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Flooding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury 1:50 pm, 4th March 2020

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.