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Flooding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Agriculture and Rural Affairs) 1:30 pm, 4th March 2020

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.