Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Chair, Committee of Selection, Chair, Committee of Selection, Chair, Committee of Selection 2:44 pm, 4th March 2020

I do agree.

In my constituency, we have had the Holme Lacy Causeway inundated. We knew it would flood: it flooded last October, and it has flooded again. Nothing was done to protect that stretch of road. The worst case is the B4224, which is the main road through Fownhope. The damage there is so severe that the wall supporting the road has collapsed into the garden of my own parliamentary assistant, so not only could I not find out what was going on, but she could not get to work. She is about to get married and could really do without this, but worst of all, the people of Fownhope and the businesses there are not able to get the passing trade. Again, the council has been worrying about whether it is going to get the money, instead of getting on with repairing this road. However, even if it moves as quickly as possible, it will still take a long time.

I do think that local authorities need considerable training in understanding the Bellwin scheme, and if it is not fit for purpose, we need to make sure that it is. When we get a situation such as the one I have described, vehicles have to be sent round other roads, which damages them and means that they are not necessarily in a fit state at the end of such a diversion. The potholes are already bad; everybody has the same problem with them. We therefore need to get a much better understanding of the problems local authorities go through when dealing with flooding, just as the Government did with Flood Re, when they understood some of the challenges people faced in getting home insurance. Obviously I agree with what I heard earlier about how that needs to be extended to local businesses, because in my constituency businesses are damaged by floods again and again, and we need a more robust system for assisting and helping those people.

One cannot simply put into words the praise required for the fire brigade, the Army and the Environment Agency when such floods take place, and indeed, as Chris Bryant said, for the way that our constituents rise to the challenge. The people of my constituency, and indeed all of Herefordshire and I suspect the whole country, have been fantastic in the way they have supported one another; they have risen to the challenge of understanding what a community is and have united in trying to deal with this horrendous problem of flooding. My hon. Friend Mr Walker has been having trouble with Toronto Close, which was under water; he has asked me to mention that because, as a Minister, he is not able to speak himself. There, once again, residents were left to deal with flood defences themselves. It is tough enough when we know that we are going to flood, but not getting the support and help that we need from the Environment Agency makes it even worse.

Every year—every summer—I go around my constituency with the Environment Agency to make sure that all the preparation we can possibly do is done to ensure the flooding alleviation systems work. It is worth doing; those who do not do it should do so, because that preparation makes a world of difference. We saw it with the Somerset levels, when the Environment Agency thought it was all right to let trees grow in the rivers, and then all that happened was that the wildlife and the species it was hoping to protect simply drowned when the rivers backed up, because branches got caught in the overhanging trees.

We really do need to manage our waterways properly. We need to ensure that the people who understand that are listened to, and we need to ensure that the communities that suffer again and again and again are protected. That is why I welcome some of the things the Government have done. I think that local authorities could do more, and they need the help and training to make sure that that happens.

My heart goes out to anybody who has been flooded. I lost my car in 2007. I do not think people can understand until they have been through it the smell, the filth and the vile nature of a flood, and I would wish it on no one.