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Like just about every Member who has spoken, I am standing up on behalf of the 110 homes in my constituency that have been flooded, the 55 business that have been affected and the 200 homes that have been evacuated over the past two or three weeks as the storms have passed through. It is unbelievably unpleasant to suddenly find one’s home being flooded. It was particularly unfortunate for a couple who moved into a new house on the first Saturday of the storms, only to find themselves flooded by the Sunday.
Before I get to the meat of my speech, I want to speak up for the people who put themselves at risk when they come out to help us and keep us safe. The Environment Agency is made up of an extraordinary bunch of people who work incredibly hard, including in my constituency, and do so with efficiency and kindness for the local population who are seeing their homes flooded. They go around with the most extraordinary gentle efficiency, making people feel both relaxed and helped at the same time.
The Severn Area Rescue Association is a team of volunteers who cover the whole of the River Severn area. They go out in appalling conditions, risking their lives to keep all of us safe. I have an enormous amount of respect for SARA. Of course, we also have all those people who are professionally involved—the police, the Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service, and of course the local council—all of whom look after us very well.
I also say a big thank you to the Ministers who have been involved. I know that there has been a lot of criticism over the past few weeks, including that the Prime Minister has not been involved, but I want to give my experience of engaging with the Government through this crisis. Not only has the Secretary of State been in touch with me on a regular basis, but the floods Minister was in my constituency, up to her knees in floodwater, within 24 hours of the floods hitting. I am incredibly grateful for their support and for the Bellwin funding.
My main town of Bewdley epitomises the problems with flood defences across the country. On the western bank, there are £11 million-worth of demountable flood barriers, which were put in by one of the finest leaders of the Labour party, Mr Tony Blair, in 2001. My community is eternally grateful to the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield. The barriers have done an amazing job and they protect the better part of 300 houses.
On the eastern side—the Wribbenhall side—there are 27 or so homes in Beales Corner that up until now have been protected by temporary flood barriers. After the last floods, property-level flood barriers were put in place, and this is the first time they have been tested. What we tend to forget is that temporary flood barriers are incredibly dangerous. On the first Tuesday of these events, I was out at 11 o’clock at night watching the local services get ready to clear up when the barriers were expected to break down. Even if they stand fast, the barriers are on tarmac, which is not waterproof, so water comes up behind them. Two or three floods ago, somebody managed to nick the pump that was pumping the water out. It is unbelievable that somebody would do that during this type of event.
The point is that the economics do not quite stack up. While we have spent £11 million protecting 300 or so houses on one side of the river, on the other side it is not deemed worth while spending £5 million to protect 20 or 30 houses and keep the whole town open, without losing the use of the bridge. There is some strange mathematics that goes on to work out whether it is worth investing this money. I fear that more value is put on a London property, where the real estate value is some 10 times that in Bewdley, than properties in other parts of the country. However, we must never forget that even though the calculations are based on the real estate value, the true value of a house is that it provides a home for an individual. We must remember that it is a family’s home; it is not a bit of real estate. We must get this right.
We need to have another look and consider what should happen. I am very keen to have a lessons-learned exercise.