Flood Defence Schemes

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 17th October 2002.

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Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater 11:30 am, 17th October 2002

What guidelines she gives to flood defence schemes in flood plains.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

DEFRA provides a wide range of guidance to promote the development of economically, technically and environmentally sound and sustainable solutions to flood management and coastal erosion problems. It has been developed over the years, through extensive consultation, and is kept under constant review in the light of research and other policy developments.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater

I am sure that the Under-Secretary knows about the Parrett catchment project in my constituency. The Environment Agency, which is charged with the work of flood defence in my patch, is finding it harder to understand where it is going. The Parrett catchment project is presenting schemes and ideas that step on the Environment Agency's toes. Will the Under-Secretary please ensure that there are clear lines of understanding about who is responsible for what in my constituency? We are beginning to reach the stage when people, especially landowners, are worrying about who is in charge of flood defence schemes in Bridgwater and west Somerset.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There is no confusion about who is in charge of flood schemes in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The Parrett catchment strategy, project and study is a good example of bringing together local people and the wide range of different groups with different interests. In the past, those differences led to severe conflict in the area. It has been resolved by bringing people together. All groups and individuals who have been involved in the Parrett catchment initiative deserve credit. Of course, they are entitled to present ideas. Some may not be feasible; some may be long term and others may be relevant to the strategies for improving flood defences in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

The Environment Agency is considering some of those ideas, but ultimately, it will present the plans, and my Department will scrutinise them to ascertain their environmental impact, the cost-benefit analysis and whether they are technically suitable.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I fully support the Parrett catchment project, which, as the Minister said, is doing an extremely good job of bringing together disparate voices in the Somerset levels communities and perhaps showing a way forward for the rest of the country in inland flood defence.

Earlier, the Under-Secretary referred to the use of land for water retention. I believe that a significant problem remains. Of course, it is possible to use stewardship schemes, but will that constitute a sustainable income for farmers in future? Can the Under-Secretary assure farmers that they will have a sustainable income for sustainable practice on the levels?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It should be made clear that a stewardship scheme is not meant to be an alternative subsidy to the CAP. We are trying to move away from production support. The idea of stewardship schemes is recognising that farmers have land management skills and can provide a wide range of benefits, of which water management could be one. The payment reflects the job that they do. It will be geared to that commitment. I have made it clear that I believe that there is scope for that. We have to examine each scheme on its merits because, in some cases, water retention schemes require large areas of land and they may not be the solution to flood control.

However, the Somerset levels area, which is internationally important, is already in an environmentally sensitive areas scheme and has a range of different support structures, which could be integrated to achieve a range of benefits, including nature conservation, sustainable farming and flood defence. The Parrett catchment scheme and group are playing an important role in that.