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Flooding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:29 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights 2:29 pm, 4th March 2020

We have been here so many times before; Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you have spoken on the Floor of the House about the impact of flooding. That is why this motion is so important—we must turn focus into action and ensure that we address the real issues. I know that my constituents who yet again were flooded are fed up of hearing promises; they need resilience put in place. We also need to agree this motion because the climate is changing. We are getting wetter winters and, as a result, river levels are getting higher and more frequent flooding is occurring.

We know that systems are not working in the way that they should. We need more connectivity in the whole system, with a whole catchment approach, to manage the way that the water works, as opposed to just looking at this scheme by scheme. We need to ensure that the money spent and offered is working most effectively. It is not, which is why it is important that we review those processes to ensure that they work effectively for the future.

We have heard so many times how upper catchment management is needed to slow the flow and to ensure that we do planting, manage farmland differently, look at a ban on grouse shooting and manage peatland, yet the focus is always downstream. I know from the research carried out by the University of York that we could take away 20% of the water coming downstream if we managed uplands differently, which would mean that my city would not flood—yet the resources go into barriers getting higher and higher, as opposed to solving the issue upstream. That is why the Environment Agency is right to call for resources to be given to areas to manage the whole catchment efficiently and effectively. We must look at that.

I want to remind the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, that as part of the national flood resilience review, the discussion put a focus on the comprehensive spending review, which is on its way, to ensure that proper investment goes into upper catchment management. I hope that she makes those representations, and I will certainly make further representations to her about that.

My city is grateful that the Foss barrier worked. It was a £17 million investment, and the Minister’s predecessor gave us the additional spending to ensure that we brought it up to speed. It saved a lot of my city, but yet again properties and businesses along the River Ouse flooded, which has caused much anxiety in my community. There is a personal impact from not only seeing the flooding but anticipating it.

Time and again, we have seen a failure to look at community resilience planning and property-level resilience. The procurement mechanisms need to be reviewed. We have had surveys carried out and then more surveys carried out because the last lot of surveys were inefficient. Four years later, we still have not had the upgrades that we need. The companies providing those surveys are now saying, “You have to buy our resilience measures,” and jacking up their prices. A kitemarked door might cost about £2,000, but those companies are saying, “You’ve got to buy ours, which is £5,000,” and it is not kitemarked, so there has to be a special testing mechanism. That is nonsensical. We need to ensure that we have proper procurement. I want to put a question out there: is the Environment Agency the right agency to deal with property-level resilience? This is about building, and issues around building and planning might belong in a different agency, to make the process more effective. I would like the Minister to look into that issue, to see whether these schemes can work faster and more efficiently.

Finally, we need to ensure that the money works together. We have money coming from the Bellwin scheme, resilience grants, insurance, the Environment Agency and local authorities, yet the money does not pull together to create community-level resilience, in place of individual property resilience. We need to ensure that that works.

It could have been a lot worse in York. I want to thank Environment Agency staff for their day-to-day diligence and keeping me up to date; the local authority staff who work day and night to ensure that we are safe; and the BBC, who were fantastic at communicating what was happening.