Flooding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge 2:25 pm, 4th March 2020

As I am sure that all Members of this House would agree, what a fantastic maiden speech by my hon. Friend Holly Mumby-Croft! It is clear that she will be an absolute champion for her steel industry.

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.