Flooding (England)

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 9th July 2007.

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Photo of Hazel Blears Hazel Blears The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party 3:31 pm, 9th July 2007

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words of welcome. I have no doubt that Greater Manchester will figure significantly in our discussions. He asked me to make sure that progress is tracked carefully; I entirely agree that we need to make sure that we keep our focus on the events that occurred.

I am particularly pleased that our regional Ministers will also be playing a role, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber, who has been extremely involved in taking these issues up in recent days.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the matter of support to businesses, which is important. I visited Meadowhall, the shopping centre in Sheffield, which had been quite badly affected by the flooding, and that was particularly true of the retail businesses. Yorkshire Forward has set up a scheme and has provided £1 million to help small businesses. Advantage West Midlands is looking at something similar, and there is something similar in the east midlands as well. The regional development agencies will therefore help businesses with their immediate costs.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Bellwin threshold, which is 0.2 per cent. of local authority budgets, will still be in place. We have extended the grant to cover 100 per cent. of costs, which is a significant expansion, but the threshold will still be in place. He asked about the capacity of the insurance industry, particularly in relation to assessors. The Association of British Insurers indicates that the process of getting assessors in is well under way. Certainly, on my visits, I found some variation in the responses of different insurance companies. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, and the relevant Ministers from the Treasury, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, I hope, from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform are meeting the insurance industry tomorrow, so I hope that the House appreciates how seriously we are taking the issue of insurance to make sure that claims are dealt with speedily and fairly and that there is sufficient capacity to get on with things, because that is a top priority for members of the public. The hon. Gentleman mentioned builders, and we need to be careful that reputable builders are involved in the restoration work.

I mentioned the new planning guidance, PPS25, and we need to make sure that it operates properly, that we manage the risk of building on the floodplain and, where there is development, that it is appropriate to the area. We will continue to keep a close eye on that. The £800 million for flood prevention is to be made available for the next comprehensive spending review period. I am not in a position, and nor is my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary, to give the profiling of that expenditure as yet, but I take note of the hon. Gentleman's request that it kick in as soon as practicable to meet requirements.