Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions
Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Meriden, Conservative)
Over recent weeks we have seen extraordinary amounts of rainfall, culminating in the flooding earlier this month when parts of Sussex experienced almost two months’ rainfall in just 36 hours, and most recently over the past weekend.
Some areas in Cumbria, Lancashire and west Yorkshire saw a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours, but Cumbria had the highest rainfall, at 210 mm, with 200 mm in Honister, compared with between 80 mm and 100 mm elsewhere in the region. That extreme rainfall caused rivers to rise to unprecedented levels in some cases, and to flooding being experienced on Friday and overnight into Saturday.
I do understand the devastation that is caused to people whose homes and businesses are flooded; it has happened to me. We expect the number of properties affected to be at least 1,200 as final numbers are collated throughout the impacted areas. My thoughts go out to all those who have suffered flooding, especially those in the worst affected areas, including Crawshawbooth, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd. I know that local communities rallied round as the recovery operation began in earnest, and I hope that all will be able to return to their homes as soon as possible.
I should also like to take this opportunity to praise the excellent response from our front-line emergency services. I am delighted to report that, thanks in no small part to their efforts, there was no loss of life and few serious injuries. I am also very grateful for the diligent work of the Met Office and the Environment Agency staff in the Flood Forecasting Centre. Their forecasts, from the middle of last week, foresaw the event unfolding and meant that much work was possible in advance to lessen its impact.
Teams of Environment Agency and local authority staff were out before the flood waters arrived, clearing drains, testing defences and preparing flood basins. Flood warnings were issued to more than 7,000 properties, and flood warning sirens sounded in Todmorden and Hebden Bridge.
Protecting our communities against flooding is a vital area of the work of government, and I am pleased to say that the Environment Agency estimates that 11,000 properties were protected in the areas affected through a combination of flood defences, maintenance work, storage basins and temporary measures. For every property flooded, another 10 or so were not.
In Carlisle, the defences built following the 2005 floods have now prevented a repeat of that devastating event twice: in 2009 and this weekend. On Saturday, river levels in Carlisle were actually higher than they were in 2005.
In our changing climate, we will never be able to prevent flooding completely, as we have seen over this past weekend and earlier in June. Through the excellent
preparations and work of front-line responders, including the police, the fire service, the Environment Agency and local authorities, and through the more than £2 billion of investment being made by the Government, however, we are better prepared for flooding than ever before.