of inspecting the damage, the railway’s chairman Robert Gardiner said many businesses in Downpatrick feel abandoned.

 “It feels like everyone rushes to you to offer support, but they wait until the cameras leave before saying no,” he told the Irish News.

“The problem is that the flood insurance we have is for things like pipes freezing in the winter, not a the huge-scale deluge that we had.

“It should cover us up to £250,000 but as we assess the site it’s scary and looks like more than half a million.”

Downpatrick Railway chairman Robert Gardiner (right) met with Northern Ireland Office Minister Lord Caine last month to survey the flooding damage.
Downpatrick Railway chairman Robert Gardiner (right) met with Northern Ireland Office Minister Lord Caine last month to survey the flooding damage. Downpatrick Railway chairman Robert Gardiner (right) met with Northern Ireland Office Minister Lord Caine last month to survey the flooding damage.

He added that it was a sharp reminder of a struggle by charities to get support during the Covid pandemic.

“So I’m not surprised because it always happens, but this is way beyond something that we can probably deal with.”

Alliance MLA for South Down, Patrick Brown, said he had surveyed around 70 businesses around Downpatrick.

“Rates relief for those who were flooded is automatic, but not for the cash payment,” he said.

“The criteria for the £7,500 is actually pretty stringent. Council are claiming this has been set by HM Treasury, and that if you have flood insurance you are ineligible regardless of whether people actually get a payout.”

Stating that the vast majority of the £15m has yet to be paid out, he said more of a tailor-made solution was needed.

“The railway certainly aren’t alone in being rejected. There’s a football club in Killyleagh who were insured for their club house.

“But their pitch was flooded as well so that’s something they’re going to have to suck up unless they can get some sort of support.”

Mr Brown said his party has suggested extending rates relief to entire town centres, accounting for the businesses that weren’t flooded but lost out on trade due to road closures, as well as investing in business regeneration bodies for the local area.

Downpatrick town centre was among the places flooded during last month's storms (Peter Morrison/PA)
Downpatrick town centre was among the places flooded during last month's storms (Peter Morrison/PA) Downpatrick town centre was among the places flooded during last month's storms (Peter Morrison/PA)

A council spokesperson said the grant scheme was supporting occupiers of flooded businesses with immediate response and clean-up costs but did not cover those with flood insurance.

“Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, working with the relevant Government Departments, will continue to signpost businesses to sources of support during the recovery period,” they said.

They added that a second round of funding was on the way, pending UK Treasury approval.

Meanwhile, Asda have confirmed plans to open a temporary store in Downpatrick after their superstore in Ballydugan Retail Park was badly damaged in the flooding.

Subject to planning permission, a 14,000 sq ft temporary store will open on January 31 and will remain for 18-24 months while repair works are carried out.