Flooding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip 2:01 pm, 4th March 2020

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.