Environment Food and Rural Affairs
Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Meriden, Conservative)
Over recent weeks we have seen exceptional amounts of rainfall, culminating in the flooding seen in June and most recently over the past couple of weeks. The period from April to June has been the wettest on record and the Government and other agencies have mounted a co-ordinated response in the face of this unseasonal weather.
Earlier in July, areas of south and east Devon received the average rainfall for the whole of July in only 18 hours, with up to 50 mm recorded. Recent flooding has been exacerbated by the wet ground conditions from the exceptionally wet weather through June.
We estimate the number of properties affected in England to be at least 3,000, but as final numbers are collated across the impacted areas this could rise to 4,000. Our sympathies are with all those who have suffered flooding, especially those in the worst affected areas including Crawshawbooth, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Dorset. The Environment Agency estimates that 80 properties were flooded over the weekend in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Shropshire. I know that local communities are pulling together as the recovery operation begins in earnest, and I hope that all will be able to return to their homes as soon as possible.
The Government have activated the Bellwin scheme of emergency financial assistance to help local authorities affected by the recent floods with the immediate costs associated with protecting life and property in their areas. Exceptionally, the scheme will reimburse local authorities for 100% of their eligible costs above threshold, instead of the standard 85% as stated in the Bellwin scheme guidance. This is in recognition of the particular circumstances around these floods and will give the affected local authorities assurance that such costs will be reimbursed.
Protecting our communities against flooding is a vital area of the work of Government, and I am pleased to say that during the events in June and July to date, the Environment Agency estimates that at least 37,000 properties in England have been protected which would otherwise have flooded, through a combination of flood defences, maintenance work, storage basins and temporary defence measures. An example of the benefit of recently
completed flood defences is Carlisle—devastatingly flooded in 2005—which has now been saved twice from serious flooding since the defences were built. In addition, flood warnings have been issued to over 167,000 properties.
In our changing climate, we will never be able to completely prevent flooding as we have seen this past fortnight, and also In June. However, through the excellent preparations and work of front-line responders, including the police, fire service, local authorities and the Environment Agency, and the investment being made by Government, we are better prepared for flooding than ever before.
The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Richard Benyon who is responsible for the natural environment and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Robert Neill will be giving a technical briefing for MPs from relevant affected constituencies this afternoon.
With the immediate outlook continuing unsettled, further flooding is a possibility and the Government and relevant agencies remain vigilant. People should continue to be alert to forecasts and warnings, and be prepared to respond if required.