Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:46 pm on 8th February 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis Conservative, Banbury 1:46 pm, 8th February 2019

I did not think we would get on to this Bill today, but I am thrilled that we have, because I have always felt strongly about flooding. That is partly because of my paternal grandfather, who always used to say that there was no better sound than that of a well-running drain. Also, I hesitate to say this but my mother is Welsh and Wales does suffer from a certain amount of wet weather. So this runs, as it were, in my veins, and I grew up to become a barrister who prosecuted water companies, and I was always very interested in the way in which we could regulate both clean raw water and the clean water in our taps. As we all know, many in this House have tried very hard to reduce the amount of plastic waste that we produce, and one way to do that is to drink tap water instead of drinking water out of plastic bottles. I was glad to see from my prosecution days that the water that runs out of our taps is of very superior quality.

I now have the honour to represent Banbury and Bicester. They are wonderful places in many ways, but it has to be said that we are quite damp locally: not as damp possibly as the constituency of my hon. Friend David Warburton, but we do suffer from a very high water table. I met the Environment Agency last week and was very pleased to be shown the map of my constituency. I say I was very pleased, but in fact I was completely horrified because it showed the quality of raw water described in colours, with the darker the colour meaning the more worried we should be. Part of me was proud to see that the only green on the map represents a very small area very near where my family farms; part of me was pleased about that and I keep meaning to mention it to my father—perhaps I am doing to so in the Chamber this afternoon—who I know would be proud. The rest of the map was very troubling, however. Most of it was dark orange and some areas were red. The Environment Agency explained that there are reasons for that: apparently if a drainage course is altered, that in itself can lead to an area being in the red, as it were, and it does not necessarily mean the quality of the raw water is of concern. In looking at this matter, we might therefore need to consider whether the mechanisms we use to measure water quality are a little clunky; the Minister might want to address that later.

It is worrying, however, that an area that is damp—traditionally, geographically—and where the water quality really matters to us should have this problem. As Members know, we are very keen on our house building programme locally; we are keen to promote growth, but we are also keen that this should not be at the expense of the natural environment. I have asked the Environment Agency to follow up what it told me last week and I will be continuing to monitor this matter very closely.

The other reason I am particularly proud to speak this afternoon is that, following severe flooding in my area over the winter of 2015-16—some years after the floods mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome—over £200 million was made available to help communities and businesses across the UK recover and a further £130 million was given to be spent on repairing damaged transport infrastructure. We were very interested in that scheme and responded to it.

Many of my constituents will recall the Easter of 1998 not as a time of celebration but as a time of severe devastation. Heavy rain caused a flood that closed our railway station and many roads. Approximately 125 residential and 35 commercial properties were affected, resulting in more than £12.5 million of damage. Another flood in the summer of 2007 reinforced the need for a comprehensive flood alleviation scheme in Banbury.

The geography of the valley alongside the river that runs through Banbury makes the town susceptible to flooding following heavy rain. The alleviation scheme consists of five elements: a large flood storage reservoir upstream of Banbury; a key elevated highway into the community; new earth embankments, flood walls and pile walls in strategic locations; a new pumping station; and a bio-habitat, complete with ponds, trees and hedgerows. The scheme has worked enormously well, transforming both the town and the area downstream of Banbury, where I live, which used to suffer from being flooded on purpose when Banbury was at risk.

The other thing that makes me particularly proud of the scheme is that it was funded by a combination of means, both private and public, and the model should be considered and taken up nationwide. The project was funded by the regional flood defence committee, Cherwell District Council, Thames Water and Network Rail and was brilliantly spearheaded by the Environment Agency. Prodrive, a private motorsport company, also constructed part of the defences to protect its bases on Chalker Way. The scheme is a good example of how to deal with flooding, and this Bill is a good and sensible step forward.