Waveney (Coastal Flooding)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:11 pm on 18th December 2013.

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Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Conservative, Waveney 7:11 pm, 18th December 2013

I am pleased to have secured this debate as I believe that the coastal flooding that took place on 5 December should be considered on the Floor of the House. The storm surge has had a devastating impact on many coastal communities, and there is a strong sense in those communities that Parliament has not properly considered what was a narrowly averted national crisis. Many have seen their homes destroyed, while other homes have been seriously damaged and people will not be able to return home for many months. People have lost possessions that were built up over a lifetime, and many small businesses—some of which had difficulty securing full insurance cover—have been seriously hit.

On small business Saturday when MPs were out promoting small businesses, many firms in coastal communities were busy trying to salvage what was left of their livelihoods. Many of those communities face significant economic challenges, and I am concerned that such events might make it more difficult to attract the inward investment needed to create new jobs.

Although Waveney and Lowestoft are the focus of my remarks, I am aware that these events affected many communities along the North sea coast and that colleagues will have their own specific concerns, some of which I hope I shall be able to address on their behalf. I am conscious that my colleagues, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Brandon Lewis and the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Norman Lamb, have been particularly active in support of communities affected in their constituencies, but they are unable to participate in this debate due to their ministerial responsibilities.

Although no one lost their life as a result of the flooding, my constituent Robert Dellow died in the course of his work as a lorry driver as a result of the high winds. I offer my condolences to his family, friends and work colleagues. Although geographically small areas in Lowestoft and Oulton Broad were affected, the impact has been dramatic. Levington Court is a complex that provides housing and care for vulnerable older people. The residents of the 19 flats on the ground floor have been evacuated, their possessions have been destroyed and they will not be able to return to their homes for some months. The Fyffe Centre provides accommodation for the homeless. Twenty-seven people have been flooded out. It will take some months to refurbish and repair the building before they can return. Other residential areas, including St John’s road and Marine parade, have been hard-hit. Many of the homes are in the rental sector, and people have seen all their possessions destroyed.

Businesses have been hard-hit, including Lings car showroom, the East Coast cinema, Britain’s most easterly cinema, and Buyaparcel. The traders in Bevan Street East, which runs parallel to the street where my office is located, were dealt a particularly savage blow.

Infrastructure was damaged. The A12 from Ipswich was closed for 36 hours, and both train lines—to Norwich and Ipswich—were out of action. A full service on the latter has resumed only today. There was structural damage to coastal defences, and infrastructure at the port of Lowestoft was damaged. The doctor’s surgery at Marine parade has had to move and will probably not return from its new location.

To the south, at Kessingland, the flood defences around the Anglian Water pumping station that serves the community have been badly eroded. There is an urgent need to produce a new flood defence scheme. Until two weeks ago, it was envisaged that that would not be necessary for some years.

The scene is a sad one, but good things come out of adversity. It is important to point out that, owing to the investment in flood defences in the past few years and the way in which coastal flooding is managed, many properties were protected that otherwise would have been flooded. The various statutory authorities, including the Environment Agency, the Met Office, the police and fire services, the Flood Forecasting Centre, Suffolk county council and Waveney district council, were prepared for the event.

Flood warnings were issued in good time, the evacuation generally went smoothly and rest centres were open several hours before high tide. During the evening and the night, they and voluntary organisations such as St John Ambulance and the churches rose to the challenge, co-ordinated their efforts and worked around the clock to support and assist people. Many gave their time voluntarily without being asked to do so. Special thanks are due to them. Thanks should also go to Radio Suffolk and Radio Norfolk, which ensured that vital information went out throughout the night.

The clear-up work began the next day and will take several months to complete. Community champions are emerging. People are giving their time, money, goods and services free of charge to those who have been hard-hit. Malcolm Gibbs, a self-employed painter and decorator, is working for free redecorating properties; Danielle Bailey has launched a Facebook appeal for clothes, carpets, furniture and other goods; and customers of the Oddfellows pub have cleared up Pakefield beach.

It is appropriate to thank the Eastern Daily Press, its editor, Nigel Pickover, its staff and its readers for setting up and giving so generously to the Norfolk and Lowestoft flood appeal, which has raised more than £100,000. The House goes in to recess tomorrow. I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all colleagues a happy and restful Christmas, but we must not forget that many people, not only in Lowestoft but all along the east coast, will not be as fortunate as ourselves.

In the Secretary of State’s written ministerial statement of 10 December, he stated:

“In the next few days, the Government will be discussing with every local authority area affected by the flooding what further help they need to ensure places can quickly get back on their feet.”—[Hansard, 10 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 26WS.]

I would welcome an update from the Minister on how those discussions have gone and what further help is being provided. I would also welcome an assurance that all clean-up costs will be recovered.