Flooding, Lincolnshire

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28 January 1959.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooman-White.]

10.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey De Freitas Mr Geoffrey De Freitas , Lincoln

I wish to refer to the problem of the floods in Lincoln and the surrounding countryside. It is a substantial problem known to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as well as to the citizens in that area. I have received a large number of letters from citizens of Lincoln ever since July. The volume has increased during the last few days. The writers protest about the situation in which they find themselves.

The county newspaper, the Lincolnshire Echo, reported only last Saturday that the local authority had stated that the floods have gone down so that no longer was there danger to over 1,000 houses on the Boultham Estate. The Lincolnshire Echo reported that the Witham, Brayford and Fossedyke were even higher than in July. The seriousness of these floods is common knowledge, especially among those who live the lower part of the city.

I have had a great deal of correspondence from farmers and from the National Farmers' Union. I see the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) in his place. I shall certainly give him time to speak on behalf of his constituents. The reason why I deliberately chose as my title for the Adjournment debate "Lincoln and Lincolnshire" is that this is not merely a city or county problem. It has to be tackled altogether.

The National Farmers' Union pointed out that 4,000 acres were flooded and that winter corn had been damaged. A true measure of the problem is that only in July, six months ago, floods reduced the cereal yield by 50 per cent., and even more in the case of root crops, where they could be harvested at all.

I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is well aware of the problem, because it happens that his constituency adjoins mine on the other side and is affected, too. During the last weekend a senior drainage engineer from the Department has been in Lincoln, someone who originally came from that part of the country; so probably he has known of the problem for many years. The city and county authorities, the Lincolnshire River Board the Upper Witham Internal Drainage Board and the British Transport Commission all know about the problem.

The Government must take into account that things are not going well. First, there is no evidence that the problem has been solved. The expedients which have been tried have failed. Secondly, there is no confidence on the part of the public in the present methods of constituting and financing river and drainage boards. Differences between the boards and authorities, the public believe, are leading to recriminations and buck passing. I will illustrate all these points.

On the first point, after 1947"in the heart of the City of Lincoln a new sluice was built at Brayford. Yet the water in these last few days in Brayford itself has been dangerously high. I illustrate the second point by what my constituents feel about the drainage board, to which they contribute, as ratepayers, 60 per cent, of the amount contributed locally, after the central Government's grant has been made. Yet my constituents have only four representatives on the board out of 23. A measure of the importance which the city corporation attaches to these matters is that nearly every time they are discussed, whether by the Board or at ad hoc meetings, the corporation delegation is led by the leader of the council. Alderman Snook.

The third point, that differences between the different boards and authorities are leading to recrimination and buck passing, is illustrated by the fact that farmers tell me the Transport Commission is to blame because it is trying to maintain the level of navigation to at least 5 ft. Yet it is under an obligation to maintain that level for navigation and I very much hope it will continue to do so. I do not want to debate the whole subject of whether it is desirable for the river to be preserved for navigation. We can do that in a week or so, when the subject comes up for discussion, but the fact is that the Transport Commission is under an obligation to preserve the river for navigation and farmers allege that that is one of the causes of the flooding which they face.

Then there is the conflict between the boards and the city, particularly on the amount of money ratepayers have to contribute and the small amount of representation. In recent weeks there have been rumours of disagreement between the Ministry and the board on certain technical engineering matters. When the Government have taken these matters into account, as I trust they will, they must do something else. They cannot sit around like Canute's courtiers, waiting in the hope that something will not happen. Things do happen; the water does come up.

I suggest, first, that the Government must immediately consider a bold scheme embracing the whole of the river. We cannot pay off the city against the county and we cannot play off the upper parts of the Witham against the lower parts of Holland. I see that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher) agrees. I suggest that the Government should consider widening the river above the city and below the city and then pumping at Boston so that water can go out to the sea whatever the state of the tide.

I do not need to remind the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of this, but few people realise that although Lincoln is many miles from the sea the river is tidal far up the river towards Lincoln. Whatever we do we must take account of that fact. The first point is to consider a bold scheme for drastic relief in this way. Secondly, the Government must immediately inquire into the present system of financing and constituting the authorities and boards. Thirdly, the Government must assure the ratepayers of Lincoln and Lincolnshire that central Government money will not be allowed to stand in the way of a well-thought-out engineering scheme.

I am encouraged by the words the Joint Parliamentary Secretary used on 23rd July last year, when he said that he foresaw no difficulty in financing for the river boards. I do not want to quote him out of context. It was not exactly in this context, but for a different scheme. I hope that the Government can say there will not be financial problems in financing a bold scheme if that is thought to be desirable technically.

As all Lincoln and Lincolnshire Members know, the River Witham has a long history. It has served the county well for thousands of years and it serves us well today for angling, for navigation, for watering stock, and as a foreground for the British Railways' posters advertising beautiful Britain, because we have the Witham at the Glory Hole and the Witham at the Brayford. But the Witham must be disciplined. It is nonsense to reach a stage of material development where the householder in Lincoln and the farmer in the county can look at his television set and see the triumphs of engineering and rockets dashing into space, and then go outside and find his fields flooded and his kitchen under water twice a year.

I am reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Holmes) that this happens twice a year. My hon. Friend, who previously was not my constituent, has come to live in my constituency and has become a very good constituent. I hope that I shall have his vote at the next General Election.

We cannot be courtiers of King Canute about this; we cannot merely wish that it should not happen, because it does happen, now, unfortunately, not once but twice a year. I make no apology for returning to the subject tonight. Nothing is gained unless such a problem is raised continually in the House. I know that from the history of Pelham Bridge. In this case, I have the advantage of the well-trained and well-tuned ear of the Join; Parliamentary Secretary, who has a direct interest in this matter.

10.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Marcus Kimball Mr Marcus Kimball , Gainsborough

I am grateful to the hon. Member, for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) for what he said and for giving me the opportunity to occupy one minute of the debate, because this is riot a party political matter. It is a problem which affects not only the City of Lincoln but the whole of Lincolnshire and all hon. Members who represent the city and the county.

The distressing thing is that the flooding which happened last week is exactly similar to that which happened in July, and until my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who I know gives the utmost priority to this problem, can decide on a way of getting the water quickly round Lincoln, the difficulty will persist. The difficulty arises from the fact that the water is blocked at the City of Lincoln and, with all the water which is held up by the City, between the River Trent and Lincoln, we can do nothing more.

I hope that in reply to the debate my hon. Friend will say something about a scheme for getting the water away, round Lincoln, and, most important of all, something about dealing with the floods on the River Till and the tributaries of the Till, where most of the damage is done.

10.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

I am glad that the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) has initiated this debate tonight and given me the opportunity to make a further statement on the position in relation to the flooding problems of Lincoln and of the agricultural land, mainly upstream of Lincoln, which has been affected twice in the last twelve months. I am afraid that I shall not have time to go into this matter at length, because it is involved, but in the course of my remarks I will try to pick up some of the points which the hon. Member raised.

I should like to take up the story from the point which we had reached when we last discussed this problem in the House in July last year on the instigation of my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball), as the problem is still, in essence, the same as it was then. The last week has seen a recurrence of flooding, particularly in the area of the River Till and, to a lesser degree, in the City of Lincoln itself. I am glad to think, however, that the flooding this time was of relatively short duration; I understand from the hon. Member for Lincoln that 4,000 acres were flooded and I very much hope that the figure has decreased by now. I hope that the damage done will prove to be very much less serious than that last summer.

In relation to the River Till, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough mentioned in particular, I understand that an improvement scheme is being prepared for the main river length of the River Till and that it will be submitted by the River Board to my regional engineer in the next week or two. If this is approved—and if it is a sound engineering project we shall seek to approve it as quickly as possible—it will stop the overflow of the River Till main river bank. That, I think, is a most important point for the constituency of my hon. Friend.

The problems of drainage in this area are very complicated, partly by the number of authorities involved as, for instance, in the maintenance of the Fossdyke, and the position of the British Transport Commission in relation to the banks of the Witham below Lincoln. The main problem, however, remains the bottleneck through the City of Lincoln itself, and the solution of this problem forms the central part of the major improvement scheme put forward by the Lincolnshire River Board, to which I referred in the debate on 22nd July last. This is the core of the problem, and as my time is very short I should like to devote my remarks mainly to it.

The Board submitted a scheme to my Ministry for approval, in principle, towards the end of last July. The total cost of the scheme was approaching £1 million. It was designed to deal with the needs of the Upper Witham, the portion through Lincoln itself and the consequent need for work on the Witham below Lincoln. In August, detailed discussions took place between the Board and senior officials of my Ministry, and between the Board and the British Transport Commission, and during this month also the N.F.U. made representations, saying that in its view the proposed scheme would not be adequate to serve the need. Steps were also taken by my Ministry to try to help resolve the problems between the River Board and the Transport Commission.

As a result of this, a further meeting took place at the Ministry of Transport on 4th September, while on 9th September, Sir James Turner led a deputation to the Ministry to express doubts about the capacity of the scheme put forward by the River Board to deal with the possible flow of water through Lincoln. I mention these things to show their interlocking. My senior engineers did not feel that they could reach a conclusion about the scheme until they were provided with much fuller plans by the River Board, and a further meeting took place with the Board's engineers on 25th September, as a result of which the Board agreed to make further investigations. Further meetings took place in October and November, and still further details had to be called for in relation to the scheme put forward. In the meantime, the negotiations with the British Transport Commission were making more satisfactory progress with a view to establishing a permanent solution of the responsibility of maintaining the banks of the river below Lincoln.

The need for all these many consultations must, I know, be a source of irritation to all those who are anxiously awaiting the commencement of the actual work on the scheme; but, with a scheme of this magnitude, it is essential that we should be satisfied that the work to be undertaken will provide a lasting solution to the problem. In this connection, the House will be interested to know that, as a result of discussions with my Ministry, the engineer to the River Board has just revised his figures of the maximum likely flow through Lincoln in flood conditions, and is about to advise his Board that exceptional flood conditions could involve a flow through Lincoln 25 per cent, greater than the quantity allowed for in the scheme submitted last year.

This tends to confirm the fears expressed on behalf of the N.F.U. by Sir James Turner in September, and my right hon. Friend has, this week, seen the Chair man of the Lincolnshire River Board, and has asked him to defer the scheme put forward originally, and to have urgent engineering assessments made of the practicability of providing a new channel to by-pass Lincoln on the southern side—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey De Freitas Mr Geoffrey De Freitas , Lincoln

To by-pass Lincoln on the southern side. Does that mean it will go through Lincoln itself or really be a by-pass round the city?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

Yes, it will be a by-pass around the city. That is the suggestion which has been put forward.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I understand that, and we are all very grateful. Would it not help to do this if the Government came to some conclusion about the Heneage Report. I received the Report of that Committee nearly ten years ago, but it has still not been implemented.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

If there were time, I should be delighted to deal with the topic of the Heneage Report, but the difficulty is that the drainage in question is outside the scope of the Heneage Report, because the area is already a drainage area and therefore the Report has little bearing on this problem. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not realise that. It is a matter which I should be happy to debate if I had enough time, but it would not be fair to the hon. Member for Lincoln to do so now.

As I was saying before the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) intervened—and we all welcome his presence tonight—the problems which we have here are that we have to try to push forward, having decided that we must Investigate this alternative scheme, as quickly as we can. This is bound to be a highly complicated matter, but I have expressed my urgent hope to the River Board that the full survey plan for this alternative route will be completed in a matter of six months from now.

In the meantime, it is clear that considerable work will be called for downstream of Lincoln, whatever the final decision on the passage through or around Lincoln itself. The Chairman of the River Board has today been asked to consider urgently what works his Board would be prepared to recommend to be carried out during the present year on the main watercourse downstream of Lincoln. That was a point which the hon. Member for Lincoln had very much in mind. That is the line we are taking with the River Board, but in this respect the Board is an autonomous body and although we can urge it to take action, we must leave the final decision in its hands.

In the meantime, since the disastrous floods of last summer, some preparatory work has already been carried out on the River Brant while the North Hykeham pumping station is in course of erection and the Upper Witham Drainage Board is going ahead with its plans for further pumping stations on the Oxpastures Drain and on the Bassingham and Burton Drains. The project is very extensive and it depends for its success on an effective solution for the bottleneck through Lincoln.

The negotiations which have already taken place may appear to have occupied a considerable period of time, but if this very full consideration does lead to a more secure long-term solution, then both the people of Lincoln and the farmers of Lincolnshire, for both of whom the hon. Member has spoken, will have reason to be glad when these plans in the long-term prove their value.

The hon. Member asked me one or two questions, one of which concerned the City of Lincoln's representation on the Upper Witham Internal Drainage Board. As I understand the position, it is that since the Board was set up, the number of dwellings in Lincoln has considerably increased. To get a re-assessment to enable the city to have more representatives, the city must make representations to the River Board and ask the Board to put forward an amending scheme for the internal drainage board concerned. The position can be dealt with under present legislation. What the City of Lincoln has to do is to ask the River Board to bring forward an amending scheme covering this internal drainage board. The River Board has powers to amend the scheme in such a way as to provide greater representation for Lincoln.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey De Freitas Mr Geoffrey De Freitas , Lincoln

Will the representation be increased to anything like the 60 per cent, which is Lincoln's financial contribution to the Board? Will it be increased by four, five, or six members out of twenty-three?

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

It could bring it up considerably. Without the facts and figures I should not like to say to what extent, but there is a definite provision to enable them to increase their representation, which I am sure will be welcomed by the hon. Member.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey De Freitas Mr Geoffrey De Freitas , Lincoln

It is better than nothing.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

Well, I am sure that, with the high standard of representation which Lincoln enjoys, they will be able to hold their own—[Interruption.]If the right hon. Member for Belper wishes a debate on the Heneage Report, I should be happy to debate it with him, if he will put down a Motion on another day. Tonight I am trying to deal with the subject raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln.

The hon. Member suggested that there should be some sort of overall review because of disagreement, to which he referred, between different bodies. What I have said will indicate that we have achieved a large measure of agreement about what is required. It has been difficult to get complete agreement, but we have reached the stage where there is agreement on what is required. Now it is purely a matter of engineering problems which are great, as we have to get through the difficult bottleneck in Lincoln, but I do not think that there is any need for a special review or inquiry. Representatives of the River Board met my Ministry today, and we have gone into this matter with them.

I hope that will show that we realise the importance of this matter and are pressing on as fast as we can. It affects the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and my own constituency, and I can assure the House that anything I can do to hurry this matter forward will be done. I hope that the hon. Member for Lincoln will realise from what I have said that we are doing all we can. I shall look forward to the pleasure of replying to the right hon. Member for Belper on a future occasion on the subject of the Heneage Report—

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

The hon. Member will be on the Opposition side of the House on that occasion.

Photo of Mr Joseph Godber Mr Joseph Godber , Grantham

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that, he will be gravely disappointed.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.