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It is only right that I begin by paying tribute to our blue light services, volunteers and local government workers who helped Britain to weather the storm of unprecedented flooding. With three major storms, Storm Jorge being the latest, February saw record rainfall. We also know that the last 10 years have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record. As a representative of a coastal community, which bears the brunt of the rising sea levels resulting from climate change, I find that deeply concerning.
More than 10,000 homes and 700 non-residential properties are at risk of flooding from the sea in my constituency. In order to quell the threat, Portsmouth City Council is embarking on the largest coastal defence scheme this nation has probably ever seen—the Southsea sea defence scheme. The 4.5 km stretch across the coast will be the first line of defence against flooding for the next 100 years, but are the Government doing enough to support such schemes? The council has told me that it has struggled to obtain full funding under Government rules. Support from Ministers needs to go beyond simply part-funding projects.
Another point that must be addressed is the current Government’s failure to recognise the interaction between flooding and heritage sites. A case example is Southsea castle in my patch, which is a major cultural English heritage asset. As expected, sea defence works surrounding the Henry VIII-constructed fortification require extra care and diligence in stabilising its groundwork, but the way that the Government currently give out funding fails to recognise the increased cost incurred to protect heritage sites. I fear that other local authorities will no doubt encounter that problem as the climate crisis worsens. I would like to ask the Minister if she will address the way that Government funding is structured to consider the extra costs of protecting cherished heritage sites.
The Government also need to set out what they expect local enterprise partnerships to do when it comes to protecting communities from flooding. In my constituency, Portsmouth City Council has been making efforts to secure money from the LEP in a bid to bridge the shortfall in Government funds. That has been at times a real challenge in Portsmouth, arising from the rigid LEP funding structures.
Coastal communities such as my own are not only facing additional threats of flooding due to climate change: they are also at risk because they have been hit hardest by austerity. As the House of Lords Select Committee report shows, communities such as Portsmouth are dealing with a toxic cocktail of even less funding than their neighbours and being forced to face more climate change challenges. There is a clear imbalance that needs to be redressed. The Prime Minister has previously committed to hosting a flood summit, bringing together regional partners and stakeholders, and I echo the concerns we have previously heard that we need to ask the Minister when this summit will take place.
I am asking the Minister lots of questions today. They are questions that I would have asked her in person, but sadly, the Minister previously offered me just 15 minutes for discussion of the biggest sea defence scheme in the country and cancelled two consecutive meetings after repeated requests, one just hours before the meeting. Our coastal communities are rich in leisure, tourism and heritage activities. Their loss would be our nation’s loss and they must be protected. There are gaps in the Government’s current strategy that need to be addressed. It is high time that the Government took notice of this fact and started properly supporting coastal communities such as Portsmouth.