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Flooding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:44 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 1:44 pm, 4th March 2020

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.