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I beg to move,
That this House
notes the damage caused by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge and expresses thanks to workers from the Environment Agency, emergency services, local councils and volunteers;
and calls for Ministers to set up an independent review into the floods, including the Government’s response, the adequacy of the funding provided for flood defences and prevention, difficulties facing homes and businesses with getting insurance and what lessons need to be learnt in light of the climate emergency and the increased likelihood of flooding in the future.
It is a pleasure to move this motion on flooding on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. Flooding has devastated our communities after three successive storms—Ciara, Dennis and Jorge—each compounding and deepening the damage caused by the storm that preceded it. I start by paying my respects to those who lost their lives as a result of these storms. I also thank all those involved in mitigating and fighting the floods: our fire and rescue service, police, local councils, the Environment Agency, and all who have helped to protect homes and businesses, rescue people and animals from rising flood waters, and reinforce flood defences. The motion thanks them for their service.
The motion also pays tribute to the work of the BBC in keeping communities informed about flooding incidents, diversions and emergency measures. BBC local radio, in particular, but BBC Online as well, have been invaluable lifelines to those communities under water. I hope the Secretary of State will add his voice to mine in thanking them when he gets to his feet.
It would be very easy to dismiss the recent flooding as a freak accident, an act of God, and leave it at that, but we need to take a difficult step and recognise that more could have been done. As the climate crisis produces more severe weather more often, we will be having more flooding more often, so we need to learn the lessons.
As the climate emergency produces more and more flooding, so flooding will become more frequent, and yet the resources for the Environment Agency have been severely cut over the last decade. Does the hon. Member agree we need long-term, not just short-term, funding for the Environment Agency?
The hon. Member pre-empts my speech. It is important that we have a long-term plan for flooding with long-term funding attached to it so that we can protect communities at risk of flooding.
We know that more could have been done to ensure that our fire and rescue services were fully equipped to deal with this national emergency; that more could have been done to put in place long-term flood defences; and that more could have been done to slow down the impact of the climate emergency.
I recently visited a natural flood management project in the Wychwoods, in my constituency, a partnership project with local councils, Wild England and many others, involving flood diversion, wildlife creation, habitat, leaky dams and so forth. It has been very valuable in protecting the villages of the Wychwoods. Is this something we could see much more of elsewhere?
Having more natural solutions to flooding is part of the solution; it is not the sole solution, but it is a very important part, and I will come on to that in a moment.
Our motion makes a very simple ask—one that I am amazed but not surprised that Ministers are running from: that we have an investigation to learn the lessons from the floods, an investigation that will seek to protect more homes and businesses in the future, an investigation that will look at the difficulties people encounter in buying affordable insurance for their homes and businesses and in receiving timely pay-outs, an investigation into what measures are required from Government to fund flood protections and upstream catchment management measures and to resource emergency responses.
When choosing the wording of the motion, the Opposition had two choices: we could have chosen wording that went hard on a part-time Prime Minister who was missing in action throughout the floods, a part-time Prime Minister who refused to call a Cobra meeting and unlock the scale of funding necessary for flooded communities, a part-time Prime Minister who failed to show national leadership when it was required; or we could choose wording that could unify the House in a sensible effort to learn the lessons, calmly and sincerely, from this disastrous series of floods. Labour chose to rise above that partisan debate, which is why every single Member of the House should feel able to support our motion. How is learning the lessons from an incident—in a review of what actions took place, what actions did not work as well as was hoped and of where improvements could be made—not a sensible and proportionate step to take after a national emergency such as the recent floods?
I represent the most flood prone constituency in the country—my constituents are presently under 400 million cubic metres of water. How does the hon. Member envisage this inquiry working with the section 19 inquiries already commenced in my area and in many other flooded areas, given that their purpose is to determine exactly those things.
There will be local inquiries and there will be different agencies looking at their own responses, but we need an overarching investigation into the whole response—the consequences of austerity, the flood prevention measures that could and should be taken, the fact that flooding will become more frequent, and so on. That is what is on the table in the motion today and what I hope hon. Members on both sides will vote for.
In light of the fact that places such as the Calder Valley have had three 100-year floods in the last seven and a half years, does the hon. Member not think that another review would only cost more money and waste more time? We need action. We already have this information. We know exactly what happened in the floods. We had four times the monthly average rainfall in 24 hours.
I agree we need action, but it was action we did not get during the floods. It was action we required from the Prime Minister to call a Cobra meeting that we did not get. It was action to unlock the necessary funding that we did not get. I agree we need action and hope he will support this motion so that we get a lessons learned review that helps Ministers to make better decisions next time and get the action he desperately wants.
The review we are asking for would look at how we learn lessons as a country, how the Government learn lessons and how the work and innovations of local communities can be recognised, but the Government’s amendment seeks to do only one thing: not learn the lessons of the flooding. It would delete the lessons learned review and silence the voices of flooded communities. I want the voices of those communities under water heard in the review we are proposing. I want to hear from the small business owners in Telford whose shops have been flooded about the difficulties they face replacing stock when insurance companies refuse to insure them. I want to hear from the farmers next to the River Severn who fear that their crops will have been destroyed by the water damage in their fields. I want to hear from the homeowners in west Yorkshire who have yet again had to wash dirty water from their homes, wash the smell of sewage from their homes, replace their furniture and carpets and worry about whether the insurance will pay out and how much the premiums will be next year, if they are to be covered at all. I want to hear the voices of the emergency services who have had their numbers cut and cut again by years of Tory austerity. I want to hear from the Welsh coal mining communities who are now living in fear of a landslide from water-sodden spoil tips.
I want to hear from all of them in this review, and yet Ministers have proposed an amendment that says they will not have a lessons learned review, will not look at what worked well and what did not, and will not ask communities what works for them. Every Tory MP who votes against our motion will be doing something very simple: refusing to listen and learn the lessons of the flooding and refusing to improve their response to flooding in a calm and independent manner. Those under water communities, many of which are represented by Conservative MPs, will wonder what happened to their Members of Parliament. When given an opportunity to get the voice of those communities heard, they will have decided to turn against that—that is not leadership.
The hon. Member talked about the role of insurance companies. I chair the all-party group on insurance and financial services and work quite closely with Flood Re. Since it was launched in 2016, Flood Re has been a great example of the Government and the insurance industry working together: 300,000 more properties have now been insured and four out of five properties with previous flood claims can now get insurance at half the price it was before. I am sure he will welcome that fact. It is a great example of the Government working with the industry to help solve this problem.
Flood Re has resulted in some improvements—the hon. Gentleman is right about that—but it does not insure homes or provide cover for homes built since 2009, and he will know that it does not include support for small businesses, so there are huge holes in the scheme that need to be filled. We need a scheme that works. At the moment, Flood Re is not delivering as was originally intended for all affected communities. The Government are carrying out a review of the Flood Re scheme, and I urge Ministers to encourage it to report quickly, because we need the Flood Re scheme to work properly to ensure that there are no gaps in it.
The reason that we are calling for a review today is that the flood waters will, we hope, soon subside and the camera crews will pack up, but as the media agenda moves on, the damage, disruption and destruction of the floods will remain for those communities that have been affected. It will take many months for those communities to recover, but we know from past floods that it will actually take many years for the damage to be undone, for payments to be received and for the mitigations to be put in place. That is why a lessons learned review is so important.
We know that the Prime Minister was missing during the floods, but he now has an opportunity to create a lessons learned review to learn the lessons of what has happened. However, he has decided against doing that. We know that the Conservatives’ political choice to implement a programme of brutal austerity over the past 10 years has made the fight against the climate crisis so much harder. The Environment Agency has again and again asked for extra money—£1 billion a year just to mitigate the impacts of floods and defend our communities. We need long-term structural change if we are to combat future floods, including restoring nature in uplands, ending the rotational burning of peatlands, implementing proper catchment area management strategies and building proper flood defences where appropriate. All these changes need genuine funding and a long-term plan.
But it is not just the Environment Agency that has been cut; our local councils have too, and our fire and rescue services. There is a regional disparity in the cuts for fire and rescue services as well. Across England, 23% of our firefighters have been lost in Tory cuts since 2010, but West Yorkshire, where some of the most severe flooding has happened, has lost over a third of its firefighters in austerity cuts. I know that my hon. Friend Grahame Morris has raised this issue directly with Ministers before, but I would like to invite the Secretary of State to look again at whether fire and rescue services need a statutory duty around flooding, as they have in Scotland and Wales.
It is also important that we look at the effect of the flooding on our farmers. That includes considering short-term actions such as a derogation of crop diversification and a reinstatement of the farming recovery fund to mitigate the damage that flooding has caused. The Secretary of State came unstuck at the NFU conference and answered concerns about the three-crop rule very poorly, but there is now a genuine opportunity to help farmers by using the powers that he already has to support them. In the long term, we need to ensure that our farmland is used sensibly to prevent flooding and to restore the ability to keep more water upstream.
We also need to recognise the need for change on match-funding. I have raised this matter before. Poorer communities should not be asked to match the same as wealthier communities, because we know that in that situation the wealthier communities have their flood defences funded and the poor ones do not. My hon. Friend Rachel Reeves has raised this in relation to her city time and again, but she has still not had a satisfactory answer. The Budget next week is an opportunity for Ministers to fund flood defences properly. I would like to see the Budget used as a climate budget to recognise the true scale of the climate crisis and have funding directed accordingly. I suspect we will not have that, but I hope there will be some mention of flooding. I hope that funding will be directed at those communities that are currently under water and that a long-term plan is put in place in relation to this.
We have our criticisms of the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, for failing to act with the seriousness that the climate emergency requires, but setting that aside, we have before us in this motion a modest proposal to learn the lessons of the three storms and to conduct an independent review into what happened. We owe it to those communities that are currently under water, those that have been flooded and those that are repairing the damage from the storms to listen to them and to do everything in our power to learn the lessons to ensure that it does not happen again.
I say to every Tory MP whose communities are under water and who votes against this modest ask that I wish them well on their return to their flooded communities. I wish them well in explaining why a review into the lessons learned will not be happening and why they voted against it. I wish them well in explaining to the people whose homes and businesses were flooded why they are denying them a voice. I wish them well in that, because they have the chance today to vote for such an independent review, and for those flooded communities, that will be a very modest ask as they scrub their floors to clean up the sewage that has come through the pipes, as they repair their homes and as they work out how to restore the stock in their businesses that have been so damaged. For them, this is a modest ask, and it is something that should be supported by everyone in this House. I hope that Tory MPs will reflect on this before they back the Government’s amendment to not learn the lessons of the flooding incidents. I hope that, as a Parliament, we can come together on this. I hope that the warm words that will be no doubt come from the Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box in a moment can be added to with the action that is so desperately needed. I commend this Labour motion to the House.
I beg to move an amendment, leave out from “volunteers” to end and insert:
“acknowledges that following the Pitt Review in 2008, local and national response was significantly improved through the establishment of Local Resilience Forums which have led to partnership working and in addition, the Cross Review in 2018 which led to the publication of new guidance on multi-agency flood plans;
further acknowledges that following the National Flood Resilience Review in 2016 there were further improvements through the establishment of the National Flood Response Centre and improved weather and flood forecasting capabilities, but recognises that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and that further investment in flood defence infrastructure will be necessary in the years ahead.”
We have had three storms in three weeks affecting our Union, from Cornwall right up to the north of Scotland and Northern Ireland, with winds of up to 70 mph and waves of snow, ice and rain, making this the wettest February on record. Many areas have already received more than double their average rainfall for February. Some have received four times the average monthly rainfall and others have experienced a month’s worth of rain in just 24 hours. Eighteen river gauges across 13 rivers recorded their highest levels on record during, or triggered by, Storms Ciara, Dennis or Jorge. These are records that no one wants to see broken. Even if there are no further significant storms in March, it could still take three to four weeks for water to drain from the washlands in the East Yorkshire area.
These storms at the end of an incredibly wet winter have brought consequences across the country as river systems were overwhelmed. Nothing can diminish the suffering felt across our country in communities affected by recent storms. Experiencing flooding, especially repeated flooding, is traumatic and distressing for the communities affected, and sadly over 3,400 properties have been flooded this February, with significant damage caused.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee on all planning applications.
This is a live incident, so I urge vigilance as we monitor the situation and move into a recovery phase. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the Environment Agency, local authorities and emergency services, including the fire brigade, which has been engaged extensively, the paramedics and the many voluntary groups that have played a role and, of course, local TV and radio, which have played their part—[Interruption.] And the BBC, which is a great part of local TV and radio.
I have been in close contact with the Environment Agency every single day. More than 1,000 of its staff have been deployed across the country every day, putting up temporary barriers, clearing rivers of debris—a continuing role for the EA—and helping with evacuations where necessary. They have been deployed alongside around 80 military personnel who stepped in to assist in certain circumstances. Wales has also seen significant impacts, with more than 1,000 properties flooded. The EA remains in close contact with the Welsh Government, who are offering aid and support it might need to respond to their incidents. Some Members have expressed concern about the stability of some coal tips. My colleague, the Secretary State for Wales, has been in dialogue with the Welsh Government about this and, following that, we directed the national Coal Authority to conduct an urgent assessment of those tips where there were concerns.
On the point about the coal tips, will the Secretary of State confirm that this is not just a review of where they all are, and that the UK Government will fund the safety of those tips to reassure residents living in fear across constituencies represented by three Members here today, including my hon. Friend Beth Winter?
I know that the Secretary of State for Wales has had discussions with the Welsh Government. In their discussions last week, there was no request for funds as it was too early to ascertain what help, if any, might be needed, but once that work is concluded by the national Coal Authority, they will be in a better position to know that.
I think the Secretary of State is slightly misunderstanding the point here. This is not about the financial request from the Welsh Assembly to this Government. This is about the tips in constituencies such as mine, where there is significant concern that there may be further movement and greater destabilisation of the slag heaps. That is the responsibility of his Government—the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—and we need to ensure that the Government are doing everything to ensure that the people in my constituency are safe.
That is correct, and the national Coal Authority sits within BEIS. We have directed it to carry out an urgent assessment of those mines.
The area that was worst affected by Storm Ciara was the Calder valley. Hebden Bridge flooded after Storm Ciara, but not after Storm Dennis. Many businesses there have adapted their buildings to flooding, which were back trading after a few days or weeks. The military were deployed to Ilkley in West Yorkshire, where 700 metres of temporary barriers were erected. They also worked in the Calder valley, building a temporary defence and sandbagging properties. The scheme in Mytholmroyd is due to be completed this summer, and further schemes are in the design and consultation phase at Hebden Bridge, Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge and other locations along the Calder valley.
The area most severely affected by Storm Dennis was the Severn catchment. Since 2007, many parts of the Severn have been protected by demountable barriers. Those barriers are deployed to hard standings and permanent pillars along the river bank and removed when the risk of flooding recedes, so that people can gain access to the river for cycle paths and to prevent views from being affected. Those demountable barriers have been particularly popular with communities and have been effective during this most recent episode. While some homes were flooded, the defences put in place have protected around 50,000 homes.
Tenbury Wells was the first place to be affected by Storm Dennis and had previously flooded in October. Soon after flood alerts were issued, community information officers assisted residents in the town. Sadly, the area of Tenbury is not suitable for temporary barrier deployment due to the length of defence needed, significant access issues and the need for pumps to mitigate water seepage on uneven ground. However, in our future programme, we are developing plans to deliver a scheme at Tenbury Wells protecting over 80 homes and 80 businesses and costing in the region of £6 million, and we are seeking partnership funding to develop that phased approach. My hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin and the local county councillor have been keen advocates of the proposed scheme and have discussed it with me.
In Selby, where there were concerns about water over- topping a flood retention bank, the Army were on standby but, in the event, Environment Agency and local authority staff deployed 3,000 sandbags to top up the defences, build the bank higher and ensure that there was protection.
Turning now to Shrewsbury and Bewdley, where demountable barriers along the Severn played an important role in reducing the impacts, there are four phases of demountable barriers deployed to protect infrastructure and properties in Shrewsbury, and all were deployed in time for Storm Dennis. In Bewdley, we also deployed demountable barriers to complement the permanent defences and temporary barriers in part of the town. Environment Agency staff were present throughout the flooding, checking those barriers and pumping water back into the river.
I thank the Secretary of State for talking about my constituency, and thank the floods Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, for being there to see the demountable barrier being put up on the very first day. The demountable barriers are one of the finest gifts that one of the best leaders of the Labour party, Mr Tony Blair, has ever given us—in 2001, I think, with an £11 million investment. But the problem for Bewdley remains Beales Corner, on the other side of the bank. This highlights the difference between what is a demountable barrier and what is a dangerous temporary barrier, which gave way and was overtopped. A not-very-good approach was developed at Beales Corner, which is the property-led defences. I do not think they worked in the event of this flood.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I was going to go on to say that the temporary barriers deployed to the Beales Corner area of Bewdley were overtopped by the sheer volume of water flowing through the town. Environment Agency staff deployed pumps to mitigate the overtopping, but eventually this operation was overwhelmed. I know that staff have continually provided updates to residents via local media, with live-streamed videos from site and post-strategic command meetings to inform the public.
It is interesting to hear the individual cases, but does the Secretary of State not accept that it is 12 years since the Pitt review and that it is only another 10 years—less than that period—until we expect and predict that climate change will result in a 1.5° increase in temperature? Therefore, we want not a microcosmic look at individual demountables, but an overview of the strategic difference climate change will make—namely, where can we and should we defend? Where can we not defend? Where do we have to change land use management? Where do we have to have rain water capture in urban environments? Where do we have to have underground tunnels and so on? We need an overall review. We face massive and growing risk. He says, “Oh, let’s hope we don’t have more bad weather.” That is—
I am going to address all those points of review later, but I wanted to take the opportunity, since this does not always happen, to effectively acknowledge some of the great work that has been done on the ground by the Environment Agency and our emergency services.
In Ironbridge, the substructure of the soil along the riverbank sadly does not lend itself to the demountable barriers that were so effective in other towns, but temporary barriers were deployed to contain the water that breached the river bank, with 800 metres of temporary barriers deployed along the Wharfage.
While most effects in the days after Storm Dennis were felt along the Severn, there was further heavy rain late last week, which led to major challenges in parts of Yorkshire, notably around the washlands at Snaith and East Cowick. The washlands are one of the oldest man-made flood defence systems in the country, dating back some 400 years. However, the sheer volume of rainfall meant that they were overwhelmed. We have deployed 48 multi-agency pumps in operation across the Aire washlands, as water levels start to drop, to dewater homes. There is an urgency to this work, since next weekend we will also see peak seasonal tides on the east coast, which can lock rivers. We must therefore use the window of opportunity in the weeks ahead.
The motion tabled by the Opposition suggests an independent inquiry. I am grateful for this opportunity to describe all the other inquiries that we have had on flood response over the last decade or so and what actions have been taken to implement those recommendations. First, the Pitt review, which was alluded to by Geraint Davies and which followed the 2007 floods, informed new laws better to manage flooding under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. The crucial recommendations of the review regarding flood response led to the establishment of local resilience forums.
I am grateful. A lot of the Pitt review recommendations were implemented in Gloucester at that time and have made a huge difference. My neighbours suffered terribly this year. None the less, not a single home in Gloucester flooded, as a result of good work by the Environment Agency and local councils.
My hon. Friend makes an important point.
Secondly, after the 2014 floods, another review was led by Oliver Letwin. It led to a number of further improvements, including the establishment of a new national flood response centre, based out of the Cabinet Office, to ensure that cross-government decisions on operational matters were taken expeditiously. The review also led to improved flood forecasting capabilities.
Thirdly, because there were concerns that some local authorities were better prepared than others to meet the challenge of flood response, in 2018 the Cross review recommended that every local authority should have a formal plan of action to respond to flood risk in its area.
The substantive recommendations in all three of those reviews have been implemented, and it is because they have been implemented that the response on the ground to these extraordinary weather events has been so effective and rapid. The Government amendment to the motion therefore recognises and corrects what might be an oversight in the Opposition motion, which is to recognise what has been done in response to previous reviews.
The Government amendment also corrects another omission from the Opposition motion, relating to funding. Climate change means that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent.
I am going to make progress and conclude.
We are investing £2.6 billion in flood defences—over 1,000 flood defence schemes to better protect 300,000 homes by 2021. To date, we have completed 600 of those schemes, protecting over 200,000 homes. Were it not for projects such as those, 50,000 more homes would have been flooded in these recent events.
However, there is more to do. That is why the Government have a manifesto commitment to spend even more on flood defence in the years ahead, committing £4 billion in this Parliament further to improve our resilience and our ability to manage such events. The Government amendment, rather than proposing reviewing funding as the Opposition suggest, acknowledges the need for further investment. Our manifesto already commits us to further investment. I hope that this investment will not be opposed by Opposition Members.
We are determined to be ready for the future, and we know we must expect more frequent extreme weather in this country. So as well as investing even more money in flood defence, the Government are committed to leading a global response to climate change through our work around the world. As host of the next climate change conference, COP26, we will urge nations to achieve net zero in a way that helps nature recover, reduces global warming and addresses the causes of these extreme weather events.
There will be a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches because a lot of Members have, quite rightly, shown an interest in this important subject.
I thank Luke Pollard for moving this motion and for helping hon. Members on both sides of the House highlight the devastating impact of recent storms on communities across these islands. I support the motion and its ambition to establish an independent review of flooding, which seems to me to be an uncontentious, non-political and constructive approach to a serious issue that affects all our communities.
As many of us in this Chamber will know from first- hand experience of supporting flood victims, flooding has many effects from the horrific effect of sewage backflow to the ever-present anxiety of wondering when the next episode will happen. This affects my constituents in Angus, and we are right across the spectrum in having successful flood mitigation measures installed but also having communities that are still exposed to the full force of the weather. Scoping, funding and delivering flood defence schemes is, of course, a challenging process, as they are, after all, complex civil engineering projects.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as the Secretary of State was unable to do so.
We have funding for a flood defence scheme in my constituency, but one of the barriers is that the Environment Agency does not have enough staff to bring the scheme forward or to offer support. Should this not just be about physical infrastructure but about the Environment Agency having more funding to expand its team?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand if I hesitate to comment on the Environment Agency, as my part of these islands is much more dependent on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which I am happy to talk up. I am aware of the genuine concern among colleagues about the lag between the establishment of a requirement and the delivery of a system on the ground, which is something a review would wish to consider.
These complex civil engineering projects are usually towards the top end of cost and capital investment in local communities, and any assessment of return on that capital investment should, of course, be robust and realistic. Having said that, there is a risk that, in assessing the value for money of any proposed scheme, we use the narrowest definition of value such as property prices or other one-dimensional and binary judgments.
Planners and government, both local and national, must increasingly consider broader priorities such as employment, cultural and community value, and the value of agricultural land in deciding whether to protect them. Moreover, any assessment that builds a business case for defence schemes on residential property prices and that seeks to use those property prices as the principal determinant will necessarily favour more affluent areas of these islands for investment, rather than considering all areas equally and on their merits.
A much more preventive approach to sustainable flood management and mitigation needs to be pursued, and pursued at pace, if we are to stand a realistic chance of managing weather events that, hitherto, would have been classified as once-in-100-years events but are now apparently much more common. This dynamic endeavour requires government, local and national, to get a grip, provide investment and transact innovation.
Every SNP Member wishes to pay tribute to the first-class response to the recent severe weather in our part of these islands by local authorities, emergency responders, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and, of course, the public who, in all our constituencies, went above and beyond what is reasonably expected of individuals to help protect themselves and their neighbours.
In February, the First Minister of Scotland visited Hawick and the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment visited Newcastleton, two of the most badly affected areas in Scotland. That is in stark contrast to the Prime Minister, who spent the same period of flooding relaxing at Chequers. At such times of crisis, a key role for a leader is to provide confidence to the public and show them that their Government are responding. Boris Johnson has utterly failed that simplest test of leadership.
In Scotland, the SNP Scottish Government will continue to work to support local authorities to deliver the actions that protect our communities and businesses. Again, we come back to planning. Planning work is expected to start on the 42 prioritised schemes. It is recognised that those schemes might not be delivered, but it is important for residents and constituents to understand that they are planned for.
Regardless of where we live, work or legislate, innovation has to take centre stage. A principal element of that has to be upstream aggradation and the retention of run-off, with more appropriate land management strategies that, as a public good, landowners may be rewarded for and that will hold back deluge events from entering our main rivers and tributaries all at once.
Simultaneously, we need to consider planning legislation in all the different elements of the United Kingdom to make sure that, with the increasing pattern of people having smaller gardens or no garden, there are corresponding mitigation measures that will assist in the attenuation of deluges and flood waters.
Tenants and residents need to be protected and, as other hon. Members have mentioned, there needs to be far greater investment in maintenance of the disaggregation of risk in insurance. Quite apart from the physical, tangible elements, anxiety is a cruel master when it comes to flooding, and insurance is directly connected to that. I accept what hon. Members have said about the progress that has been made, but it needs to be built upon and expanded.
Finally, any review must work with all UK environment agencies, including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, to establish best practice and to foster the innovation we so desperately need.
The five-minute rule is now effective.
Just a gentle reminder: please do not refer to Members by name. Refer to them either by their constituency or by their official title.
The constituency in which I live and am proud to serve is the most flood-prone constituency in the country, as it is constituted on land drained by the Dutch some 400 years ago, many of whose descendants continue to live in our area. We are at the bottom of the catchment, so I agree 100% with what Dave Doogan says about the need for better management upstream.
We have seen numerous events in recent years, whether the tidal surge of 2013, the flooding of 2010 and 2011 in Goole or the flooding in December, which happened on a smaller scale. Whether in Crowle, South Ferriby or Burringham, or whether in Snaith, Cowick or Gowdall at the moment, we are repeatedly hit by incidents of flooding.
I begin by paying tribute to my constituents and how they are currently responding to the incredible deluge in Snaith and Cowick. I have been involved in flooding for many years as an MP, parish councillor and councillor, and I have never seen the inundation of water that we now see in the washlands of the River Aire.
My constituents are responding in an incredible way. The Snaith church ladies and our wonderful vicar, Eleanor Robertshaw—I sometimes call her the “commie vicar” but we are good friends—have been providing 24/7 support to those who have been evacuated and to emergency service responders, with free food being provided by many businesses, including the Supreme coffee house in Goole. The response of the community has been incredible.
I thank Vicky Whiteley and Snaith and Cowick Town Council, the Snaith sports hall voluntary team and Andy McLachlan of the Cowick and Snaith internal drainage board for their work in supporting my constituents. Andy and I have worked together on many flooding events over the years, and the response from the drainage board has, as ever, been first class. I also wish to thank the fire and rescue service, including those who have come in from elsewhere, from places such as Cheshire and West Yorkshire, and our ambulance service, which has been on hand with permanent resources. I should also thank the very many residents involved, the council staff and the Environment Agency staff. The response has been incredible. We are dealing with 4 million cubic metres of water, or 800 million gallons, still there, in an area below sea level. We are defended by hundreds of miles of defence banks in our area, and getting that away will be a big challenge.
Although we must not be complacent, does my hon. Friend recognise that in some parts of the country there have been successes? In the Carlisle area, through the work of the EA, the councils and the voluntary sector, and the success of the defences, we managed to avoided being flooded this year.
Indeed. We have not wanted for money for defence funding in recent years, including in Snaith, the community that is currently flooded. Only in 2015, millions of pounds of defence improvements were made, through the piling of the Snaith primary defence bank, but that has been overtopped this time, as have our secondary defences, on which we rely to keep us dry. It is true to say that in some places these schemes have worked, and we have a scheme under way in South Ferriby, but the water coming down the catchment in this latest incident has been on a scale we have never seen before, just as the 2013 surge then was.
I agree with some of what was said by the shadow Secretary of State, Luke Pollard. He is a nice guy, one of my favourite shadow Secretaries of State. Some of the others are a bit bonkers, and I know that he agrees with me on that. I agree with much of what he said about the need to review certain things, but he then went on to try to make some cheap political points about what is going on at the moment. There are things we need to do differently, but I am not convinced that diverting millions of pounds, which could otherwise go to flood defences, to a massive inquiry is necessarily the best way forward. I will say something on that in a moment.
What we need now in my constituency is immediate funding, into the future, to look at what we can do for the defences that have been so overrun on this occasion. After the 2013 tidal surge, additional funding was made available to the communities in my area that had been devastated by that surge to allow them to take immediate defence action in the year or two afterwards. That was outside the normal funding rules, and we benefited from that in Reedness, which was overwhelmed in the tidal surge, with immediate action to shore up and improve the defence there. So may we please look at that issue?
May we also look at the funding for the section 19 inquiries that are already under way. My local East Riding of Yorkshire Council, because it has faced so many incidents in recent months, is now engaged in about four or five different inquiries, and funding that is a huge challenge for the local authority. A section 19 inquiry into the flooding in the Snaith and Cowick washlands is under way, but we need funding for that. The recovery of costs is also an issue. Heating Snaith priory church has already cost the church about £700 to £800, and possibly more. We are all doing what we can to get donations in for that, and the Bellwin scheme might cover it, but there are direct costs here to the town council and to the church and sports hall—voluntary organisations—for the costs they have borne in being open 24 hours a day and providing support to those who have been evacuated.
Business support is also an issue. I served on the Committee for the Flood Re Bill. Indeed, in 2013 I had to leave the Committee because of the flood warnings in place in my constituency, including warnings for my own house, when that tidal surge hit. We need extra support in terms of business insurance. I do not have time to say everything I wanted to stay, but I beg that the national funding formula is looked at. We are at the bottom of the catchment and we get everybody’s water; that water is coming to us, whether we like it or not. Although the current formula provides us with the best defences and highest standards, it is not taking account of the number of properties we have versus the risk we face. We need a change to that. We also need to look at the EA’s role in flooding and whether we need a separate body. We need to examine the Flood Re scheme. We need to fund the national flood resilience centre, in my area, the bid for which is with the Government—I have talked about that before. Finally, we need to look at planning and at maintenance.
It is extremely good of you to call me, Mr Deputy Speaker, so that I can say a little about the issue of flooding, why it has been so important to my constituency and how it has affected us, and add my unequivocal voice to the call for more resources for this area. I also wish to say that there are some legal, technical issues that the Government need to address in respect of flooding and the management of waterways.
It is a privilege to follow Andrew Percy, who described the conditions in his constituency and how flooding affects it. I therefore wish to say a bit about the geography of my area. The towns of Stalybridge, Hyde, Dukinfield, Mossley and Longdendale are on the eastern side of Greater Manchester, at the border with Derbyshire. We are where the land has begun to rise; the great moors of Wild Bank, Harridge Pike and Hobson moor are in my constituency. People might recall that two years ago there were wildfires in that area, which tells us of the volatility of the weather patterns we are now receiving.
When we have these occasions of unprecedented rainfall—it seems to be unprecedented rainfall more often than not—the water comes down from those moors with a violence, intensity and power that has a severe impact on the communities based around those moors. In 2016 in particular, when we had severe flooding, areas such as Hollingworth, Millbrook and Micklehurst were incredibly badly affected, and not just in terms of flooding; in one case, a property was almost washed away. This is not just about flooding; it is about land and property being destroyed by the power of the floods that have hit those areas. The impact and burden on people of severe flooding is unparalleled and hard to compare with other things. One constituent told me that they had been flooded once before and so every time they are faced with significant rainfall—obviously, that is a feature of our weather patterns in Greater Manchester—they just stay up at night waiting to be flooded again. That trauma and worry—the emotional as well as the financial burden—is extreme. We have to be doing more to ease that burden on our constituents.
Since 2016, there has been a significant response in my area. I know that colleagues will talk today about how they have not had any resources at all, but we have had investment in my area. The Environment Agency has spent more than £1 million in Mossley, and my local council has spent more than £650,000. This has meant we can have things such as large screens that we can put across culverts to prevent them from getting blocked. In some cases, tunnels have been built to manage the water run-off on to highways. In one case, a culvert has been repaired and it is now monitored by CCTV 24 hours a day. However, constituents ask the reasonable question: will these measures prevent this from happening again? Of course, none of us can give that assurance, so perhaps a better question would be: has everything that could be done been done? I do not think we are there yet, so although we have had investment in my area, I know it is not enough and therefore that we need more across the country. If we multiply the investment in my area by the number of constituencies in the country, that tells us quickly that we do not yet have the level of support going into this that we all want to see.
On mitigation of climate change and flood risk, the restoration of peatland is very important, and I know that the Government are committed to that. The burning of peatland by the grouse shooting industry is damaging, and businesses that counteract good measures have to be addressed. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to engage with industries that are counteracting climate emergency measures?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. Grouse shooting is a business in my constituency. I am not sure how much proportionality one can put on what she has described compared with other measures, but this has to be part of the conversation, because many expert analyses have identified it is a factor. Therefore, it has to be looked at.
Austerity has also been an issue in this—that cannot be denied. I have seen it affect my constituency in two specific ways. There are 44,000 road gullies in my borough of Tameside and austerity has, in effect, meant that we went down to having one gully machine and just two highway engineers. That is in no way sufficient to cope with the gullies that need to be unblocked to make sure that we are as resilient as can be. We can perhaps now look to increase that provision, but the false economy of cuts, particularly to local government, should never have got us to that position.
I also think we need to refer to planning enforcement. New homes were mentioned in the Front-Bench contributions. My understanding is that new homes should not make any area more at risk of flooding, but there are severe issues in this country as to whether planning measures are met and whether we have the resources to enforce the measures that the Environment Agency wants to see put in place if the plans go ahead.
Finally, will the Minister respond to a specific point about legal responsibility for waterways? I understand the division of responsibility between the Environment Agency, lead flood authorities—basically councils, in areas like mine—and landowners, but I am not sure that it is right to strictly define landowners as responsible for culverts, or covered waterways. Many of my local towns expanded rapidly at the time of the industrial revolution, and there are not good records from that time. Sometimes we do not even know the exact path of a culvert through an area. Conveyancing should reveal that, but let us be honest: often it does not.
I have one particular case in which a culvert collapsed during the 2016 floods—we do not know whether that contributed to or was caused by the flooding—and residents of one block of flats built on the parcel of land through which the culvert runs are now being held responsible for costs that could reach more than £1 million. There are 90 flats in the development, but that would still be a substantial cost. That is not fair for the people in Bramble Court in Millbrook. It is not the right way to manage the risks. I am told by the Environment Agency that we do not even know who is responsible for some culverts. Yes, we need resources, but the legal definitions and responsibilities also need attention from the Government.
In 2007, my constituency was badly flooded: three people tragically lost their lives, many lost their water supplies, quite a lot lost electricity and many people were out of their homes for 12 months, living in caravans. It was a desperately difficult time. Since then, a lot of good work has been done in various parts of my constituency, which has certainly helped, but nevertheless we have been flooded many times since, including in the last week and last November.
I wish to highlight two particular things that I feel really should be done. The first is relatively simple: we should clear out ditches more regularly and maintain drains better than we are, and we ought to consider whether we should dredge all rivers, because I understand that that has helped enormously in some areas of the country where it is done. We ought to revisit that policy.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for giving way. There is no doubt that the dredging of the River Parrett where it goes out to sea in Somerset has been very effective; I wonder whether the Severn needs the same improvements.
I thank both my hon. Friends for those interventions, with which I agree. I must move on quickly because of the shortness of time.
The other issue that I wish to raise is house building, or any kind of building, in flood risk areas. It is causing an awful lot of trouble. In my constituency, the current joint core strategy proposes a 50% increase in the number of houses in the council area where I live. Not only does that increase mean that green-belt land is seriously compromised, but we have a lot of flood risk areas. The building of that number of houses in my area will cause an awful lot of misery for very many people.
I am concerned about our approach to building in flood risk areas. The Pitt report of some years ago was somewhat compromised: it said that yes, flood risk areas should be avoided, but it also said they should be avoided unless there was a need for a certain number of houses. I do not think that that compromise is necessary, because when somebody is flooded for more than a year, they really do not want to see more development in their area.
I am rather concerned about how the Environment Agency makes its assessments. It uses maps that in my view are not always accurate—they do not always reflect the flood risk in an area—and it talks about frequencies, but the frequencies of flooding have changed, with flooding now much more frequent than it used to be. Who knows where that trend will go in future?
We have heard it said that we do not really build in flood risk areas any more; we absolutely do. I have shown the Secretary of State a photograph of an industrial digger preparing land in my constituency for houses—and the digger is stood in water. Around 2,000 houses are going to be built on that land, which is already sodden and far too wet. It is a matter not only of whether the houses built on that land will flood, but of water displacement—will building on that land cause flooding for people in other areas? It is a serious consideration. Just this week the Environment Agency said that
“it isn’t always possible or practical to prevent all new development in flood risk areas”; well, that is going to cause an awful lot of problems for very many people.
We really ought to revisit the policy. I know the driver behind it—I know that this Government and successive Governments have wanted to provide homes for people. I joined the Conservative party during Margaret Thatcher’s time, and one of her great policies was on home ownership, with which I entirely agreed. Home ownership is a fantastic aspiration, but we need to be careful about where we build houses. Building houses for the sake of it will not actually make them more affordable. We risk compromising the green belt and building in flood risk areas for no actual benefit to some of the people who are looking to buy houses.
I referred to the site in my area where an industrial digger is sat in water; that is at a place called Twigworth and Innsworth, where permission has been given not by the local council but by the inspector. The inspector looked at the application in December 2017 and should have rejected it, but the fact that the Environment Agency did not object to the development did not help. Everybody who lives in that area knows what a problem it is going to cause. I shall name one person who knows what a problem it is going to cause: David Cameron. In February 2014, he visited the area. Why? Because the road was completely blocked because of flooding and the fields where the development is now taking place were flooded. He declared then that building should not take place in such areas. What has gone wrong?
I pin no blame at all on the new Secretary of State—he is brand-new to his position and I wish him well—but I ask him to revisit the existing policy on assessing whether land is suitable for development. The surgery that I did at the weekend was very busy, full of people coming to complain about overdevelopment. I think the one message that they would like me to give to the Secretary of State is that we should review the policy before it is too late. Once we have built on land, we cannot unbuild on that land.
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour and I have recently discussed whether there were possible solutions in building more capacity in the Welsh hills to hold back water from the Severn. That would also give the Government an opportunity to ask Severn Trent Water to transport some of the water by pipe down to the areas in the south-east that suffer from a lack of water. Does my hon. Friend agree that that could be a useful contribution, saving his constituency and mine from being flooded?
My hon. Friend and neighbour makes a good point. Back in 2007, it was not only the water that fell in Tewkesbury that caused the problem; it was also the water that came down from Wales. I pin no blame at all for that on Wales—I would not dare with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker—but my hon. Friend makes a good and serious point with which I agree.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Robertson, who spoke powerfully about his local area and made some important points about planning.
Last November, my community was hit by severe flooding that caused devastating damage to Barnsley, and across South Yorkshire. Over a 24-hour period, more rain fell than was expected for an entire month, causing mass disruption and damage. I pay tribute and give thanks to the blue-light services, the local authority, the Environment Agency, and the community groups, volunteers and local people who responded. My constituents now need assurances that everything is being done to protect their homes, businesses and community spaces from future floods.
One month ago, I led a Westminster Hall debate on flooding in South Yorkshire, voicing the concerns of people from my area. I called for investment in flood defences to make our region more resilient to flooding, and for the Prime Minister to make good on his commitment to convene an emergency summit on flooding in the north of England—he made that promise during the general election to the Mayor of the Sheffield city region, my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge his work on this issue.
Since November, Barnsley and its surrounding areas have been hit by two more storms, leading to more flood damage. Community groups are unable to meet owing to waterlogged and damaged venues. Indeed, one of the local football clubs, Worsbrough Bridge FC, still does not have a pitch to play on. Action is needed urgently if residents and business owners from my community are to feel safe and secure in the homes and businesses for which they have worked their entire lives.
The Government need to commit to giving short-term financial support to help those affected and to fund recovery efforts. Right now, flood victims are relying on the goodwill of their neighbours to get them through this flooding crisis. More than half a million pounds has been donated by members of the public, local authority groups and community organisations to the South Yorkshire Community Foundation. The fact that the Government will only match fund this is outrageous. They have undercut efforts to help communities, households and businesses to recover. This is despite the fact that the Mayors of Doncaster and the Sheffield city region have said that £3 million is needed.
I am proud to live in an area with so much community spirit. The generosity of my neighbours and friends, while not unsurprising, deserves recognition. This Friday, I am meeting the Low Valley flooding group, which comprises residents who have joined together to help each other and to look at what can be done to prevent future flooding. Flood victims need more funds now so that they can rebuild their lives, and the burden should not fall on the victims. In addition to short-term financial aid, we need sustained investment to protect homes and businesses from future extreme weather events.
I wish to start by saying how disappointing it is again to see a great opportunity lost in this Opposition day debate. The Opposition have, basically and plainly, just failed to ask the right questions. We do not need an independent review to know what happened in the floods. Most MPs whose constituencies were flooded this time, and many times before, know exactly where all the water comes from in their constituencies. On top of that, we had four times the monthly rainfall in just 24 hours. The information is already there; all a review would do is waste more time and more money.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The managed solution to these problems will come from not an independent review, but the implementation of flood catchment management plans, which were first launched in 2007. Many of them have still not come to proper fruition. Those plans will inform the six-year funding period, but no inquiry will deal with that. We need to get the flood catchment management plans and some of their solutions actually delivered.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall cover a number of those points later in my speech.
It is for those reasons that I will not be voting for the Opposition’s motion but, just to show balance, I must say that the Government amendment is also a great opportunity lost, and is of no comfort or consolation to the thousands of people who have had their properties flooded—in many cases, yet again.
First, I wish to mention the Government response. In 2015, when the whole of the north of England was hit by flooding, the Government were quick to announce a support package for each of those affected by floods, whether homes or businesses. Given the scale of the devastation, Cobra was called and a package was announced in the first few days. This time, as the initial Storm Ciara damage was limited mainly to just the Calder Valley, Cobra was not called, which I do not have an issue with, and no package of support was triggered. The next nine days were like pulling hens’ teeth. In trying to get a response from Government, and after speaking to virtually every Department in Whitehall, it was discovered that the package comes from four or five different Departments.
I will not. I am sorry, but I have too much to say.
All Departments were sympathetic, but none was able to trigger the package without the other. I also discovered that there was a package, but that the flooding of 1,187 properties in the Calder Valley on its own does not qualify for support, because it does not hit the criteria. Will the Secretary of State agree to look at and amend the support package so that we can have an off-the-shelf package that is automatically triggered for any constituency that suffers the devastation of flooding? Under such an arrangement, no constituency would be left waiting for nine days ever again.
I want to make it very clear that we do have three fully funded hard flood defence projects in the Calder Valley—one is partially completed and two are waiting to start. We also have a series of works beyond those projects. Treesponsibility and Slow The Flow are two fabulous charities. One has planted thousands of trees and has plans to continue planting trees around the catchment, while dozens of volunteers work with Slow The Flow on the leaky dams in the moors above. Grips are being blocked as part of moorland restoration in partnership with Natural England and landowners. Yorkshire Water has trialled reducing reservoir levels during times of heavy rain, but it will take a change of legislation to mandate that to happen. Hopefully, that can happen through the Environment Bill, with the amendments that my neighbour, Holly Lynch, has put forward.
We have set aside money to build holding ponds, but only four have been managed to be built. This is all good stuff, but we are just toying with it. If we are serious about mitigating the risks of flooding, we need to do much, much more of this type of work in the catchment.
I have a number of asks for the Secretary of State. First, can the Calder Valley be elevated to tier 1 status, like the City of London? That would ensure that an annual sum of money would be allocated for a wider catchment plan both to slow the flow of water coming off the moorland and to protect areas further downstream, such as that of my hon. Friend Andrew Percy.
If the Government are not prepared to raise the Calder Valley’s status to tier 1, will the Secretary of State consider a series of pilot schemes for catchment areas across the country? I am talking about six catchment types that all have very different needs. That would require a commitment to annual funding for wider catchment plans, which could initially be developed over a five-year period. These pilots could form a wider strategy for the rest of the country so that we could start to manage flooding much closer within the catchment than at present, rather than consistently reacting to flooding.
I also ask that the wider catchment plan is given to the local authority to manage, as that is where all the local knowledge is held. Farmers were telling me back in November that the moors were sodden and that we would be in real trouble if the rains continued.
My final point is on the Environment Agency. Nobody can deny that it has done a brilliant job on the ground during the floods and on preparing people in the lead-up to them. The response has been much, much better than we experienced in 2012 and 2015. The issue, however, is in the amount of time that flood defence schemes take to implement. The upper Calder Valley has just one main road in and out. The one road has been down to a single lane for three years, while the scheme in Mytholmroyd is still under construction. We have had three years of people sitting in traffic at peak times for over an hour to travel just a couple of miles. The Mytholmroyd scheme was still not complete for the floods last month and, to rub salt into the wounds, the schemes for Hebden Bridge and Brighouse have not even started after four years. The Environment Agency will say that the schemes have to be done in sequence but, according to local water engineers and experts, that need not be the case. My final ask is that the Secretary of State puts pressure on the Environment Agency to get those schemes finished before the threat of our next major flood.
Nearly a quarter or more of all those affected in the recent flooding were in one local authority area in Wales, in Rhondda Cynon Taf. I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones will catch your eye later to talk about the situation there. That meant that a very significant number of homes in my constituency were flooded: in Treorchy, Trehafod, Ystrad, Britannia, Blaenllechau, Ynyshir, and Penrhys.
In Pentre, a culvert overflowed from the top of the hill, and slurry came down full of coal dust, debris and a fair amount of sewage. It swept down through a whole part of Pentre. What was particularly upsetting was not only what those people had to suffer on the first occasion, but that, three days later, in Pleasant Street—ironically named—the flooding came all over again because the brash that had got stuck in the middle of the culvert was now further down, and water was coming out of a completely different place. So, when nobody else was being flooded in the country, the people in Pleasant Street were flooded all over again. That is particularly upsetting for so many people in my constituency because dozens and dozens of them—I met many of them—have no insurance. That is not because they are on a floodplain or for a complicated reasons about insurance, but because, in the run-up to Christmas, many families in my patch are on borderline finances. They are literally making decisions about whether to put food on the table or to buy a school uniform; consequently, the insurance is the first bill that goes. Those people have lost absolutely everything—literally everything. Most people in my patch own their own homes as well. It has been a double, triple, quadruple whammy. What has been upsetting for even more people is that some have also lost their job because business in Pontypridd has been dramatically affected, so they have lost their job and their home.
The damage to the infrastructure of Rhondda Cynon Taf is phenomenal. About a dozen bridges across the whole of RCT will have to be rebuilt completely. A couple of those are historic buildings, so we have to get permission from Cadw to take them down. That will have a dramatic cost. There are hundreds of culverts. In my patch, flooding is not normally caused by the river overflowing or bursting its banks; it happens because of water coming down off the mountain at great speed in areas where it was not expected, with new watercourses suddenly being created and culverts not working. A phenomenally complicated set of infrastructure decisions have to be looked at.
The council now reckons that its bill will be something in the region of £44 million, but its annual capital allocation is just £13.4 million. RCT could be completely wiped out unless there is significant additional funding to the Welsh Government from here. Rhondda Cynon Taf has given £500 to every household affected; the Welsh Government have given another £500, and more to those who are not insured. I hope that the crowdfunder that I set up, which has now reached £52,341, will be able to give £250 or perhaps more to every single household. I would love it if the Minister would stand up and say that he will ensure that the Government match the funds that have been raised. I represent one of the poorest constituencies in the land, and for that money to have been found locally is just phenomenal. If somebody watching this debate on television would like to give us £50,000, it would mean that we could give £500 to every household.
I want to celebrate the spirit the people of the Rhondda, which has been absolutely amazing. I remember standing in the middle of the slurry in Lewis Street in my wellington boots, and there were about 30 people there who had come from all over the Rhondda to give a hand in whatever way possible. Many were in completely inappropriate clothes, but they just wanted to do their bit. One old man was in his bed and could not move, and neighbours carried him—in his bed, which was in danger of floating away—to safety. There were Canolfan Pentre volunteers there every single day. Tesco and others have provided food because lots of these families have no money to pay for food right now. Fundraising events have been carried out by Morlais. Squares nightclub has come up with £3,063. Visit Treorchy has found another £3,000. The Manic Street Preachers have given £6,000, between my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd and I. Neil Kinnock has given £500. But there is so much that we still have to do to put things right. You can make a donation as well, Mr Deputy Speaker.
It is good to hear the Government Benches so united in their support for Scunthorpe. It is a real pleasure to follow Chris Bryant. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Nic Dakin, who represented Scunthorpe county between 2010 and 2019 with a great deal of dedication and a genuine desire to help our residents.
I am very glad to represent my home town as part of a varied and beautiful constituency, which includes not only Scunthorpe, but Messingham Bottesford, Yaddlethorpe, Kirton, Holme, East Butterwick, Redbourne, Scawby, Scawby Brook, Hibaldstow, Gainsthorpe, Cadney, Howsham, Cleatham, Manton and Greetwell. As a proud Scunthorpe lass, the granddaughter of a 30-year steelworking veteran, I am particularly proud to stand here today as the first MP for Scunthorpe county who was actually born in Scunthorpe Hospital.
Across the land and indeed the world, when people hear the word “Scunthorpe” they think of steel. We have had a very challenging time in Scunthorpe over the past months, and my thoughts are very much with our steelworkers today. But we are still living up to our heritage. We are still making steel, and we look forward to doing so for many years to come. Few who visit our industrial cathedral will ever forget the sight of red hot metal, and I was delighted to welcome the Business Secretary to Scunthorpe only a couple of weeks ago to feel the heat on his face, in our rod mill. We were very well looked after, and I was extremely proud to show him how hard we work in Scunthorpe. Unfortunately, when I suggested during the visit that I could go and watch the steel being tapped, as we had done as kids, I quickly discovered that health and safety has tightened up somewhat since the 1990s—a little extra training and a flame-proof suit is now required for that activity.
Scunthorpe emerged in the 19th century as an extraction point for ironstone and later as its own iron producer, eventually becoming our nation’s greatest steel hub. Our steel is known for its exceptional quality and durability. We have supported infrastructure projects throughout the nation’s history. Our works are truly powered not by coke, but by our steelworkers. They are strong, stoic people who have genuine pride in their work, and I know that the friendships forged there can last a lifetime. I am not saying all this purely because my granddad is watching at home but, because of him, my memories of our steelworks are of steel toe cap boots, a soot-covered donkey jacket and trips around the site on a train, and I am very excited to have been invited by the Appleby Frodingham Railway Preservation Society to relive some of those memories. I truly believe that Members of this House and people across the country will agree on the importance to our nation of keeping a truly integrated steelworks. Having home-produced, genuinely world-class steel not only serves various strategic interests for our nation; it is also integral to the Prime Minister’s mission to level up the north, and I thank the Government for the support that they have shown Scunthorpe over the past months.
Steel is our backbone, but it is by no means all there is to the Scunthorpe constituency. We are blessed with wonderful countryside, down-to-earth, generous and decent people, and a proud history of small businesses, many of which have expanded over generations to employ lots of people in our area. North Lincolnshire was described in a recent poll as the best place in the UK to bring up a family. As a mum and an aunty, I can attest to that. A few days after I was elected to this place, I was invited by Scunthorpe Cheerleading Academy to open a fantastic new cheerleading facility in Scunthorpe. I was lifted into the air to be a flyer in a pyramid, which is frankly not a sentence that I ever expected to say. My constituency has a vibrant selection of community groups —people who give their time freely. Volunteers truly make our area better, and I thank them for their work.
Now that we have got Brexit done, and having worked with the Government towards securing the future of our steelworks, I will work to see more funding for our schools. I will be fighting to widen the A15. It is a Roman road and, frankly, it is now time that it was widened. I will also be fighting to upgrade Scunthorpe Hospital, where I was born, and I thank the Health Secretary for agreeing to visit and to discuss the challenges we face. There will always be more to do, and I look forward to working with our council leader, Rob Waltham, on many future projects.
My thoughts today are very much with those affected by flooding. I am particularly aware of the efforts of my hon. Friend Andrew Percy as he seeks to help those in his constituency. I will be working with colleagues in a bid to secure a national flood resilience centre on a site in Scunthorpe. I thank colleagues on both sides of the House who have supported that project. It is an oven-ready scheme that would allow us to provide world-class training, planning and research to mitigate future flooding events.
I look forward to continuing to work with my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, who has been a huge help and support to me in my early weeks in this place. He knows that I see him very much as a father figure.
Or, indeed, a grandfather figure—him being a generation older than I am. [Laughter.]
I am proud to represent a constituency that has quietly given so much to the nation over the years. If you came to this place by train, we probably made the tracks. If you came in a car, we probably made the wire in the tyres. And it is thanks to Russell Ductile Castings that we are dry, as it is a foundry in my constituency that made the tiles on this roof. For many years, the people of Scunthorpe and its surrounding areas have played a quiet but crucial role in the success of this country, and I look forward to fighting for Scunthorpe to be levelled up.
It is a real pleasure to follow Holly Mumby-Croft. Many of us in this House deeply miss Nic Dakin, but it was a real pleasure to hear her story about how she was forged in Scunthorpe. Like her, and like all of us in this House, we hope that Scunthorpe will continue to make steel for many years and generations to come.
I want to speak about Kirkstall and Burley in my constituency, which were devastated by floods on Boxing day in 2015. In the aftermath of those floods, we were promised by Elizabeth Truss, the Environment Secretary at the time, that Yorkshire would soon have
“one of the most resilient flood defence programmes in the country”, and that Leeds would be given
“the right level of protection” from floods. Well, more than four years after those words were uttered, we still do not have those things and still desperately need them. Phase 2 of the flood alleviation scheme for Leeds was cancelled in 2011, and we are still fighting to get it back. Although phase 1 has happened and protects Leeds city centre, Kirkstall and Burley are still as unprotected as they were on Boxing day 2015. We had a near miss with Storm Ciara and luckily avoided the floods that we experienced in 2015, but if the water in the River Aire had risen by just a few centimetres more, we would have been devastated in exactly the same way, because we still do not have the flood defences that we were promised and that we need. We remain £23 million short of the funding that we need in Leeds to build the second phase of the flood alleviation scheme. Some work is happening, and we welcome that. Only last week I visited Harden Moor in Bradford, where trees are being planted and leaky dams are being put in, but not, frankly, at the level needed to provide the protections that we need.
People in my constituency, and particularly businesses in my constituency, like those that other hon. Members have mentioned, are in fear every time there is a flood warning, and every time they see the river and the canal near to where we live rising, because they know that we are just as vulnerable as we were back then. Not only are we as vulnerable to the flooding but, as my hon. Friend Chris Bryant said, many people and businesses now do not have flood insurance, although not always for the same reasons that he mentioned. In this case, it is because that flood insurance is simply unaffordable, as now we have gone through floods the insurers will not insure at the same rates as they did previously. Yesterday evening, I spoke to a business owner and asked him what happened to his flood insurance after the floods of 2015, and he said that it almost trebled overnight. Many businesses in my community no longer have flood insurance because it would make their businesses unviable.
Flood Re helps with residential property but not with small businesses. Somebody who is, say, running a guest house, and is very much classed as a business, cannot get that guarantee of assurance. We need to re-look at how Flood Re works. It works well for residential property but not for small businesses.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He and I, and Philip Dunne have today written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make exactly these points. Flood Re, although incredibly welcome, is of no use to small business owners who are particularly badly affected in my constituency. I know that the Government are reviewing the Flood Re scheme, but this is a matter of urgency now. Businesses did return to Kirkstall and Burley after the floods in 2015, but they might not return quite so quickly next time, because the flood premiums will go up again—and also, frankly, because they believed the promises in 2016 that the flood defences would be built. They have not been built, and I think that would change some of the business decisions. So, urgently, let us get the flood defences, but let us also ensure that businesses can get insurance.
Climate change is only going to make these matters worse and more pressing. We know that water levels are rising. We know that ice caps are melting. We know that our weather is becoming more unpredictable, as my hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds pointed out. So in future we will need to be better protected and better prepared for floods. That is all that people in Leeds are asking for. We are asking to be better protected and better prepared, because it is a case of when and not if we get flooding in Leeds again. We have done everything we can in Leeds to ensure that we get the flood defences we need. We now look to the Government to come up with that £23 million to ensure that we do level up the flood defence spending so that the people of Kirkstall and Burley get the flood defences we need. That can only happen if the Government deliver on their promises.
I start by joining colleagues in praising the work of our emergency services and flood responses around the country. The constituency of Runnymede and Weybridge has the Thames on our border. We have several different rivers going through the constituency that are liable to flooding. Given the limited time, I will not meander like the Thames, but focus on what is, in some ways, a love letter to the River Thames scheme that urgently needs to be built.
Much of our land is on a floodplain. Building on floodplains is not new. Many areas of this country are on reclaimed land. Indeed, Chertsey in my constituency, the site of a Benedictine abbey, was originally known as Chertsey Island. Clearly, we need to prevent further development on unprotected floodplains, but that is not enough. We also need to protect our developments that are already there—our homes, our businesses and our land. Many of my constituents are persecuted by perennial flood warnings and alerts. Watching your garden gradually flood, praying that it does not reach your house, is not a way to spend Christmas, but that is the experience that many of my constituents had last year.
Flooding is increasingly a natural threat to our communities, and the protections that we need cannot be underestimated. The River Thames scheme—a scheme of flood defences for my constituency and others—promises to protect our homes and businesses. I do not know how much steel the River Thames scheme may need, but I do hope that it comes from Scunthorpe. The tragedy of the 2014 flooding in Runnymede and Weybridge leaves us in no doubt of the urgent need for the River Thames scheme. I look forward to working on this with the Environment Agency, DEFRA and other key stake- holders, including Surrey County Council, which has done much of the heavy lifting in driving this project forwards.
But it will still take many years to get the River Thames scheme built, so we need to turn our attention to flood mitigation. Local community flood groups are excellent, and they are a crucial part of building resilience, as is the Flood Re scheme. Flood Re has made it easier for domestic customers to claim insurance, but there are also large numbers of small businesses affected in many of our constituencies, as we have heard from hon. Members across the House. Flooding of these businesses means that they find it very difficult to recover, especially the smaller ones in small economies. We need to consider how we can mitigate the risks and damages to businesses when flooding occurs.
Prevention is better than cure. It is clear that the Government are leading the way with the Environment Bill and our commitments on the environment—meeting net zero by 2050, and introducing long-term, legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource and waste efficiency—but we still need to get our defences built.
The motion calls for a review. Rather than another review and a pointless waste of money, we need action and investment in flood defence infrastructure. I welcome the Government’s pledge to invest in flood defence schemes across the country. The River Thames scheme will provide not only flood defences but a community asset of natural parks and paths that we can treasure and use to turn disadvantage into opportunity.
We have been here so many times before; Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you have spoken on the Floor of the House about the impact of flooding. That is why this motion is so important—we must turn focus into action and ensure that we address the real issues. I know that my constituents who yet again were flooded are fed up of hearing promises; they need resilience put in place. We also need to agree this motion because the climate is changing. We are getting wetter winters and, as a result, river levels are getting higher and more frequent flooding is occurring.
We know that systems are not working in the way that they should. We need more connectivity in the whole system, with a whole catchment approach, to manage the way that the water works, as opposed to just looking at this scheme by scheme. We need to ensure that the money spent and offered is working most effectively. It is not, which is why it is important that we review those processes to ensure that they work effectively for the future.
We have heard so many times how upper catchment management is needed to slow the flow and to ensure that we do planting, manage farmland differently, look at a ban on grouse shooting and manage peatland, yet the focus is always downstream. I know from the research carried out by the University of York that we could take away 20% of the water coming downstream if we managed uplands differently, which would mean that my city would not flood—yet the resources go into barriers getting higher and higher, as opposed to solving the issue upstream. That is why the Environment Agency is right to call for resources to be given to areas to manage the whole catchment efficiently and effectively. We must look at that.
I want to remind the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, that as part of the national flood resilience review, the discussion put a focus on the comprehensive spending review, which is on its way, to ensure that proper investment goes into upper catchment management. I hope that she makes those representations, and I will certainly make further representations to her about that.
My city is grateful that the Foss barrier worked. It was a £17 million investment, and the Minister’s predecessor gave us the additional spending to ensure that we brought it up to speed. It saved a lot of my city, but yet again properties and businesses along the River Ouse flooded, which has caused much anxiety in my community. There is a personal impact from not only seeing the flooding but anticipating it.
Time and again, we have seen a failure to look at community resilience planning and property-level resilience. The procurement mechanisms need to be reviewed. We have had surveys carried out and then more surveys carried out because the last lot of surveys were inefficient. Four years later, we still have not had the upgrades that we need. The companies providing those surveys are now saying, “You have to buy our resilience measures,” and jacking up their prices. A kitemarked door might cost about £2,000, but those companies are saying, “You’ve got to buy ours, which is £5,000,” and it is not kitemarked, so there has to be a special testing mechanism. That is nonsensical. We need to ensure that we have proper procurement. I want to put a question out there: is the Environment Agency the right agency to deal with property-level resilience? This is about building, and issues around building and planning might belong in a different agency, to make the process more effective. I would like the Minister to look into that issue, to see whether these schemes can work faster and more efficiently.
Finally, we need to ensure that the money works together. We have money coming from the Bellwin scheme, resilience grants, insurance, the Environment Agency and local authorities, yet the money does not pull together to create community-level resilience, in place of individual property resilience. We need to ensure that that works.
It could have been a lot worse in York. I want to thank Environment Agency staff for their day-to-day diligence and keeping me up to date; the local authority staff who work day and night to ensure that we are safe; and the BBC, who were fantastic at communicating what was happening.
There is a slight irony in the politicisation at the beginning of the debate, because many of us in west Kent will remember the floods in 2000, after which the then Labour Government did absolutely nothing about the bursting of the River Medway and the flooding of many areas of Tonbridge and west Kent. My first experience of flooding was as a community representative—not yet an MP, but the Conservative candidate in Tonbridge and Malling—in 2013. That Christmas was ruined for many when the Medway again burst its banks. Since then, I have been able to report some pretty good news, because we have had some serious investment. We have had investment in the Leigh flood storage area and work done by the EA upstream in Penshurst. There is more to do, but we have seen good action and a lot of work to protect our towns and villages.
I remind Opposition Members that the Conservative party has done more to protect residents from flooding than any other party. I have spoken to those affected by flooding, and they care about us ensuring that it does not happen again, not point scoring. I hope we will stick to planning, which is exactly what this Government are doing. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House remember the River Medway (Flood Relief) Act 1976.
It is regular reading for the grandfather of Goole. The forthcoming proposed amendment to the Act may seem like a small one, to increase the height of the Leigh flood storage area, but it will protect many lives. The Leigh flood storage area is a vital piece of infrastructure on the River Medway, without which the town of Tonbridge would be constantly vulnerable. I urge those who are not familiar with it to visit, particularly now that the A21 is fixed. It helps to store water and protect our town, and we have seen it used many times in not only the past few weeks but the past few years, protecting thousands of homes.
The enlargement project comes with unqualified local support. In addition to Government funding, it is supported by Kent County Council. I pay tribute to the work that the county council has done and the council leader, Roger Gough, for his efforts. Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, led well by Nicolas Heslop, has done extremely impressive work as well.
Local businesses have also chipped in and done their bit. As a Conservative Administration, we believe that people should contribute to their own protection, and that is exactly what many of these businesses are doing. One of the great successes of the Government intervention after the 2013 Christmas floods was the establishment of the Medway Flood Partnership, bringing together all the relevant organisations to develop a plan for flood relief on the Medway catchment area.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to private sector investment in flood defences, the Treasury needs to be a bit more generous and give a bit more tax relief to ensure that we get more private money to help protect our properties and businesses?
My hon. Friend is right. I would like to see VAT relief on private flood protection, which many people are forced to buy for their own homes. I hope the Chancellor will consider that for the coming Budget, but I suspect we may have missed that one.
I want to thank a few people who have made a huge difference. In our community, flood wardens have had a huge impact by not only ensuring that people are safe when a flood occurs but helping to clear culverts and report blocked drains, so that floods do not accumulate, and particularly surface water flooding. Carl Lewis in Tonbridge has led the way, and a small thank you should go to him. Other people around the area have agreed to allow private land to be used.
When I was driving from home into Tonbridge the other day, large areas of west Kent were covered by the Medway. However, in Tonbridge we have had issues this winter caused by management companies and house builders failing to look after residents. This is not a question about building on floodplains; these are buildings that are deliberately and expertly built on floodplains, with floodable garages underneath. They are specifically designed for the purpose, but those living in Riverbank House in Tonbridge were let down badly by Pembroke Property Management. Only now has the floodwater been pumped out of their car park following the flooding that occurred before Christmas. Pembroke had no plan to deal with the flooding and failed to ensure that there were working pumps in the car park, so cars remained submerged for weeks. I pay particular tribute to some of the local councillors, including Matthew Boughton, who made a huge noise in making sure that constituents and residents were properly represented.
In the absence of action from property management companies, we must look at ways to ensure that residents are protected and that they are not charged for services that should already be provided—none more so than those let down by Redrow at Waterside Reach. This building is only four years old and, as the name suggests, it was specifically built next to the river. So there is more that this Government can do and I look forward very much to the Government taking action and making sure that towns such as Tonbridge—deliberately built, by the Vikings, on the river—are able to continue.
Colleagues will be aware of the devastating impact that the recent storms have had on communities in my constituency. In Pontypridd and right across Rhondda Cynon Taf, the level of rainfall was unprecedented, and the River Taf’s levels rose by over 1 metre above all previous records. Houses and businesses have been absolutely devastated, and my community and local authority simply could not have prepared for the amount of rainfall that Storm Dennis brought us.
As a new Member of this House, I never imagined that my first few months as an elected representative would be spent visiting local businesses and residents who have seen their livelihoods and their lives shattered. The flooding that communities such as mine and others across the country have experienced is surely a sign that the climate crisis has gone far enough. I pay tribute to the fantastic way in which our community groups throughout my constituency and all over Rhondda Cynon Taf have come together to support one another, but we really should not be facing such unprecedented and unexpected natural disasters in the first place.
I am proud that the Welsh Labour Government have made £10 million available to households impacted by flooding, and the First Minister has been so quick to respond not just by visiting those impacted in my constituency, but by setting up emergency relief schemes. Yet the cost of the flooding damage in Wales could reach at least £180 million and that figure is also predicted to climb. We are simply not receiving the financial support from the UK Government to cover these unexpected costs.
As my hon. Friend Chris Bryant said, it is expected that over a quarter of the total number of flooded homes in the UK are in our local authority area of Rhondda Cynon Taf. The community response has been fantastic, but I would not expect anything less. A crowdfunder that I set up only two weeks ago has managed to raise over £36,000, in addition to the crowdfunder set up by my hon. Friend. Donations have come in from all over the world, showing that this is clearly an issue close to everybody’s hearts—although perhaps not our Prime Minister’s.
Although the flooding and the rainfall have caused immense and in places irreparable damage, the consequences of the flooding are far broader, wider and long-lasting than simply cosmetic damage. There are former coalmining sites across south Wales that are now at huge risk of landslides. Indeed, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, landslides began soon after the rainfall. Yet it is clear that the UK Government do not understand their responsibilities when it comes to devolution, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has claimed that this is an issue for the devolved Welsh Government. The Welsh Labour Government have committed to the thorough flooding response, but the management of all former coal sites, in the wake of this flash flooding, needs urgent attention. I have been extremely concerned to see that there is some confusion from this UK Government over where their responsibilities to former coalmining sites lie, and I would like this cleared up urgently.
I sincerely hope that this UK Government are committed to working alongside colleagues in the Welsh Government to find a way forward beyond the flooding devastation. Longer term, I would like to see a new consideration of the clearly outdated Barnett consequential funding formula. I am sure that colleagues on both sides of the House would agree that we should not have to wait for natural disasters such as flash flooding to strike before properly considering methods of funding devolved Administrations such as Wales.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for mentioning Tenbury Wells, which was in my constituency in 2007 when it flooded three times. The fact that somebody lost their life there is a proper tragedy, and when one talks about flooding, there is only one thing worse, and that is efforts to politicise it.
In just two days, we had a whole month’s worth of rain, on 15 and
My hon. Friend is outlining the devastation that Herefordshire suffered during the recent floods. We of course experienced similar problems in Shropshire, but the leader of my council is telling me that the Bellwin scheme is not proving sufficient to meet all the demands that the council has in clearing up the mess. Could he say something about that?
My council has had the same problem. I would ask the Government to think very carefully about training local authorities in how to manage the Bellwin scheme. Certainly, councillors in Herefordshire have been panicking because they do not necessarily understand how the scheme works, they do not know how much they can spend, and they do not know who to turn to. I think the Department that is managing this scheme needs to reach out to the affected local authorities so that at least the officers there know what they are talking about and can advise elected councillors properly.
Calderdale is the second smallest local authority in the country, and we have to spend about £750,000 before we get £50,000 back from Bellwin. Does he agree with me that the scheme needs reviewing and bringing into the modern age?
I do agree.
In my constituency, we have had the Holme Lacy Causeway inundated. We knew it would flood: it flooded last October, and it has flooded again. Nothing was done to protect that stretch of road. The worst case is the B4224, which is the main road through Fownhope. The damage there is so severe that the wall supporting the road has collapsed into the garden of my own parliamentary assistant, so not only could I not find out what was going on, but she could not get to work. She is about to get married and could really do without this, but worst of all, the people of Fownhope and the businesses there are not able to get the passing trade. Again, the council has been worrying about whether it is going to get the money, instead of getting on with repairing this road. However, even if it moves as quickly as possible, it will still take a long time.
I do think that local authorities need considerable training in understanding the Bellwin scheme, and if it is not fit for purpose, we need to make sure that it is. When we get a situation such as the one I have described, vehicles have to be sent round other roads, which damages them and means that they are not necessarily in a fit state at the end of such a diversion. The potholes are already bad; everybody has the same problem with them. We therefore need to get a much better understanding of the problems local authorities go through when dealing with flooding, just as the Government did with Flood Re, when they understood some of the challenges people faced in getting home insurance. Obviously I agree with what I heard earlier about how that needs to be extended to local businesses, because in my constituency businesses are damaged by floods again and again, and we need a more robust system for assisting and helping those people.
One cannot simply put into words the praise required for the fire brigade, the Army and the Environment Agency when such floods take place, and indeed, as Chris Bryant said, for the way that our constituents rise to the challenge. The people of my constituency, and indeed all of Herefordshire and I suspect the whole country, have been fantastic in the way they have supported one another; they have risen to the challenge of understanding what a community is and have united in trying to deal with this horrendous problem of flooding. My hon. Friend Mr Walker has been having trouble with Toronto Close, which was under water; he has asked me to mention that because, as a Minister, he is not able to speak himself. There, once again, residents were left to deal with flood defences themselves. It is tough enough when we know that we are going to flood, but not getting the support and help that we need from the Environment Agency makes it even worse.
Every year—every summer—I go around my constituency with the Environment Agency to make sure that all the preparation we can possibly do is done to ensure the flooding alleviation systems work. It is worth doing; those who do not do it should do so, because that preparation makes a world of difference. We saw it with the Somerset levels, when the Environment Agency thought it was all right to let trees grow in the rivers, and then all that happened was that the wildlife and the species it was hoping to protect simply drowned when the rivers backed up, because branches got caught in the overhanging trees.
We really do need to manage our waterways properly. We need to ensure that the people who understand that are listened to, and we need to ensure that the communities that suffer again and again and again are protected. That is why I welcome some of the things the Government have done. I think that local authorities could do more, and they need the help and training to make sure that that happens.
My heart goes out to anybody who has been flooded. I lost my car in 2007. I do not think people can understand until they have been through it the smell, the filth and the vile nature of a flood, and I would wish it on no one.
On Boxing day 2015, Riverside Drive and Beaver Chase in Prestolee and Stoneclough in my constituency suffered severe flooding from the rising waters of the River Irwell during unprecedented high rainfall. Some 57 properties were affected and residents were forced to flee their homes. Properties were severely damaged and vehicles written off. The Environment Agency has worked very hard to come up with a proposal for the flood defences. It is now four years since those major floods and the proposed flood defences have still not been installed. The residents believe the Government are not prioritising them because they are prioritising schemes with larger numbers of properties, so Prestolee keeps getting pushed back further.
Following meetings with local residents and the Environment Agency, I wrote a letter to the Minister who is in her place today on
The damage caused to the river bank is such that if the river levels rise again, the estate will be flooded again, and there have been several flood alerts since the flood in 2015. Every time there is rainfall the residents get very anxious and worried about what may happen. It is causing a lot of them mental distress.
Both the residents and the Environment Agency are keen to get construction of the flood defences under way as soon as possible, and there are no technical difficulties in doing that. However, until the funding is made available no work can be commenced, and even if the funding was granted today, the first set of work would not be able to start until spring 2021. We do not know how many more rainfalls there may be, and obviously people are incredibly distressed about this.
It is difficult to install temporary defences due to the fact that there is a lack of space. The ideal solution is to build flood walls on both sides of the river, as some properties on the right bank also flooded in 2015. However, a flood wall on the left bank adjacent to Riverside Drive is far more urgent. The Environment Agency informed me that it would cost in the region of £4 million for walls on both banks of the river or £3 million for the left bank alone.
In just one week residents have collected 2,876 signatures on a public petition, and I hold those signatures and the petition in my hand now. I will be presenting the petition this afternoon at the end of proceedings. The petition urges the Government to fully fund our defences. I therefore ask the Minister to commit to the money that is required to build them in my constituency.
We have all heard about the fact that—and everyone recognises this—with climate change we are going to have more and more and more rain; it is not going to lessen. There is going to be more and more flooding and devastation. More and more people and properties are going to be affected. So why do the Government not take the bull by the horns? All the areas in the United Kingdom that have been affected by the floods and are going to be repeatedly affected by floods must be provided with the money they need now, so as to prevent future damage. It makes no sense not to do that. It would help to regenerate our economy if these contracts were provided and it would rebuild areas, so in every aspect this is a win-win-win. I really do not want to see the sadness and the devastation on my constituents’ faces again, so I urge the Minister to grant us the funding that we need to construct the walls on the two banks.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to the residents of Prestolee, especially Karen Smith, who helped organise the petition, to the Environment Agency, which has helped and done a great amount of work, and to all the emergency services. So again, at the risk of sounding like a broken tape recorder, I say: please can we have £5 million for our flood defences?
My constituency of Bassetlaw has suffered from the effects of flooding. The historic town of Worksop was flooded in 2007, and as a result several residents and businesses struggled to get insurance afterwards. Unfortunately, in November 2019 the town was flooded once more, resulting in the evacuation of many people from their homes. The fire and rescue service had to use boats in the town centre to rescue people, and I would like to thank it, along with the other emergency services, agencies and volunteers, for their hard work in dealing with this emergency. Worksop library was also flooded, and we have had to relocate the service elsewhere until the summer, when it will be fully open again.
Worksop town centre has struggled in recent years, and we are desperate for a boost to help regenerate our town. However, it would be pointless to make significant investment in our town centre without making sure Worksop will not flood again as it did in November. Some have argued that steps could have been taken to mitigate the problems caused by the November flood, such as opening the sluice gate; however, what is really needed is a joined-up and long-term approach, including proper flood defences.
Worksop was not the only place in Bassetlaw affected by flooding. Walkeringham Primary School was flooded, and the staff and pupils have had to take refuge in nearby Beckingham until the school is refurbished and fully operational once more. Members of the community in Shireoaks were out with sandbags, trying to protect their village. Residents in Retford also suffered from flooding, and I met with constituents on Darrel Road to discuss their concerns. When somebody invites us into their home and shows us the devastation and the water marks from the flooding, it really shows us what a dreadful experience people have been through and are still going through.
I welcome the Government’s announcement of £2.6 billion for flood defences, with another £4 billion to come. I would ask that Bassetlaw receives its fair share of this funding and that schemes such as the one at Retford beck or the dredging of the River Ryton can be looked at with urgency.
With Storm Dennis we did not see a repeat of November’s floods, thankfully. While other areas of Nottinghamshire experienced terrible flooding, we came through relatively unscathed; this time we got lucky. With this Government’s ambitious plans, I am sure luck will no longer come into it.
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a climate emergency, and in the past few months, flooding has swept through communities right around our country. It is becoming a tragic fact of life that more and more families and businesses are now experiencing the consequences of flooding.
In South Yorkshire, our residents know this reality all too well, as they saw their homes and businesses destroyed by the devastating floods of last November. More than 1,000 homes were affected and many families are still living in temporary accommodation. While the recovery effort is well under way, there is still an urgent need for ongoing support in many communities in South Yorkshire and around the country, and widespread flooding shows the stark reality facing us.
Unless we change our ways, the destruction caused by flooding and extreme weather will become the new normal. We cannot afford for that to happen. In South Yorkshire, we are developing strategies that will help to safeguard our environment. We are working to ensure that these devastating events are not repeated and that South Yorkshire’s resilience to flooding is strengthened. However, our efforts must be backed up by Government action. There are three steps that I would like the Government to take so that we can better protect residents and our communities in South Yorkshire.
First, there is an urgent need to invest in flood prevention and mitigation. Last week, I wrote to the Secretary of State to submit South Yorkshire’s flood priority programme. It is a bid for £271 million to substantially reduce flood risk right across South Yorkshire. Approving that in full would give 19 schemes the resources they need to plug funding gaps. It would provide additional resilience to our defences, and cover refurbishment and maintenance costs. I also propose an investment of £4 million in natural flood management, which would introduce upstream solutions that can slow the flow of water and reduce the risk to downstream areas. Let us be clear that this is the scale of ambition, funding and commitment that we need from the Government. They, of course, have a golden opportunity to deliver by funding our submission in full at next week’s Budget. My constituents have paid the price of flooding physically, financially and psychologically. The programme is not only credible, costed and comprehensive, but the right thing to do.
Secondly, the Government need to look again at the Green Book. They need to urgently look at the specific criteria used to make funding decisions about flood defences. The current criteria prioritise too much the value of the properties affected which, given the areas affected in recent floods in South Yorkshire, will make it much harder for them to compete for funding.
Thirdly, we must ensure that those who are affected by the risk of flooding have access to flood protection insurance. The Flood Re scheme has made a difference, but there is still work to do. We have heard Government Members talk about small businesses, but research published last week highlighted the gaps in Flood Re. It found that 70,000 homes are at risk of being left uninsurable in the future. Those affected by flooding—in South Yorkshire and right around the country—as a result of the most recent storms need to have the peace of mind that they will be able to secure insurance and that the insurance that they can secure is affordable.
One thing that the insurance industry tells us, particularly in relation to business, is that all businesses can get insurance for flooding. The problem, of course—I wonder if the hon. Gentleman has come across the same thing—is that the premiums are so high and the excesses are phenomenal, too. I found a 35-seat café with a £65,000 excess to pay.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. He raises a very valuable point, with which I completely agree. I am particularly pleased that he intervened at that point, because it very neatly takes me on to the final point that I was hoping to make. In November last year, when I spoke to the Prime Minister about the flooding situation in South Yorkshire, he agreed that there would be real merit in a South Yorkshire summit on flooding. We now think it will include the whole of Yorkshire. Last week, when I raised it with the Secretary of State, he said that the flooding summit would take place within the next two months. I am grateful for that update, but it would be incredibly helpful if the Government and the Secretary of State could—perhaps the Minister could do so when she comes to close the debate—confirm when the flooding summit will take place in Yorkshire. That is important because it will bring together all the relevant parties to discuss the resilience that we do and do not have, and to consider what needs to be done in the short, medium and longer term to reduce the risk of further flooding right across Yorkshire. Protecting families and businesses in South Yorkshire, and not subjecting them to further harm from floods, is a priority that I believe the whole House shares. A summit would allow us to achieve that together and ensure that collectively we can work together so that those concerns are addressed. That is the least our constituents deserve.
It is a real pleasure to follow Dan Jarvis, for whom I have the utmost respect. He speaks very clearly and succinctly, and with passion about this very important issue. First, I thank and congratulate the Opposition on bringing forward this debate about such an important matter. It is important that we talk about these issues across the House. I put on record my thanks to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its Ministers for their help and support through difficult times in recent weeks and months, as my constituency has been hit significantly by floods.
I would also like to echo comments by other hon. Members and thank the Environment Agency, which has delivered fantastic support on the ground. Specifically, I would like to mention a couple of folk in my area, Keith Ashcroft and Stewart Mounsey, who have been fantastic in their leadership of their teams. I thank the emergency services and councils for their fantastic work in these difficult times. Last, but by no means least, I would like to thank the volunteer groups who work so hard in these areas in difficult times. Volunteers work hand in hand with the emergency services and the Environment Agency to deliver fantastic support, so I put on record my thanks to volunteers across the UK and in Cumbria, in areas such as Appleby, Glenridding, Keswick and Cockermouth.
We have talked today about the impact of flooding across the UK, which is not insignificant. Many people have felt significant effects. Cumbria has been hit hard, as has Penrith and The Border, not least in 2015 but also in recent weeks in areas such as Appleby, Shap, Crosby, Rickerby, Warwick Bridge and Glenridding.
I welcome my hon. Friend to Parliament and, with his veterinary experience, to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. This morning, we launched a cross-party inquiry into flooding across the whole country to try to ensure we build on our previous flood inquiries and deliver a better system in the future.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was delighted to be appointed to the Committee and it is very welcome that it is going ahead with that inquiry. It is important that we work across parties on these issues to deliver the best for the whole country.
Members have talked about the impact of flooding across the country on individual communities, not least the financial implications. Members also touched on indirect consequences, and one issue that I would particularly like to mention is the mental health of our constituents. These episodes are traumatic. There is also anxiety and stress for constituents who are waiting nervously, wondering whether it is going to happen to them. We underestimate the mental health implications of flooding for young people, as well as for old people. Kids have their schools closed and they then worry about their mums and dads, who are worried about whether their homes will be flooded. We can work together on a cross-party basis to deliver help on mental health.
Many Members have touched on how the funding system may need to be reviewed and I welcome those comments. We need to consider how flood schemes are funded, their criteria and what communities will be protected. I would like to bang the drum for volunteer groups. Many do not have a funding source. Some are charities and they have to apply for funding. I would like the Government to look at whether funding sources are applicable to volunteer groups, so that they can apply for and receive funding. I have seen what volunteer groups do on the ground and they need to be funded. They need not just short-term grants, but grants for up to three years to give them the continuity of support that they need. That is really important.
Members on both sides of the House have talked about insurance schemes. I welcome the review of the Flood Re scheme. The scheme is welcome, but I reiterate points that have been made about making small businesses eligible for it. That would be an important step forward. We must also look at the eligibility criteria in relation to how recently homes have been built.
Finally, I would like to talk a little bit about uptake and flood resilience at an individual household level, and what measures the Government can take to encourage people to make their properties more resilient. They could not only encourage, but perhaps incentivise and even enforce, landlords to introduce flood protection schemes in their premises, especially where those landlords do not occupy the buildings and it is tenants who are vulnerable. If not every premises in a bank of houses is protected, the water will get in, and I would like people to think about that.
I again congratulate the Opposition on bringing forward the debate. Obviously there is an element of politics to it, but I have been reassured this afternoon that there is a lot of cross-party consensus about these important issues. It is important that we try to work together on that basis to deliver the best for the people of the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to follow Dr Hudson.
As the Minister might be aware, the Humber is the region with the second largest area of floodplain in the UK, and Hull tops the list of local authorities with the largest number of homes classified as at high risk of flooding, at nearly 20,000 properties. We were very lucky this time, but back in 2007 we were not so lucky. The floods at that time devastated our city, causing over £40 million of damage.
The city council responded by working with Yorkshire Water to develop plans to retain as much water as possible before it runs down into the city. Recently, the area became the first to agree officially binding rules regarding sustainable drainage requirements. It is the first joint initiative of its kind in the UK, where an area has looked at solving the problem itself. The city council is also involved in tree planting and is looking at other natural ways to absorb as much water as possible. However, that will not solve all the problems.
I pay tribute to the previous MP for Scunthorpe, Nic Dakin, and the work that he did across the House to push the Government to support an initiative from the University of Hull to build a state-of-the-art national flood resilience centre at the Scunthorpe site. The plan has received cross-party support from Andrew Percy, among many others. The previous Secretary of State said that she would engage with people bringing forward a Bill and look at it seriously. The current Secretary of State said that he would be happy to meet the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole and others to discuss it. When the Minister sums up, I would like to hear how advanced the discussions are or when they will take place. Will she also give an update on the Government’s consideration of the University of Hull’s proposal to build a flood resilience centre, which would benefit everybody across the Humber?
The main point on which I want to focus the Minister’s mind today is the Lagoon Hull project, which again would benefit the whole of the Humber. I raised it on
Hull is at risk of flooding not only due to water coming down, but from higher tides. The tidal barrier was very effective in 2013, after a tidal surge, but the water was within one inch of coming over the top. Some manufacturers were flooded because they were not protected.
The plans for Lagoon Hull are very ambitious. It is a £1.5-billion infrastructure scheme that would protect the city and region right into the 22nd century. It is a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the future of the area. The proposal is to create a lagoon by constructing a four-lane road that takes the A63 along a six-mile route into the estuary, from the docks in the east of the city to Hessle in the west. That would immediately benefit the whole of the front of the city of Hull by protecting it, while diverting traffic away from the city and easing all the problems of congestion. We are looking at the Government’s proposals for a free port in Hull, which we hope would generate more business for Hull port. If that happens, we will have to deal with the congestion problem, and this is one of the answers.
The lagoon project would provide more than 14,000 new jobs, new waterfront living and leisure opportunities, port expansion, and direct access for shipping to new deep-water quays. It could add £1 billion a year to the region’s economy through improved productivity. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn Hull in a magnet city and the envy of the rest of the UK. I urge the Minister to look into the proposals in detail, meet the people behind the project, and talk to Members of Parliament from across the Humber about how this could benefit the whole area and protect our city against flooding not just now, but as we go forward into the future.
Like just about every Member who has spoken, I am standing up on behalf of the 110 homes in my constituency that have been flooded, the 55 business that have been affected and the 200 homes that have been evacuated over the past two or three weeks as the storms have passed through. It is unbelievably unpleasant to suddenly find one’s home being flooded. It was particularly unfortunate for a couple who moved into a new house on the first Saturday of the storms, only to find themselves flooded by the Sunday.
Before I get to the meat of my speech, I want to speak up for the people who put themselves at risk when they come out to help us and keep us safe. The Environment Agency is made up of an extraordinary bunch of people who work incredibly hard, including in my constituency, and do so with efficiency and kindness for the local population who are seeing their homes flooded. They go around with the most extraordinary gentle efficiency, making people feel both relaxed and helped at the same time.
The Severn Area Rescue Association is a team of volunteers who cover the whole of the River Severn area. They go out in appalling conditions, risking their lives to keep all of us safe. I have an enormous amount of respect for SARA. Of course, we also have all those people who are professionally involved—the police, the Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, and of course the local council—all of whom look after us very well.
I also say a big thank you to the Ministers who have been involved. I know that there has been a lot of criticism over the past few weeks, including that the Prime Minister has not been involved, but I want to give my experience of engaging with the Government through this crisis. Not only has the Secretary of State been in touch with me on a regular basis, but the floods Minister was in my constituency, up to her knees in floodwater, within 24 hours of the floods hitting. I am incredibly grateful for their support and for the Bellwin funding.
My main town of Bewdley epitomises the problems with flood defences across the country. On the western bank, there are £11 million-worth of demountable flood barriers, which were put in by one of the finest leaders of the Labour party, Mr Tony Blair, in 2001. My community is eternally grateful to the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield. The barriers have done an amazing job and they protect the better part of 300 houses.
On the eastern side—the Wribbenhall side—there are 27 or so homes in Beales Corner that up until now have been protected by temporary flood barriers. After the last floods, property-level flood barriers were put in place, and this is the first time they have been tested. What we tend to forget is that temporary flood barriers are incredibly dangerous. On the first Tuesday of these events, I was out at 11 o’clock at night watching the local services get ready to clear up when the barriers were expected to break down. Even if they stand fast, the barriers are on tarmac, which is not waterproof, so water comes up behind them. Two or three floods ago, somebody managed to nick the pump that was pumping the water out. It is unbelievable that somebody would do that during this type of event.
The point is that the economics do not quite stack up. While we have spent £11 million protecting 300 or so houses on one side of the river, on the other side it is not deemed worth while spending £5 million to protect 20 or 30 houses and keep the whole town open, without losing the use of the bridge. There is some strange mathematics that goes on to work out whether it is worth investing this money. I fear that more value is put on a London property, where the real estate value is some 10 times that in Bewdley, than properties in other parts of the country. However, we must never forget that even though the calculations are based on the real estate value, the true value of a house is that it provides a home for an individual. We must remember that it is a family’s home; it is not a bit of real estate. We must get this right.
We need to have another look and consider what should happen. I am very keen to have a lessons-learned exercise.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the emergency services for all they have done. People who live in my constituency have been very affected by flooding in recent weeks. Constituents I met over the weekend believe that flooding has been exacerbated by farmers not being allowed to clear ditches and spread the contents on their fields because, ludicrously, it is deemed by the EU to be waste product. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should use the opportunity of Brexit and leaving the EU to look at this important matter again?
I think we should also learn lessons from other constituencies that have flood control centres. We do not have one in Stafford, but I am interested to hear from colleagues what we can learn in my constituency—
My hon. Friend is right, and in raising the issue of farming, she brings me on to my next point. She is right about having a local control centre, and it is very important that we work with the Environment Agency and deliver what it needs to make sure we have local control centres.
On Saturday morning, I met a farmer, Mr Grainger, who has a problem with the fact that, in order to secure his single farm payment, he has to have three-crop rotation throughout the year. His first crop has been ruined. His farm is a bog of unfarmable clay and mush. He cannot get a second crop in, so he is going to lose his single farm payment, and that is a big problem. I have already raised it with the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and he will look into it, but that is something that Mr Grainger and many other farmers are very keen to get their head around. They want to know whether we can help them.
Flooding is really one of those absolutely terrible things. There are a lot of heroes involved. There is only one thing that I am slightly sad about with having the demountable barriers, and that is the loss of the stoicism and humour of the local fish bar, Merchants, which is a fish and chip shop down the side of the River Severn. Every time it flooded, Mr Merchant used to put a sign outside his shop saying, “All fish caught on the premises”. We will not see that sort of stoicism with the flood barriers.
It is only right that I begin by paying tribute to our blue light services, volunteers and local government workers who helped Britain to weather the storm of unprecedented flooding. With three major storms, Storm Jorge being the latest, February saw record rainfall. We also know that the last 10 years have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record. As a representative of a coastal community, which bears the brunt of the rising sea levels resulting from climate change, I find that deeply concerning.
More than 10,000 homes and 700 non-residential properties are at risk of flooding from the sea in my constituency. In order to quell the threat, Portsmouth City Council is embarking on the largest coastal defence scheme this nation has probably ever seen—the Southsea sea defence scheme. The 4.5 km stretch across the coast will be the first line of defence against flooding for the next 100 years, but are the Government doing enough to support such schemes? The council has told me that it has struggled to obtain full funding under Government rules. Support from Ministers needs to go beyond simply part-funding projects.
Another point that must be addressed is the current Government’s failure to recognise the interaction between flooding and heritage sites. A case example is Southsea castle in my patch, which is a major cultural English heritage asset. As expected, sea defence works surrounding the Henry VIII-constructed fortification require extra care and diligence in stabilising its groundwork, but the way that the Government currently give out funding fails to recognise the increased cost incurred to protect heritage sites. I fear that other local authorities will no doubt encounter that problem as the climate crisis worsens. I would like to ask the Minister if she will address the way that Government funding is structured to consider the extra costs of protecting cherished heritage sites.
The Government also need to set out what they expect local enterprise partnerships to do when it comes to protecting communities from flooding. In my constituency, Portsmouth City Council has been making efforts to secure money from the LEP in a bid to bridge the shortfall in Government funds. That has been at times a real challenge in Portsmouth, arising from the rigid LEP funding structures.
Coastal communities such as my own are not only facing additional threats of flooding due to climate change: they are also at risk because they have been hit hardest by austerity. As the House of Lords Select Committee report shows, communities such as Portsmouth are dealing with a toxic cocktail of even less funding than their neighbours and being forced to face more climate change challenges. There is a clear imbalance that needs to be redressed. The Prime Minister has previously committed to hosting a flood summit, bringing together regional partners and stakeholders, and I echo the concerns we have previously heard that we need to ask the Minister when this summit will take place.
I am asking the Minister lots of questions today. They are questions that I would have asked her in person, but sadly, the Minister previously offered me just 15 minutes for discussion of the biggest sea defence scheme in the country and cancelled two consecutive meetings after repeated requests, one just hours before the meeting. Our coastal communities are rich in leisure, tourism and heritage activities. Their loss would be our nation’s loss and they must be protected. There are gaps in the Government’s current strategy that need to be addressed. It is high time that the Government took notice of this fact and started properly supporting coastal communities such as Portsmouth.
I am afraid that I have to reduce the time limit to three minutes, if there is going to be a hope for everybody to be able to make their very short remarks.
The impact of recent floods, particularly associated with Storm Dennis, devastated a number of communities across Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, but it is often true that in the worst and most difficult of times we see the best of community spirit, and that was certainly the case when local residents came out to support each other and community organisations offered their support too. One such example was Merthyr Tydfil football club, which offered a free carvery lunch to any emergency service workers who had been out on that Sunday morning helping residents since the early hours—community spirit at its best.
Despite 10 years of austerity that has hit local authorities hard, both Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and Caerphilly County Borough Council were on the frontline supporting residents, ensuring roads were kept open as far as possible, assisting with the clear-up operation, delivering sandbags and opening rest centres. On both sides of my constituency, we have significant issues with culverts being blocked, sinkholes, water mains collapsing and bridges that need urgent repair.
Last week at PMQs, I asked the Prime Minister for a cast-iron guarantee that Welsh communities would not be treated differently from other parts of the UK and would get the money we need to recover from flood damage. The Prime Minister gave an assurance that that money would be passported through, and that the Government would work closely with the Welsh Government in the coming weeks. Can I ask today for an update on the engagement with Welsh Government and what level of support Wales is likely to get? The First Minister of Wales has indicated that the cost could be somewhere in the region of £180 million.
The Secretary of State made a comment in his opening speech about coal tips, which, as we know, are largely the responsibility of the Government. Tips are a huge area of concern for my constituency and many others, and we need assurances that both publicly and privately owned tips are adequately monitored. In my constituency, the community of Aberfan suffered more than anywhere due to the impact of coal tips that had not been properly monitored, and people are understandably very concerned about this issue. So we do need today a signal from the Minister that funding for the remedial works required at the tips will be forthcoming.
In conclusion, the Union of the United Kingdom, a Union that I have always felt mattered—I still do—must mean something at times like this. The whole point of the United Kingdom is that we are there to offer support to each other in times of need. While we appreciate that flooding and environmental issues are largely devolved matters, these unprecedented times need unprecedented measures. We need to be there as a Union of four nations to support each other, so I ask the Minister today to outline what support she can offer to Wales in the coming weeks.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak today. Diolch am y cyfle i siarad heddiw.
My constituency was one of the hardest hit by the recent floods. Homes and businesses suffered, with costs of millions of pounds, and infrastructure damage is considerable. It was heartbreaking to see that people who had invested so much of their lives in their homes and in their businesses were so severely affected by the flooding. We have been fortunate in having such close- knit communities, and in having workers—from local government staff to those in the emergency fire and rescue services—who are willing to give so much to help those in need, but the toll that this has taken on the mental health and wellbeing of those who were flooded has been considerable, and they will need support for a long time to come.
All this costs money, and I make no apology for my next comments which—yes—are political. I do not “play politics”. This is not a game. My politics are based on compassion, care, fairness and equality, and if the flooding has done nothing else, it has shown how vital those qualities are. Unless we address the broader political issues, the people of Cynon Valley, and elsewhere, will continue to suffer disproportionately from the effects of such flooding.
Austerity policies and welfare reforms have hit Wales hard, and, as always, those reforms have hit the poorest the hardest. Parts of my constituency have some of the highest child poverty figures in the country, and, as we approach International Women’s Day, we should also remember that women have been hit particularly hard by the austerity and welfare reform measures of Tory Governments. Because of Tory Government austerity policies since 2010, funding per head of the population for day-to-day devolved public services in Wales will have fallen by 7% in real terms. A recent report by Wales TUC stated that as a result of the cuts, there are far fewer police officers and fire and rescue services, and more than 30,000 council jobs have been lost—and those are the people on whom we rely to help us at times like this. We can rely on them, but we cannot rely on our Prime Minister and this Government. Greta Thunberg says that
“the world is on fire”.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned. What the Prime Minister was doing during the flooding I do not know, but whatever it was, he certainly was not doing it in Cynon Valley.
The issue of climate change is central to this debate. I have three children, and I want a future for them. While some moves have been made to appear to be addressing the issue, they have been inadequate. Targets remain too long term and plans remain thin on detail, and action is needed now. We must keep up the pressure on central Government to act quickly to tackle climate change.
Putting care for our fellow human beings at the top of our agenda is a political choice, just as pursuing austerity policies was a political choice by the Tory Government. We need to put this right now, because what will happen next time floods occur? The science is clear on this: our valleys can expect to see 50% more rain over the next decade. Unless we act now to redress the imbalance of wealth in the country and to properly fund a green industrial revolution, people in Cynon Valley and the rest of Wales will continue to suffer from the double whammy of poverty and the increasingly frequent and forceful effects of climate change.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Beth Winter, who spoke so eloquently about some of the issues that we all face. My heart goes out to the communities across the country who have been affected by the nightmare of flooding. I am sure the whole House agrees with that sentiment and I support my colleagues in their endeavours in this regard.
I am conscious of time, so I will address just three issues. The first is the scale of the challenge that we all face; I am therefore speaking in favour of the motion. The second is the need for better flood protection in my constituency, which includes Reading itself, Caversham and Woodley, and the third, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend, is the need for leadership.
I think it is worth considering both the vast scale of the storms that we face this winter and the broader long-term trend towards warmer, wetter winters. The fact that that is coupled with drier summers does not reduce the flood risk in the winter; indeed, it increases it, and we need to consider that very seriously. Following such a major series of incidents as we have faced during this autumn and winter, the normal response in the House, and from any sensible Government, would be to request an independent inquiry. I believe that an inquiry is important, and I urge the Government to reconsider and withdraw their amendment.
Let me now move swiftly on to the issues in my own area. Reading sits on the River Thames. It is also the point at which the Kennet, which is a major tributary of the Thames, joins the river. It was striking to go down and observe the scale of the flow, and to see a mighty river like the Thames in flood. It is truly terrifying to see the force of the water coming past. Dr Spencer spoke well when expressing concerns about his area. In our part of the Thames valley, we are lucky to be in a river catchment that sits on soft rock which absorbs water, unlike colleagues in other parts of the country, including the north of England and Wales, where, so tragically, water floods down very rapidly. We are also lucky to benefit from the “sponge” effect of the chalk in the Cotswolds and the Chilterns. In the long run, however, we face serious prospects of increased flood risk.
In 1947, there were substantial floods in Reading and several hundred houses were affected; these are older properties, built in Victorian times on an existing floodplain on either side of the river. Indeed, some parts of the suburb of Caversham are actually below river level. If the Thames were to flood catastrophically in our area, we would see water spread up to half a mile from the river. I can tell those who have ever visited Reading on a train that, in such an event, they would be travelling on tracks that were lapped by a mighty flood from the Thames. Clearly, there needs to be serious and substantial action to protect the town and the surrounding area from this type of flood and action on the tributaries, as I mentioned earlier. I would like Ministers and officials to put more effort into exploring the possibility of changing land use upstream, given that we have such a large catchment.
We are seeing the climate emergency at first hand, and not only this; we are seeing flooding as a social disaster, too. While furniture can be replaced and homes can often be repaired, it is the devastating human impact that flooding has on individuals, families and communities that has been most striking—everyday lives uprooted by flooding; families left in temporary accommodation; days of lost schooling; shops, cafés, businesses, the heart of communities, lost and submerged; treasured possessions ruined; and the fear and continual uncertainty each time the rain returns and the rivers rise. It is the human damage that remains.
I was out in my constituency late last Friday night as the rains returned. I saw properties damaged two weeks before by the floods and people up all night, although they were not flooded again. That anxiety, worry and stress cannot be undone. The next day, we held a flooding meeting for my constituents and the communities affected by the flooding. Many came from across the constituency concerned about the impact of the flooding. I was there mainly to listen to their concerns, to feed them back to the stakeholders—Natural Resources Wales and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water—and to find out what was needed and how much money it would take.
We owe it to our constituents across the country to address the environmental and social tragedy that we witnessed last week and two weeks ago and which we are witnessing time and again. We must mitigate the risks of climate change and the climate crisis. We should already be transitioning to a society, natural environment, infrastructure and economy that allows us to combat and reverse climate change, but the Government’s policies, including their austerity policies, have hampered that transition and our ability to upgrade our infrastructure to prepare properly for the future.
I am very glad the First Minister offered a contingency fund for the homes damaged by the floods and that in my constituency we will be getting money from our local authority as well. I ask the Secretary of State: will he provide adequate funding for the properties and the long-term infrastructure that is needed?
The first thing we need from the Government is flexibility around the resilience grant. A majority of those flooded in 2020 also flooded in 2015. The resilience grants announced as a package of measures nine days after Storm Ciara state that people who claimed a resilience grant four years ago will not be eligible this time. I understand that from Whitehall that might seem logical, but I am afraid it is incredibly short-sighted, given the reality in Calderdale. In some instances, resilience measures paid for by the 2015 grants were damaged in this flood and need replacing. It is also worth bearing in mind that advances in resilience measures have been made since 2015 and so enhanced protection could be possible. Surely there should also be an option for groups of properties to pool their grants to invest in further external flood defences, as was the case in Earby in Pendle, where the local authority made a claim on behalf of residents and used the money to fund flood defences for the whole community.
Secondly, I ask that Calderdale—along with the constituency of the hon. Member for Calder Valley—is granted tier 1 status based on national risk assessment criteria, in recognition of our ongoing management of flood risk. Calderdale is having to find in the region of £3 million from its annual budget every year to commit to ongoing flood mitigation work, and I am asking the Government to recognise this and match it. That would allow us to deliver enhanced ongoing maintenance work on clearing drains and gullies, and to have a dedicated flood response team. It would allow the council to work with the Environment Agency to deal with the massive issues of orphaned assets and of culverts, which, as we have heard repeatedly, are in a state of disrepair. It would also support efforts to manage the really significant emotional and mental stresses of those living with the risk of flooding.
We also need match funding for the Community Foundation for Calderdale’s flood appeal. In 2015, the Government did match fund the money raised by the Community Foundation. We have already heard from my hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock, who is frustrated that the Government are not going further when they are match funding the moneys raised in South Yorkshire. We have not even had the commitments in Calderdale to match fund the work done by the Community Foundation. It has been incredibly proactive and innovative in coming up with the Flood Save and Watermark schemes in Calderdale, but the only way the Community Foundation will be able to help everybody, on the back of what we have faced in this crisis, is if the Government step up and match fund that fundraising.
Another part of the jigsaw is the use of reservoirs as a means of mitigating flood risk. I will be tabling amendments to the Environment Bill on this issue, and I am glad to hear that they will have cross-party support from the Back Benches. I hope that the Secretary of State will look favourably on those amendments as we seek to use reservoirs as a means of mitigating flood risk, which will be incredibly important for residents in Calderdale.
In my own constituency, several hundred properties and businesses have been affected by flood risks and the flooding of the River Cole. Action to prevent flooding has been hit by years of Conservative cuts to flood defence spending. The Environment Agency, the emergency services and local authorities all play a significant role in managing and responding to flood risk, but insufficient funds are being spent on protecting the most vulnerable communities from flooding and the consequences of extreme weather. Ministers must urgently fund the schemes that these communities say they need, as well as putting in place longer-term flood prevention strategies with appropriate bodies to prevent flooding and to protect homes and businesses.
Many households cannot afford to meet their insurance premiums, which have skyrocketed, and a recent study showed that 20,000 homes that are not protected by the Government’s insurance scheme are also not protected by flood defences. Can the Minister confirm what discussions have been held with the insurance companies? Will the Government commit to making funding available to homeowners who find themselves unable to claim on their own insurance policies?
One of the businesses in my constituency put £50,000 of its own funding towards flood defences. Despite that, it still suffered losses of over £500,000. In some cases—in fact, in most cases—only two sandbags were provided to households, although six to eight are recommended by the Environment Agency. We need to tackle flood damage and flood risk as a matter of urgency and priority. That can be done only with appropriate levels of funding going to the Environment Agency, local authorities and the emergency services, so will the Minister commit to these funds being put in place to ensure that no homes or businesses suffer unnecessarily from floods? In my own constituency it is the River Cole that needs flood defences to be put in place.
It is a real privilege to stand here today at the Dispatch Box following in the steps of my lovely predecessor, the late great Paul Flynn. Paul came to this Dispatch Box slightly later in his political career, and he maintained that the box was just the right height to prop him up. I can also confirm that it is just the right height for me to hang on to, to stop my knees knocking.
I reiterate the words of condolence expressed by my hon. Friend Luke Pollard, the shadow Secretary of State, when he opened the debate. Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost their lives, and we send our deepest sympathies to them and to all the communities affected by the floods caused by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge.
This has been an interesting debate, and I thank all Members who joined our call for action from this Government. Colleagues across the House and from all parties have raised concerns here in the Chamber today, and out there in their constituencies over recent weeks. The debate has given us a chance to bring together those views, stories and experiences.
My hon. Friends the Members for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) spoke movingly about the ongoing fear of flooding and the problem of escalating insurance premiums. My hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Reading East (Matt Rodda) made the eminently sensible suggestion that we need to look upstream to develop solutions to the flooding occurring further downstream.
My hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) requested that funding be released immediately to assist their constituents. My hon. Friend Emma Hardy gave us an insight into the Lagoon Hull project, and my hon. Friend Mr Morgan spoke about the need to protect important heritage sites from floods. My hon. Friend Holly Lynch and Craig Whittaker were clear that they want tier 1 status for their part of the UK too.
My hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds talked about specific flood issues such as blocked culverts and the ensuing damage. My hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock highlighted the ongoing and regular issues of flooding and the problem of the match funding formula, which works against our poorest communities.
A number of Government Members said that we do not need a review; we just need to get on with things. I say to them that a review is not a public inquiry. It is different, and it has a different remit and function. We need to learn lessons and get things right for the future as the disastrous effects of the climate emergency become more and more evident. That is why the motion calls for a review.
I commend Holly Mumby-Croft for her maiden speech. Her passion for her home town and its steelworks is evident. As the Member representing another steel city, I look forward to working with her to protect the UK steel industry.
Beyond the walls of this Chamber, our world and our planet are experiencing a dangerous, unpredictable and evident climate emergency. We can no longer sit by and watch the world burn, communities flood and people die. I say to Ministers and all the Members sitting behind them that it is now time to get a grip. It is now time for them to show leadership and demonstrate to the families of those who lost their lives, their livelihoods, their homes and their cherished memories and belongings that they care, will do their job and will do what is necessary to save lives.
It was good to hear from the Secretary of State what has been done so far to prevent the flooding and which areas have been spared this time, but too many have not been spared, which is why we want this overarching review to learn the lessons and prepare for future potential flooding events.
The Secretary of State outlined the numerous individual reviews undertaken over the last decade, which highlights just how piecemeal things have been. We need a complete UK-wide review. We do not want an inquiry; we want a review. This should not be party politically difficult. It is essential to allow the people of all parts of the UK to recover from the floods and prepare with certainty for the future. We need to act now.
It is clear, though, that action is an approach that the Prime Minister seems to apply only to a general election campaign. I am sorry to say that he has been missing in action, unlike his Secretary of State. He had no time to visit Rhondda or Pontypridd—no time for York or Calder Valley, or the many other communities affected up and down the country—but this is all about choices. He chose to fly to the Caribbean for a holiday paid for by someone from somewhere. He chose to disappear to his grace-and-favour mansion. He chose to hide in the flat in Downing Street, rather than get down to the Cabinet Office briefing room and give the country the leadership we need. The one thing we now know about this Prime Minister is that when the going gets tough, he does not get going. He goes missing. What a disgrace and a blatant abdication of his responsibility to this country and its people.
We know, as my hon. Friend Beth Winter eloquently stated, that austerity has had and continues to have a devastating impact on our environment and natural world. The lost decade of Tory and Lib Dem cuts to local authorities in England, and also to organisations across the country such as the Environment Agency, has seriously undermined our ability to tackle the environmental crisis and deal with the impact of the climate emergency.
I will not, as we are short of time.
I am proud to be the Welsh Labour MP for Newport West, and I know what devolution means and that flooding is a devolved matter, but rainfall, rivulets and rivers know no borders. Floods do not respect council or constituency boundaries. We need co-ordinated action across the four countries of the United Kingdom.
The people of Wales have been devastatingly affected by the storms, as my hon. Friend Gerald Jones highlighted. Many people were left without power, many homes are currently uninhabitable and many communities are left trying to recover.
Over a quarter of the UK’s flooded homes are in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area of south Wales. My hon. Friends the Members for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) have been tenacious and passionate in standing up for their communities, and that goes for all hon. Members representing people, families and areas affected by the storms and floods, who have debated this important topic today.
The hon. Member for Calder Valley noted that he is furious at the Government’s inaction, and I agree. Mark Garnier said the flooding should have been raised in Cobra, and I agree. Any Member who wants to stand up for their community and all the areas affected by the recent storms and by years of inaction should support our motion this afternoon.
Let us show that we care about those affected, let us rededicate ourselves to the fight against climate change and, once and for all, let the Prime Minister show that he cares, that he is up to the job and that he will not let down hundreds of thousands of people when they need their Government more than ever. I commend this motion to the House.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Unfortunately, as we all know, flooding does not discriminate, as shown by the many impassioned speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Flooding affects all constituencies, and I thank every single Member who has contributed today.
Before I continue, I will mention the marvellous maiden speech by my hon. Friend Holly Mumby-Croft, the granddaughter of a veteran steelworker. She brought to life his world, her world and the world of Scunthorpe. It was vivid and fascinating to hear about the steel industry, toecaps and all. I know she will make a great contribution to this House, and she is very welcome.
At the outset, I add my condolences to those of the whole House to the families and friends of those who sadly lost their life as a result of these storms. I also give my heartfelt thoughts to those who have been flooded.
I have seen the impact at first hand in Bewdley, Worcester and Calder Valley—some of my family live near Bewdley—and I experienced the terrible flooding in Somerset in 2013-14. Some of the impact of that flooding, on both individuals and businesses, is still imprinted on my mind.
Like many others, I pay tribute to all the responders who are managing this ongoing incident and supporting flooded communities, and to the emergency services, the Environment Agency, the local authorities, the Army, Government officials and multiple Departments across Government for their professionalism and relentlessness. Some of them have been working, and are still working, 24 hours a day. Thanks to them all, and thanks to all the communities and charities working on the ground. We have heard so much about their fantastic work.
I will not take any interventions, because I want to refer to a lot of Members who have spoken.
I reiterate that this has been an unprecedented time. February 2020 was the wettest February on record in England and, indeed, right across the UK. Some places received over four times the average monthly rainfall, and the Met Office had to create a new scale on its map to show areas receiving over 200% of their average rainfall. Members who saw the map will have seen that quite clearly. It is absolutely staggering.
Although it is devastating for anybody to be flooded, we must remember that one in six properties in England are susceptible to flood risk. The storms flooded over 3,400 properties in February. Yes, that is terrible for the people who are flooded, but it is equivalent to less than 0.1% of all properties at risk in England. I point out to the shadow Minister that that compares with the 17,000 properties flooded in 2015, so the situation is a great deal better.
Thousands of properties have been protected by the permanent and temporary flood defences about which we have heard so much today. More than 128,000 properties have been protected this winter, despite the record river level rises. Many colleagues have shared their experiences to show how flood defences have helped and have worked. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who gave good examples of that.
In addition, people are becoming more aware of their risk of flooding. Digital services, such as the online flood warnings and alerts provided by the Environment Agency, which I hope the shadow Secretary of State has had a look at, because they are rather good—[Interruption.] He gets them himself, which is excellent. They have had 3.1 million hits so far, and this is very important, because individually we need to take responsibility for resilience. On that note of awareness of risk, I wish to respond to comments of Chris Bryant about the coal tips. Just to clarify, let me say that the Secretary of State for Wales has met local partners, including the Welsh Government and the UK Coal Authority, and it is the UK Coal Authority that has been collecting and analysing data on the situation. Based on that data, which has been gathered quickly, it will establish a schedule of inspections. That will start with dealing with those areas with the highest risk.
I want to point out that this is still a live flooding incident and the outlook is unsettled, although I am pleased to say that in some areas the journey to recovery is beginning.
As the Secretary of State pointed out, the Government have acted swiftly to support those affected. We have supported the authorities by activating the Bellwin scheme. I take the points made by my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin about the need for better training and perhaps better information to be disseminated about that scheme. The flood recovery network was activity on
The shadow team called for another review, but yesterday we held a meeting where MPs could talk to the Environment Agency and feed in all their information, data and findings, yet only one Labour Member turned up—all the rest there were Conservative Members, feeding in and reviewing constantly, as is happening all the time with the flood recovery framework. That is what it is there for; people are constantly feeding in from local authorities, from places on the ground, and from flood forums, as are MPs and all the rest.
I wish to touch quickly on insurance, because many Members have raised that issue. In 2016, the joint Government and industry initiative launched Flood Re to improve the availability and affordability of flood insurance for at-risk properties. Before that, only 9% of those households could get hold of flood insurance, whereas now 100% can get quotes from two or more insurers. However, we are looking further at insurance cover through an independent review; the Government are already undertaking a review, so there is no need to have another review into this. We announced that on
I wish quickly to deal with individual cases. My hon. Friend Craig Whittaker mentioned that the schemes are taking too long. I will ask Sir James Bevan, from the Environment Agency, to give an update on the progress and what is happening there. I will of course look for the letter mentioned by Yasmin Qureshi, and I apologise, because we are normally pretty fast at responding to people.
On the call for help for Toronto Close in Worcester, the EA will continue to work with the community.
On the funding formula, I must reiterate to all colleagues that money is handed out with regard to the number of properties at risk and the number of people at risk. The value of properties has nothing to do with it, and deprived areas have a special focus.
We will look at what is happening on flood plains, because both the Secretary of State and I agree that planning needs to be looked at. The Government are absolutely committed on tackling flooding and will have a new strategy going forward. We will be holding a summit in Yorkshire and will let the House know the date of it in due course.
Question put (
The House divided: Ayes 227, Noes 328.
Question accordingly negatived.
Question put forthwith (
Question agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House notes the damage caused by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge and expresses thanks to workers from the Environment Agency, emergency services, local councils and volunteers; acknowledges that following the Pitt Review in 2008, local and national response was significantly improved through the establishment of Local Resilience Forums which have led to partnership working and in addition, the Cross Review in 2018 which led to the publication of new guidance on multi-agency flood plans; further acknowledges that following the National Flood Resilience Review in 2016 there were further improvements through the establishment of the National Flood Response Centre and improved weather and flood forecasting capabilities, but recognises that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and that further investment in flood defence infrastructure will be necessary in the years ahead.