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Working Lunch report
"Businesses cannot afford more flood loss."
 real 56k

Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 12:31 GMT
Murky future for flood-hit firms
Interior - flood damage
Many businesses are unable to use their shops and factories
The appalling weather during the past few weeks has left thousands of home owners and businesses counting the cost. The BBC's Working Lunch has been in the town of Lewes where Ian Jolly has been surveying the damage.

The immediate priorities are drying out premises, assessing how much stock has been damaged and pushing insurance companies for swift pay-outs.

But other problems have become apparent to those still recovering from the floods which hit the South-East earlier in October.

The pretty town of Lewes in Sussex suffered its worst flooding for 40 years.

Hundreds of residents were moved from their homes and many businesses are still unable to use their shops and factories.

Facing the big bill

Cliffe High Street, below the River Ouse and most badly affected, is still in a terrible state.

David Dryburgh, Lewes Glass
Businesses fear more damage
The narrow street is choked with vans and lorries belonging to the repair teams and shopfitters who are trying to restore this busy trading area to its former glory.

Sussex Enterprise, which has set up a makeshift office in the town to dispense help and advice, estimates businesses are losing a total of 3m every day at the moment.

John Clark's jewellers has been in the family since 1819. It has two shops either side of the bridge over the Ouse.

The bigger shop was wrecked, the floor has now been ripped up and it is in the process of being renovated.

John is trying to be positive, and sees it as an opportunity to move the business forward. The other shop is still trading in appalling conditions.

He is fully insured, but now faces a bill for repairs to the river wall of one of his shops.

He knew the work needed to be done - it is now more urgent than ever - but the cost, an estimated 150,000, could ultimately lead to the collapse of his business.

Contract cancelled

Up the road, antique furniture dealer is trying to get his business back on its feet.

He had no insurance for flood damage, and is busy restoring the pieces which suffered.

He estimates the expenditure will put the business back three months, already a big contract to the United States, due out in November, has had to be cancelled.

The dealer thought the cost of flood insurance was too high and the risk fairly low.

He knows that in future he will have to swallow the extra premium to prevent a recurrence of his present problems.

But, like many businesses, he is looking to the future, and considering whether it is worth persevering in an area clearly susceptible to flooding.

Call for flood-safe business sites

Sousan Azimrayat's company, Application Solutions Limited, supplies hardware and software technology systems to companies including NEC, Bayer, Sony and Siemens.

The riverside premises were totally flooded, but she managed to find offices further up the High Street and the 30 staff have relocated there.

Her big concern is what the local authorities will do now to ensure businesses stay in the town.

She says more land away from the flood plain needs to be freed up for business use, the relevant bodies will have to rethink their development strategies to take this into account.

"The council should look at possibly changing the use of some of the land and buildings they have available to help businesses such as ours," she said.

"If you look at all the businesses supporting the solicitors, the accountants, the sandwich makers and the cleaners, we are bringing business into town and it would not hurt if the town helps us to stay in Lewes."

We'll fight back and do the best we can but I don't think I would want to do it again

David Dryburgh, Lewes Glass
David Dryburgh has spent a decade building up Lewes Glass.

His premises were badly flooded, and he has found temporary accommodation on the coast at Newhaven while he looks for somewhere locally to continue production.

But he has had to lay off four of his 12 employees.

He is worried that, while customers are staying loyal at the moment, his client base might dwindle if he is out of the area for too long.

It is a problem other business are also facing.

"In six months time, if you get heavy rain for two days and you're back in the same factory that's already been flooded once, you can't sleep at night because you're worrying the factory is going to get flooded again," said Mr Dryburgh.

"We'll get through it this time, we'll fight back and do the best we can but I don't think I would want to do it again."

For some, the floods have acted as a watershed in the development of their businesses.

Waiting for government support

Angela Walledge's marketing company had spent more than two years getting its offices just right, only to see the floods devastate everything, from their records to a 20,000 computer system.

She and her staff of five are currently working from her home in Lewes, but she sees the enforced change as an opportunity.

She has landed new business, taken on extra staff and decided to incorporate a design studio into the revamped premises.

But the business community of Lewes is now operating in the shadow of the floods.

There are genuine worries that insurance premiums could rocket, forcing some to move elsewhere. Unless suitable land is made available, Lewes could easily become an industrial and commercial ghost town.

There is also a growing anger at the response from the government.

Local Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker, called in the Commons for help for both residents and businesses, but the noises from the minister were not encouraging.

Businesses believe national government does not understand the scale of the crisis which still envelopes the town. Their concerns were being made public at a meeting to be held on Tuesday.

For the time being, however, the general sentiment is that while Lewes has waited 40 years for these latest floods, climatic changes mean the next disaster could be just around that corner.

That, more than any other financial imperative, will drive their businesses in the future.

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13 Oct 00 | Business
Floods: the cost to business
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