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Flood Response

– in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 10th February 2020.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:09 pm, 10th February 2020

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the significant flooding caused by the heavy rain and severe gale force winds brought by Storm Ciara.

First and foremost, I extend my condolences on behalf of the whole House to the family and friends of the individual who lost his life in Hampshire earlier today; our thoughts are with you.

I also express my support and sympathy to all those whose homes or businesses have been flooded over the weekend. Flooding can have appalling consequences for each individual affected, and I want to provide the assurance today that the Environment Agency, local government and the emergency services are working hard to keep people safe in all the areas affected by this devastating storm.

Storm Ciara brought rainfall ranging between 40 and 80 cm in 24 hours across much of northern England. The highest levels were recorded in Cumbria, with 179.8 cm of rain falling over the course of the day. Particularly severe impacts have been felt along the River Calder in Yorkshire, along the River Ribble in Lancashire, along the Irwell in Greater Manchester, and on the Eden in Appleby. Regrettably, four of these communities—the Calder valley, Whalley and Ribchester, the Rossendale valley and Appleby—were flooded in 2015.

The current estimate is that more than 500 properties have been flooded, but this number is expected to increase as further information is collected. The latest number of properties confirmed to have been flooded are 40 in Cumbria, 100 in Lancashire, 150 in Greater Manchester and 260 in Yorkshire. Defences in Carlisle have held. There is local road disruption across the affected areas, and a shipping container is stuck under Elland bridge. One severe flood warning was issued over the weekend to communicate a “risk to life” along the River Nidd at Pateley Bridge. This has now been removed; flood defences were not overtopped and no properties were flooded. Our coastal communities have also been affected, in parts of the south-west and north-east of England, where high tides, large waves and coastal gales have occurred.

The weather is expected to remain unsettled, and 97 flood warnings are currently still in place. Although river levels in West Yorkshire and Lancashire are now receding, we must expect high river levels further downstream in South Yorkshire over the next few days, so we urge people in at-risk areas to remain vigilant, not to take unnecessary risks and to sign up to receive Environment Agency flood alerts. Some coastal flooding is probable tomorrow, but it is not expected to be in the more serious category.

Extensive work is taking place in the affected areas, including clearing debris that can block up river flow. Environment Agency teams have been deploying temporary flood barriers where necessary. I pay tribute to all the dedicated professionals who are working so hard on the emergency response to the situation—operating flood defences, supporting communities and keeping people safe. That includes the hard-working staff of the Environment Agency, along with local authority teams and, of course, the police and fire services. I also thank all the volunteers who are part of local flood action groups that are helping with the response effort.

Every effort is being made to keep people safe, and I can confirm that the Government are today activating the Bellwin scheme, which will provide significant financial support to the local authorities in the areas affected by Storm Ciara, helping them to fund the cost of recovery. I encourage councils in the areas affected to consider applications to the Bellwin fund.

In a changing climate, we all want our country and our communities to be better protected from flooding, and more resilient when severe weather occurs. In the areas hit by flooding over the weekend, at least 25,000 properties and businesses have been successfully protected by flood defences. But we know that more needs to be done, and we are determined to deliver.

Since the events of Boxing day 2015, we have been taking action on a range of schemes to strengthen defences and improve resilience. We are investing more than ever before in these defences through a £2.6 billion programme up to 2021 to manage flood and coastal erosion risk. This will enable better protection of over 300,000 properties. Early in 2016, we committed an unprecedented £35 million to improve flood protection for homes and businesses in Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and across Calderdale. Construction in Mytholmroyd is progressing and we expect the defences there to be completed in in the summer. We have built 25 new flood defences in Cumbria and Lancashire, protecting 23,100 homes, and 59 new flood defences in Yorkshire, protecting 13,200 homes. In the autumn, I announced an extra £60 million to boost flood schemes in the north, including £19 million for Calder valley. Our manifesto commits us to a further £4 billion of new funding in the five years up to 2026.

In 2016, we introduced the Flood Re scheme to make insurance cover for flooding more affordable and more accessible. Following the flooding in November, I announced an independent review of the data on insurance cover to ensure that that scheme is working as effectively as possible. Since the incidents of 2015, we have strengthened and improved our system of flood warnings, and we have established a flood recovery framework to prepare for and guide flood recovery schemes.

This Government are determined to maintain and enhance our readiness to respond when extreme weather hits our country. Our swift activation of the Bellwin scheme today, and our investment in the biggest ever programme of flood defence improvement, illustrates that determination. We stand ready to help communities to recover from flooding. We are investing in the defences needed in the warmer, wetter, less predictable climate that the scientists tell us we must expect in the years to come. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:16 pm, 10th February 2020

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. I join her in sending our condolences to the family of the man who died in Hampshire.

On behalf of the Opposition, I thank the emergency services, the Environment Agency, local councils, volunteers and communities who have worked tirelessly to protect homes and businesses, and to rescue people and animals from rising waters, fallen trees and debris, as well as all those who have worked to reinforce flood defences, not forgetting the RNLI and our coastguard too.

The reality of the climate crisis is that more extreme weather will happen more often and with more severe consequences, especially for those who live and work in areas of high flood risk. As the climate breakdown escalates, we are seeing an increase in the frequency and intensity of deadly weather patterns. Much more needs to be done to prevent flooding, to alleviate carbon emissions through habitat restoration, and to return flood plains to a natural state. Building homes on flood plains must stop.

The Government need to ask themselves: since Parliament declared a climate emergency, what are they doing differently on flooding—on protecting our communities? Austerity has had a devastating impact on our environment. There have been unprecedented cuts to our local authorities across the country, including the councils that have been most affected by the increased flooding and increased risk of flooding. The Environment Agency has seen its staffing levels fall by 20% since the Government came to power. I want Ministers to look afresh at what can be done now that Parliament has declared a climate emergency. A new plan for flooding should recognise the realities of the climate crisis, reverse the cuts to our frontline services, invest in comprehensive flood prevention, promote land use change, encourage habitat restoration, and acknowledge in the funding settlements for councils the higher risk in areas that face flooding so often.

I recognise that some new flood schemes have been delivered, but the list that the Secretary of State gave out is of what she has done, not what she will do, in response to this flooding. Will she accept that a comprehensive plan for flooding is now needed? Is it now time for Ministers to recognise that requiring match funding for some flood schemes means that poorer communities lose out compared with richer areas? The Environment Agency said only last year that it needs £1 billion a year to protect our communities, and a new approach on flooding. When will Ministers listen to their own Government agency and fund flood protection properly?

Does the Secretary of State have a date for the much-trailed flood summit that the Prime Minister promised last year? Will the trials of the new environmental land management scheme be targeted at the areas where flooding has been most severe this time? What action is she taking to ensure that homes and businesses that have been denied insurance and are still outside the current Flood Re scheme get the affordable protection that they so deserve?

Water is incredibly destructive and can destroy homes, businesses and livelihoods. Many of those flooded this time have been flooded before. Can the Secretary of State give them an assurance that the warm words and Government press releases this time will result in more action than they saw the last time they were flooded?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Where those on the two Front Benches completely agree is on the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis, because inevitably our changing climate leads to more extreme weather. This Government have the most ambitious programme in the world to decarbonise our economy. We are decarbonising faster than any other G7 economy, and we were the first major developed economy to make the legal commitment to net zero. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that habitat restoration, nature-based solutions, peatland restoration and tree planting are all a crucial part of our programme to tackle climate change, but they can also play a critical role in mitigating the impact of flooding. We are determined to deliver on those programmes, which is demonstrated by the revolutionary Environment Bill we have put forward.

I agree that the planning system must take into account flood risk, and there are important principles in the planning system to ensure that it does so. In relation to council funding, I reiterate that the Bellwin scheme was opened this morning by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and I encourage local authorities to submit their applications as soon as possible.

With regard to Environment Agency funding, we are absolutely committed to investing in ensuring that our flood defences are as strong as they can be and that we become more resilient to flooding. That is why our manifesto commits a further £4 billion over five years. We do have a comprehensive plan for flooding, and those investments will be made over the coming years.

The shadow Secretary of State is concerned about match funding, but one of the successes of the funding programme is that we have managed to draw in sources of funding for other areas, to maximise the impact we can have on flood defences. He makes a valid point in relation to environmental land management. We certainly would want to involve a range of locations in our tests and trials, and I very much hope that some of the areas affected by flooding today can be part of that.

Finally, Flood Re has significantly improved access to insurance, and it has kept the costs much lower than they would otherwise be. Virtually 100% of people now have the option of quotes from at least two companies when choosing insurance, but we recognise that there was concern in South Yorkshire after the November flooding incident, so we are reviewing the scheme independently to ensure that it is working as effectively as possible to help people insure in these circumstances.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

Fast-flowing torrents of water damaged homes and businesses across my constituency over the weekend, with communities such as Milnsbridge, Linthwaite, Marsden, Slaithwaite, New Mill, Brockholes and many more suffering at the hands of Storm Ciara. Does the Secretary of State agree that we must get councils clearing culverts and drains of leaves? Does she also agree that, when it comes to housing developments, we must stop this tarmacking and paving of our green fields, which gives no space or capacity for rain run-off when we have severe storms such as these?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I want to take this opportunity to express my support and sympathy for all my hon. Friend’s constituents who have been affected by the very severe weather at the weekend. I certainly agree that it is important for local authorities to undertake appropriate drain clearance as part of their efforts to mitigate flood risk. I also believe that it is important for our planning system to recognise the value of maintaining gardens and green spaces as part of our overall strategy to prevent flooding and mitigate its impacts.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business and Industry)

I thank the Secretary of State for giving us advance sight of her statement. I would like to associate myself and my colleagues with the condolences expressed by the Secretary of State to the family and friends of the gentleman in Hampshire who so sadly lost his life, as well as to those who have seen their properties and businesses affected. I would also like to give our thanks to the volunteers and the many in the public services who have worked so hard over the past 48 hours to keep people safe.

Of course, climate change means that extreme weather events of the kind we have seen in the last 48 hours will become more and more frequent, as will the kinds of statement that the Secretary of State has sadly had to make today in consequence. What steps will her Government take to further improve the resilience of the transport network to cope with events such as we have seen, and will she undertake to be engaged with all the Governments in this island as the aftermath of Storm Ciara is dealt with?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Our £2.6 billion of investment in flood defences up to 2021 has a very strong emphasis on ensuring that our transport networks are more resilient. I would also emphasise that on those matters and many others we are keen to work with the devolved Administrations to the mutual benefit of all our citizens.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Many of my constituents who were flooded last year watch severe weather warnings with dread, expecting to be flooded again every time they see them, and many of them have not been able to apply successfully for Flood Re insurance or for resilience funding. What can the Department do to communicate to councils the importance of working with the people affected—the victims of flooding—to enable them to access this resilience funding?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I would certainly encourage all local authorities to engage with residents affected by flooding in particular areas and with the various schemes that are available.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Labour, Halifax

I cannot begin to convey the sense of absolute devastation across Calderdale that, for so many residents, we are in the same position again, having been flooded in the Boxing day floods in 2015. To update the Secretary of State, we are now looking at 400 residential properties flooded, 400 businesses, eight schools and two care homes, and two bridges have sustained damage. I have written to her today with a number of asks. Will she agree to meet me and representatives from Calderdale Council to go through those in detail so that we can start the recovery? Will she commit to making available the flood grants that came so quickly after those 2015 Boxing day floods, so that we can start that process straight away?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I want to extend my sympathies to all the hon. Member’s constituents—it has been devastating for many of them—and I would be very happy to meet her and representatives from her constituency to discuss what has happened and how we can help in the future.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I thank the Secretary of State for her time yesterday, for making herself available and for the support and help she gave. As I have told her, many of my constituents who were flooded over the weekend are exactly the same people who were flooded on Boxing day 2015, which really is completely unacceptable. Can she assure me that the flood defence programme the Government have in place will ensure that my constituents in Shipley will not have to suffer this fate yet again?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am afraid there can be no absolute guarantees on flooding, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are determined to press on with their major investments in our flood defences to better protect thousands of homes and businesses across the country. Certainly one of the things we will do as a result of what has happened over the weekend is take a fresh look to make sure that everything possible is being done to keep those flood defence projects on track for delivery.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

There are two essential railway lines in Dwyfor Meirionnydd: the Conwy valley and the Cambrian coast lines. Neither has trains running today, following river and sea flooding. Given that the rail infrastructure of Wales is reserved to Westminster, what is the Department doing to work alongside the Welsh Government and ensure that essential communication links in Wales are resilient in the face of climate change?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Department has very extensive contacts with the Welsh Government on a range of issues. Obviously, in circumstances like this, it is essential that there is excellent working between the devolved Administrations in relation to the transport network. That is what is under way, and it will continue.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to the hard-working staff of the Environment Agency in West Sussex and nationally, who have been working diligently at antisocial hours, not just over this weekend, to protect life and property, but in many cases since the flooding in mid-December? I also thank her for making the link between the planning system and the incidence of flooding.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the hard-working staff of the EA and all those involved in the response to this emergency. They do a tremendous job, and they need our support in very difficult circumstances.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Labour, Doncaster North

May I say to the Secretary of State that three months on from the floods that hit my constituency in November, many people are still suffering and are still out of their homes, and I am afraid Government help for those particularly without insurance, despite promises made, is inadequate? May I direct her to the issue of matched funds, raised by my hon. Friend Luke Pollard on the Front Bench, because what this means in South Yorkshire is that, although the Government have said they are making up to £1 million available—itself a measly sum compared to the need—that money is not being released because £600,000 has been raised from local businesses and people, but it does not reach the £1 million? This is penny-pinching, narrow-minded and wrong, so may I ask the Secretary of State to look at this again because it is just wrong for the people in my constituency?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am more than happy to look at this, but I would emphasise that there are many successful examples of where funding has been sought from a range of sources, including businesses, which has led to very successful results, including in Sheffield and South Yorkshire.

Photo of Holly Mumby-Croft Holly Mumby-Croft Conservative, Scunthorpe

The recent flooding incidents show very clearly that there is a need for better resilience and better planning for flooding events. May I ask the Secretary of State to look closely at the bid submitted by Humberside fire authority, along with Hull university and North Lincolnshire Council, for a national flood resilience centre at a site in Scunthorpe?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yes, I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I understand that DEFRA officials have been engaging with the people putting forward the bid, which will be looked at very seriously.

Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Chair, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

Kirkstall in my constituency was devastated by floods on Boxing day 2015, and we were on high alert all day yesterday. In many ways Leeds had a close escape yesterday, but there remains a £23 million gap between what the Government have committed to flood defences in Leeds and what is needed to protect us against the floods we experienced just four years ago. We had a lucky escape yesterday but may not be so lucky next time. When will the Government release that £23 million so that Leeds gets the flood defences we need?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As I have said, we have an extensive programme that we are in the course of delivering; we are determined to do that to ensure that many more homes and businesses are protected from flooding.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

Brigg and Goole and the Isle of Axholme is probably the most flood-prone constituency in the country. We are grateful for the hundreds of miles of flood defences that protect us and for Governments of all parties over the last decade and a half announcing more money for flood projects after events, but the problem at the moment actually is not so much accessing funding for capital projects but ongoing maintenance, which is absolutely vital to ensure our ditches and dykes are free to take the water. I urge the Secretary of State to continue the excellent work on capital funding, but to look at what maintenance funding has been made available to drainage boards, local authorities and the EA?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. In many areas, capital spending is not effective unless it is accompanied by resource spending to ensure that appropriate maintenance takes place, and nowhere is that clearer than in relation to floods. That, no doubt, will be considered at the Budget and the spending review.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights

Promises broken and programmes undelivered: tomorrow morning at five o’clock the River Ouse is likely to rise to the same level as under Storm Desmond, yet we have seen a lack of delivery on issues such as insurance, upper catchment management and even putting in resilience in the city itself. Will the Secretary of State not only expedite action but meet me to discuss the threats that flooding causes my constituents in York?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will be very happy to meet the hon. Lady. The situation in relation to the Ouse is indeed still very serious, but I reassure her that significant numbers of flood defences have been built over recent years. As I said in my opening statement, we fully recognise that there is more to do, particularly as the climate is changing and extreme weather events become more common, but a huge amount of effort has gone into delivering flood defences, and more is on the way.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Recent months have led to a very difficult start of the season for many farmers, particularly arable farmers forced into exceptionally late drilling. Given that farmers are likely to be very badly affected by these latest floods, what reassurances can my right hon. Friend give me that farmers will receive the support and assistance they need?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

So often, farmers are the victims of flooding and the providers of heroic help to others who are also affected by flooding. We will be working closely with the farming community in the days ahead to see what assistance can be given.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

I, too, want to pay tribute to the emergency services, who have responded so well. My heart goes out to the families and communities who have yet again been hit by this disaster.

There is no denying that the climate emergency causes such extreme weather events. Planting millions of trees is one part of responding to the climate emergency. Indeed, the right hon. Lady’s party has pledged to plant millions of new trees every year. Do the Government have a plan for where those millions of trees will go, and when will it be published?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government are already running a range of schemes to promote the planting of trees, including the urban tree challenge fund, where we announced successful bids at the weekend. We will publish further details in our tree strategy for England, which will come out in a few weeks’ time.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

I am sure the Secretary of State and many Members will have seen the dramatic pictures from Hawick in my constituency, where Sonia’s Bistro and the Bridge House bed and breakfast collapsed into the River Teviot. That was devastating for the business, but thankfully nobody was injured. May we pay tribute not only to the emergency services but to the Hawick flood group and all the other volunteers who made sure that that building was evacuated, and kept many other communities and people safe from what could otherwise have been a disaster?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am very happy to do that. The Hawick flood group volunteers deserve our praise and thanks, as do so many volunteers in similar groups around the country.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

I join the Secretary of State in praising all agencies, including the Environment Agency, local authorities, police and volunteers. Will she also recognise the enormous contribution of our fire and rescue services in dealing with recent flooding? In order that they are properly resourced, equipped and trained for these responsibilities, as a one nation Conservative will she agree to extend a statutory duty on flood response to fire and rescue services in England, in line with the duty that already exists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I very much join the hon. Gentleman in paying a warm tribute to the fire and rescue services for their efforts in this situation and in so many others around the rest of the year. I will certainly give consideration to the other matters he raises regarding the duties relating to flooding.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Conservative, Ynys Môn

Many of our coastal communities, which are vital to our economy, will be particularly badly hit by Storm Ciara. Will the Secretary of State assure me that she will do everything in her power to ensure that those communities receive the support and assistance they need at this critical time?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We will be doing that. We appreciate the really difficult circumstances that our coastal communities have faced over recent days. We will be doing our best to support them in the days ahead.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

As a Hull MP, may I add my support to the comments made by Holly Mumby-Croft on basing a national flood resilience centre in the Scunthorpe area?

I want to ask the Secretary of State about Flood Re. What is her advice to those who are not covered under the present scheme—leaseholders, homeowners who live in properties built after 2009 and businesses, particularly microbusinesses or businesses run from home—and are finding it very difficult to get any insurance?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

These matters will be considered in the independent review, which is under way. I am also happy to raise them directly with Flood Re.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Parts of my constituency have been underwater since yesterday, particularly Redvales and Ramsbottom. Redvales has benefited from the £40 million Radcliffe and Redvales flood defence scheme—the Government provided £7 million—for which we are grateful. It has mitigated some of the problems that we saw yesterday, but Ramsbottom does not have its own flood defence scheme. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and other relevant agencies to ensure that Ramsbottom has a flood defence scheme at the earliest opportunity to protect local residents and businesses?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the situation and see what more can be done. I reiterate to him and all Members whose constituents have been affected by flooding my sympathy and support for those going through this extremely difficult time.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

Along with my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker, I was in Brighouse yesterday, where I am a councillor, helping some of the businesses affected by flooding. He is still in Calder Valley helping with the relief efforts and discussing the response with the Under-Secretary. The Government’s response to the devastating floods in 2015 was excellent. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the same support package will be offered to householders and businesses who have been affected once again?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We will be looking at the appropriate response. I emphasise that there are plans for improved flood defences for Brighouse, on which we hope work will start very soon.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with all those families who suffered as a result of the storm and floods over the weekend. Penrith and The Border was hit very hard and my thoughts go out especially to the communities in Appleby. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she will mobilise efforts across the whole Government to ensure that we can support these people as quickly as possible?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can give him that assurance. The DEFRA emergency operating centre has been activating. We are leading cross-government efforts to make sure that everything possible is done to ensure that people are kept safe in these difficult circumstances. I convey my sympathies to those in Appleby who are facing the trauma of flooding.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking the contractors for Worcestershire County Council who have been clearing all the fallen trees from our roads? In Worcestershire, we have the River Severn, the River Avon and the River Teme, so we experience frequent river flooding. Six new flood defence schemes have been built in West Worcestershire, but we still need more. How much of the £4 billion—the increase in flood defence funding she has announced—has already been programmed?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Environment Agency has a fairly long pipeline of flood defence improvements, but it will be important to consider the representations that my hon. Friend made in future decisions on the allocation of that £4 billion fund.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

My right hon. Friend has twice mentioned the planning system. In my view, too many houses are still being built on floodplains, causing problems not only for them but for houses downstream from them. Will she work with colleagues from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government so that where the local authority planning decision is overturned on appeal the Planning Inspectorate always encloses a condition that the local authority must approve a satisfactory drainage system?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend raises very important points. It is vital to ensure that our planning system properly takes into account flood risk, and I will continue to engage with colleagues in MHCLG on how we ensure that takes place.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Flooding in urban areas such as Dudley South is often made worse by overflowing drains, often caused not by blockages in the drains but downstream in the water waste pipes. Will my right hon. Friend keep pressure on water companies properly to maintain waste water drainage pipes to ensure that our local communities do not suffer an unnecessary risk of flooding?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will certainly maintain the pressure on water companies to act responsibly on flooding and to play their part in mitigating it, as is the case with the pressure that we apply to them to improve their record on pollution.

Photo of Richard Drax Richard Drax Conservative, South Dorset

I offer my sympathy to all those who have been affected and my praise to all those who have played such a significant role in trying to ensure that everyone is safe. On a visit to North Yorkshire, I saw at first hand the damage that flowing water can do in the small gullies that, under normal circumstances, hold virtually no water, and to the small rural communities whose houses dot the side of the gullies. Huge stones and mud ripped down the hillside, undermining the homes. Who do these people go to in order get that fixed and ensure that in years to come their homes are literally not swept off the hill?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is crucial that we support rural communities as part of our programme to improve flood defences. We have seen on our television screens in recent days the potentially devastating impacts of severe weather. No system can protect everyone in all circumstances, but flood defences will be an important part of our agenda to level up all parts of the country, including rural areas.

Photo of Ruth Edwards Ruth Edwards Conservative, Rushcliffe

For too many homes, businesses and villages in Rushcliffe, flooding is a recurring issue. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to reconsider what support we can offer to areas that repeatedly flood and how we can encourage the many different agencies and organisations involved in preventing and responding to flooding to better work together to prevent it in the first place, because it is a very complex landscape for residents to navigate?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

A huge amount of cross-government and cross-agency work is being done on resilience and flood programmes, but I am sure that more can be done. We will want to learn lessons from the events of recent days.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

I thank the Secretary of State for her responsiveness to the flooding over the weekend. On this occasion, the issues in my constituency were minor, but I have been told by residents that those affected by flooding from the River Weaver in Nantwich in November have still not had the support they deserve to help them to recover and get their homes and businesses back on track. Will she meet me to see what we can do to make sure that the Environment Agency and Cheshire East Council work together to look after residents affected since November?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yes, I will. It is very important that people affected by the flooding in November can access the package of support that was introduced. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to talk about it.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

My beautiful constituency is not immune to flooding, and neither is it immune to the reckless growth ambitions of the Labour-led council. We must take steps to look after the houses that are already there. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the Government remain committed to protecting an extra 300,000 houses from flooding?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Our £2.6 billion programme is designed to protect 300,000 properties and give significant protection to agricultural land and the transport system. It is a record level of investment. We are investing more in flood defences than any previous Government, because we know how important that is in the context of a changing climate.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

Flooding is not only caused by heavy rain. Coastal areas in my constituency regularly experience flooding when heavy storms coincide with high spring tides. This can result from storm damage to harbour walls or coastal erosion. Will the Secretary of State make sure that our future plans include funding to build resilience into our coastal regions?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Supporting our coastal areas is an important element of our plan for improving flood defences, so I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. I should take this opportunity to highlight to everyone that we are not out of the woods yet, and that difficulties in coastal areas could continue, so people should try to avoid taking unnecessary risks in those areas.

Photo of Joy Morrissey Joy Morrissey Conservative, Beaconsfield

Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to Buckinghamshire County Council, the emergency services and volunteers who worked tirelessly to clean up wind-blown rubbish after the flooding at the weekend? Will she consider community payback schemes using ex-offenders to help with dredging and other things we need to prevent flooding in the future?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am happy to reiterate my support and thanks to those involved in the relief effort in my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the country. On getting ex-offenders involved in such programmes, I should note that much of this work is quite specialist, so I am not sure how that would work, but I welcome her suggestion.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the Secretary of State for the conversation I had with her yesterday as I was inspecting flood damage in Ribchester and Whalley in the Ribble Valley. I am extremely grateful.