Storm Babet: Flooding

– in the House of Commons at 5:01 pm on 23 October 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:01, 23 October 2023

Storm Babet has affected a number of communities across the UK, with the worst impacts being seen in Scotland and the very sad loss of life in Scotland and England. I know only too well the devasting impacts that flooding can have on individuals and communities. My thoughts and sympathies are with all those affected, and in particular with the friends and families of those who have tragically lost their lives in recent days. I thank emergency responders, local authorities, volunteers and the Environment Agency for their tireless efforts to help communities across the country.

Storm Babet brought persistent and heavy rain to the north and midlands of England overnight on Thursday 19 October, and through Friday and Saturday. Met Office amber and yellow warnings for rain and a yellow warning for wind were in place across large parts of England. The range was so broad due to the storm being easterly—atypical in the UK—and eastern and south-eastern facing slopes took the brunt of the rainfall. This was further complicated by a band of high pressure over Scandinavia, which trapped rainfall over the north of England and Scotland.

As the Secretary of State set out in the House last week, an emergency response centre was set up. In advance of the storm, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Cabinet Office convened the national flood response centre to co-ordinate the response. Cross-Government meetings have taken place daily since last Wednesday, and they will continue to do so this week.

Meeting in advance of the storm enabled the Environment Agency and local responders to increase the readiness of flood defences and the clearing of potential blockages, such as sluice gates and drains. Equipment was transferred from different parts of the country to areas that had been forecast to be most badly affected. Over the weekend, severe flood warnings were issued for parts of the River Derwent in Derbyshire and the River Idle in Nottinghamshire. The worst areas impacted by the storm were in Suffolk, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and south Yorkshire, where major incidents were declared.

Yesterday, I visited Bewdley on the River Severn, where I saw at first hand how intense bursts of local rainfall had led to the Severn’s tributaries putting more water into the main channel, leading to an exceptional 1-metre rise in just two hours on Friday. When the water receded a few hours later, the EA was able to complete erecting the demountable barriers to ensure that potentially floodable properties were not flooded at these incredible peak levels. At its peak more than 300 flood warnings were issued by the Environment Agency, and several severe flood warnings. The Environment Agency flood line service experienced its busiest day since 2015-16, with more than 1,800 calls.

As of this morning, we are aware of 1,258 properties that have flooded. There was also wider disruption to road and rail networks, as well as flooding on agricultural land that will have impacted crops. The Environment Agency agreed to requests for early abstraction for some farmers, so that they could take water out of the system to store in their on-farm reservoirs. I add my thanks to those farming communities, particularly in Suffolk, who responded so quickly to the needs of their local communities.

On the impact in Scotland and Wales, the House will know that this is a devolved matter. Although the storm has now passed, over the course of the week, rainfall will continue to flow into river networks, and the overall flood risk for England and Wales is currently medium. Significant river flooding impacts remain probable in parts of South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and significant river flooding impacts are also probable more widely. Further rainfall is expected later this week but not on the same scale, and it is not expected to lead to further significant flooding. Two major incidents remain in place in South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, and both are moving from response to recovery.

I take my role as the flooding Minister extremely seriously, and I am aware of the devasting impact that flooding can have on local communities. Local flood authorities will decide whether to initiate section 19 inquiries. I know that will happen in Horncastle and is being considered in other areas. The Secretary of State visited sites in Nottinghamshire today. Before she left she met the chief executive of the Environment Agency on Saturday, and she met me again this morning. My teams and I have been in constant communication throughout this event with the Environment Agency and all concerned, and particularly with all Members of Parliament from affected areas. Although unfortunately some properties have been flooded, we estimate that approximately 42,000 homes in England have been protected that otherwise might have been flooded during this incident. That includes towns such as Matlock, where the recently completed flood defence—basically a big wall—in the centre of the town on the River Derwent held up well and protected the town. Its Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend Miss Dines, got in touch with me to share pictures to show how that defence was working, and it had only just been completed.

The Environment Agency considers that its assets and response have largely been effective. We should also consider more widely those areas that have been protected due to flood defences that have been installed within the last decade. We invested £2.6 billion in flood defences between 2015 and 2021, which has better protected 314,000 homes all over England. We are currently deploying more flood schemes between 2021 and 2027, with a record £5.2 billion of investment. That includes both hard defences and natural flood defences. It includes areas such as Hull, for example, where a £42 million scheme was opened in 2022, which I visited. It is in the constituency of the shadow Minister, Emma Hardy.

However, we know of some areas where the assets were overwhelmed, not having been designed for such rare, extreme levels of rainfall. We will of course be reviewing our response once the risk of flooding has passed. That will consider flood warning triggers and local mobilisation of assets. We should bear in mind that local resilience forums are the principal authorities for deciding and co-ordinating responses, working off established protocols and existing flood risk management plans.

Some of this flooding was due to surface water flooding, which is the primary responsibility of local authorities. However, we work with local authorities, and a third of our current funding is linked to projects for tackling surface water flooding across the country. The Government are also working to improve the local and national response to flooding, including improving surface water flood forecasting. We are investing £1 million in that, and through an Environment Agency, Met Office, and Flood Forecasting Centre project, we hope to come up with some valuable suggestions and actions.

Finally, as local authorities move to the recovery phase, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is already in contact with affected councils to assess impacts as these communities look to recover.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Shadow Minister (Flooding, Oceans and Coastal Communities) 5:09, 23 October 2023

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement. Our hearts go out to all the family businesses and farmers affected by this tragedy, but especially to those affected by the tragic loss of life. I thank the emergency services and Environment Agency workers for their tireless work around the clock to keep people safe. More than 1,200 properties have been flooded, and hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes. Lives have been lost.

Events such as Storm Babet are not unexpected, however. We know that floods happen every winter. The Minister’s statement that assets have not been designed “for such rare, extreme levels of rainfall” shows complacency. We know that climate change is bringing more frequent and more severe rainfall events and, as I know from the terrible floods in 2007, where 16,000 properties were flooded in Hull, flooding has a devastating impact on people’s lives, with their belongings lost and businesses destroyed. The country must be better prepared, and we need to take our climate change goals seriously.

It is therefore incredibly worrying that the National Infrastructure Commission stated last week that

“there is no measurable long term national target to reduce flood risk…and the current target does not factor in risk increasing due to climate change.”

To make matters worse, one in six homes in this country is at risk of flooding—a number that is only set to rise. According to the Environment Agency, more than half of local planning authorities surveyed rarely or never inspected new developments to check flood risk planning conditions had been carried out. Research commissioned by insurers found that almost one third of homes built in the five most flood-prone areas were approved without a flood assessment.

The Government are asleep at the wheel. Why have they put homes at risk of flooding by failing to ensure that local planning authorities can carry out essential works? As I told the Minister last Thursday, an estimated 190,000 homes across the country were under threat from inadequately maintained flood defences in 2020. Does the Minister know where these inadequately maintained flood defences are? Did any of them fail over the weekend? Does she have any plans to find out? Are any of the overwhelmed assets that she mentioned these inadequately maintained flood assets? The Government have failed to get a grip on the challenges facing our country over flooding, but these risks, as I keep saying, will only increase.

The independent review of flooding for London in 2021 noted that the inability of organisations to share data and co-ordinate emergency preparedness action had undermined the response to flooding. I note that the Minister referred to the DEFRA and Cabinet Office meetings two days before the floods were due, but that is not nearly enough. It is time that we ended the Tory practice of waiting for disaster to strike. While the Government want to pass off responsibility to other agencies, a Labour Government would establish a Cobra-style flood preparedness taskforce to protect communities from the danger of flooding. We will plan for the long term and co-ordinate central Government, local authorities and emergency services to minimise the damage of flooding every single winter—importantly, before the flooding takes place. That would ensure that communities have the adequate drainage systems and flood defences to protect themselves.

It is time to turn the page on the Tories’ sticking-plaster politics and make the long-term decisions to protect communities from the devastating impact of flooding. That is how we give Britain its future back.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

First, we are far from complacent; quite the reverse. The hon. Member suggested that we need to be better prepared; that is what our whole flood budget is geared up to doing. That is why we doubled it to £5.2 billion. It was £2.6 billion, and it is now £5.2 billion, with all the associated flooding schemes that that is delivering—both hard infrastructure and a range of nature-based solutions, which are a high proportion of many of our schemes. I would have thought that she for one would have recognised that, given the £42 million invested in Hull—her own constituency. I visited the scheme in 2022—I invited her but do not think that she came to the launch—and the people I met could not have expressed more wholeheartedly what it had done for Hull and how it had protected properties and businesses. It is now attracting businesses to Hull that previously would not have come as it was too risky for flooding. That is a prime demonstration of what the Government are doing.

On asset maintenance, we continue to invest in all our flood and coastal defence maintenance and have dedicated an extra £22 million to maintenance in the current review period of 2024-25. Of course, checking assets and keeping them well maintained is a critical part of the Environment Agency’s work. Virtually 94% of major flood and coastal erosion risk management assets are in their target condition. In addition, when the warnings began a week ago, the Environment Agency and local authorities went out to check assets, clear culverts and drains and do all the small things that make such a big difference to whether there is or is not flooding in our local areas.

On planning applications, the Environment Agency gives advice when there is any suggestion of flood risk, and 96% of all planning applications complied with Environment Agency advice on flood risk. It is important that there are strong safeguards in place where there is flood risk, and there are, but of course planning departments have to decide whether to take note of the Environment Agency’s advice. We are working hard with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on this very issue—I see the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend Jacob Young, in his place alongside me—as it is critical to protecting our island.

I would have thought the hon. Lady would have welcomed the Cabinet Office meetings. We already have exactly what she is asking for, as we do have a national flood response centre with the Cabinet Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and various Government Departments engaging. That was set up on Wednesday, and the Met Office information and the warnings that had begun fed into its meetings—that is why information was able to go out to people. If we can do more and keep more people safe, we will always do that. That is why we have taken note of the incidents. When it is safe to do so, we will review particular things to see whether we can improve people’s safety even more.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Conservative, South Swindon

I thank my hon. Friend for her statement. The wider consequences of sudden torrential rainfall, which is happening much more frequently, are being clearly seen in constituencies and communities such as mine. I was dealing with the aftermath on Friday.

There are two observations to draw. First, there is the need for long-term planning with regard to providing more retention ponds and understanding the flow of watercourses in local areas such as mine. Secondly, short-term culvert clearing and drain clearing operations clearly need to get better. Will she meet me to discuss how we can better co-ordinate local authorities and the Environment Agency, as well as the utility companies, which also have a responsibility in this area?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for those astute observations. He is right about the more frequent incidence. This is linked to climate change—there is no doubt about that. We are focusing exactly on the whole flow of water through our plan for water, working at a catchment basis, which will be so important in future. It is local authorities’ role to keep culverts clean and all of that, so I will volunteer the Minister from DLUHC to meet him to discuss that important issue.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My thoughts and those of my colleagues are with all those who have lost loved ones as a result of the storm. We are also thinking about those who have lost pets or have been displaced from their homes or businesses as a result of water or wind damage during Storm Babet. I would like to thank the emergency responders and all those working in public services—whether SSE, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, local councils or the emergency services—who stepped up to protect and prevent risk to people, and to protect homes and businesses wherever they could. The River South Esk in Brechin reached 4.4 metres above normal levels. The flood defences there were designed to cover 3.8 metres above normal levels, so they were overwhelmed by the extreme weather.

The Scottish Government are committed to helping communities. Our First Minister Humza Yousaf has been out in Brechin to speak to those affected. The UK Government hold the purse strings, and it would be much easier for us to provide the right level of protection if they took financial action. When will the UK Government begin unlocking the recovery and repair funding? Will the Minister please commit to delivering the consequentials of that funding to Scotland as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I fully support the hon. Lady’s thanks to all those emergency services working in Scotland—interestingly, she named the coastguard’s involvement in her area. To everyone involved, we give our heartfelt thanks, and we give our sympathies to those who experienced tragedies. As I pointed out, this area is devolved, so I cannot comment on a lot of what she said. She knows it is devolved, and I will leave it at that.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for taking time on Saturday to discuss the dire situation developing across Erewash. More than 500 homes and many businesses have now been flooded, including homes on Station Road and Station Street in Ilkeston, Rutland Grove, Regent Street and Westminster Avenue in Sandiacre, and the Nottingham Road area of Long Eaton. Many residents yet again feel abandoned by the authorities, especially the Environment Agency. Will my hon. Friend take action to ensure that my constituents get the support they need, not only to deal with the clean-up operation but to mitigate future flooding? With more heavy rain forecast, what is she doing to ensure that homeowners are informed of flood risk at the earliest opportunity and not just by social media, which often excludes the older and vulnerable populations across Erewash?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank my hon. Friend for all she did this weekend. She was straight on the phone, rightly representing her constituents. I believe that the waters are now receding in Erewash. I give my sympathies to those who have been flooded. A lot of the flooding is surface water flooding, so our new scheme to improve forecasting of surface water flooding will be a real help to constituencies such as hers. DLUHC Ministers are working on what might be in place to help with the clear-up, and I will speak to them later, as will our Department.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Nature and Rural Affairs)

Flood Babet hit Chesterfield very hard on Friday, with the River Rother and the River Hipper bursting their banks. Tragically, 83-year-old Maureen Gilbert of Tapton Terrace lost her life in her own home. Her death has hit both her family and her neighbours very hard. On behalf of the whole House, I send our condolences to the family.

As many as 400 homes across Brampton, Birdholme, Riverside and Tapton Terrace have been flooded, and countless businesses now face a fight for their survival. It is particularly hard to bear as the vast majority of those properties are the same ones that flooded into 2007, despite the Government implementing schemes to protect the River Rother. Why did residents on Tapton Terrace receive the phone call from the early warning system after their houses had been flooded? What assessment has the Minister made of the success of the early warning system?

The financial cost facing flood victims and the council are huge. Can the Minister explain when the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will confirm that residents qualify for financial support from the flood recovery framework, and that the council will be covered for the huge additional cost via the Bellwin scheme? How quickly will the Government be in a position to announce that?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I reiterate our condolences to the family of Maureen. Nothing could be more tragic, so huge sympathies go out to the family. I was in touch with the hon. Gentleman over the weekend about the situation in Tapton Terrace. I fed that straight into the Environment Agency, which is working very closely with people up there to fully review what happened. That will be part of the review that we instigate. On the costs of clear-up, the Bellwin scheme is triggered by DLUHC, the recovery Department. As I said, we will be meeting to discuss whether that is appropriate, when it would be appropriate and who might apply for it.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

On Friday, Rother Valley was hit by flooding. Homes in Laughton Common, Whiston, Brookhouse, Woodsetts and other places were flooded, with more flooding in the areas of Kiveton, Todwick, Treeton, Stone, Harthill and across the whole of Rother Valley. What was clear when I met residents on Friday and Saturday was the concern that a lack of drainage and culvert cleaning had caused the flooding, as well as huge overdevelopment on the green belt, especially in areas such as Whiston and Laughton Common. What guidance can the Minister give to councils, such as Rotherham Council, to dissuade them from building over green spaces that are natural sinks for water, and to encourage them to clean the culverts and drains more frequently, because it will lead to more and more flooding if they do not?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Building and development has been considered, working with DLUHC, in our holistic plan for water. It is why we so urgently need sustainable urban drainage, for example, in our new developments and to get that switched on. It is being reviewed and hopefully that will start to happen, because it will make such a difference in trapping and capturing water, as do schemes such as grey water harvesting, semi-permeable driveways and so on. I urge planning departments to consider them, because they will make such a difference in areas such as my hon. Friend’s.

Photo of Keir Mather Keir Mather Labour, Selby and Ainsty

Flooding devastates communities across Selby and Ainsty. Residents are caused enormous anxiety and panic when events like Storm Babet occur. Will the Minister outline what steps she is taking to work with the Environment Agency regionally in Yorkshire to ensure that towns like Tadcaster are safe from flooding in future?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that we are working very closely with the regional Environment Agencies. In fact, they come to the fore in incidents like this and we are in constant communication with them. They feed into plans for flood management and water resources. It should be a cohesive programme, working together. That is also why, as I mentioned earlier, working in catchments is so important.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover

I was grateful to the Environment Agency for a call earlier updating me on the situation in Derbyshire, which has been particularly badly affected by the flooding. We remain nervous about the impact of potential rainfall this evening, but generally we are moving to the recovery phase. I place on record my thanks to all the communities and authorities who have been so brilliant this weekend. However, there is obviously a great concern around the funding as we move into the recovery phase. We need to make sure that Derbyshire County Council, unlike in 2019, is given the proper funding it needs to get things back to normal. When the Minister meets DLUHC later, will she make sure that she emphasises the need for the funding to be put in place quickly?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I hear what my hon. Friend says. That is why we will be working closely with DLUHC on what is possible to help local authorities with the clear-up. Derbyshire has been really badly hit, but it has also had £74 million of flood defence schemes, better protecting 3,900 properties. A great many properties were protected that might otherwise have been flooded. We also have to bear that in mind.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

The Minister may not be aware of this, but the BBC website has confirmed in the last hour that there are now three confirmed deaths in Scotland as a consequence of Storm Babet. Each one is a tragedy, and I am sure that we all send sympathies and condolences to them and their families. The loss of life could have been so much worse, but for the willingness of others to put themselves in harm’s way. In Shetland, the Lerwick lifeboat was at sea for 18 hours in atrocious conditions to save the lives of those on the Danish trawler Westbank, and the coastguard helicopter airlifted 45 workers from the Stena Spey, an offshore drilling rig. Does the Minister agree that they deserve our gratitude and commendation, and will she have a word with her colleagues in the Department for Transport, who are currently proposing that the response time for the Shetland coastguard helicopter be increased from 15 minutes to 60?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Of course I send condolences for all three of those deaths—any death is absolutely tragic—and I commend the lifeboat team who did such spectacular work in rescuing the trawler and those who rescued the people on the oil rig. This is a tremendous story and accolade for them. I am not sure that I am the one who can trigger the commendation, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman’s suggestion will be fed in, and I will certainly pass his other comments to the Department for Transport.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Chair, Committee of Selection, Chair, Committee of Selection, Chair, Committee of Selection

One of the victims was apparently from Far Forest, which used to be in my constituency, and obviously our thoughts and prayers are with the family at this moment. This is going to happen again. On the ground, the Environment Agency workers do a great job. Is it not time to merge the agency with Natural England, so that there are fewer managers and more people to protect us?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Again, I send my condolences following that very sad case in Far Forest. I was in the area on Sunday, so I heard a great deal about it from the local people.

My hon. Friend has made an interesting proposal. I think we should deal with the immediate issues first, but on the ground those in the Environment Agency have done a tremendous job in almost every case, particularly those whom I met in Bewdley. I must also give some praise to the community officers who meet so many worried and upset people on the streets, and also meet with some aggression. They have done a tremendous job in all the parts of the country where they were sent out.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Over the last six years, Northwich, in my constituency, has been flooded twice. This time round, having learned from the section 19 report, the Environment Agency, Cheshire West and Chester Council, the Canal & River Trust, the emergency services and other local councils did a sterling job to prevent it from happening again. My concern for the future, however, relates to the huge cuts in the trust, amounting to £300 million. I issue this plea to the Minister: will she look at that and think again?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am pleased to hear that all those organisations did such a grand job locally. We understand the huge benefit brought by the Canal & River Trust and the great work that it does, but that £300 million figure is something of a bone of contention. The trust has adjusted the figure for inflation, and the Government do not normally do that with their funds.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

I thank the Secretary of State for her visit to Retford and Ordsall today to meet some of the hundreds of people who were evacuated, such as those in Darrel Road, and to see the devastation at first hand. For many of those residents, it is not the first time that this has happened. I also thank the Minister for her reassurance that we will provide as much support as possible, and will invest in the appropriate flood defences to make sure that we can mitigate the impact. Does she agree, however, that we need to remind councils of their responsibilities to communicate information effectively to our constituents? In my case, one of the emergency respite centres was closed with only 20 minutes’ notice, and one of the emergency phone lines was down for nearly two days. Can we also please ask councils to stop building on floodplains?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I know that the Secretary of State visited my hon. Friend’s constituency today and will have seen for herself exactly what local people are facing. I know that my hon. Friend has rightly been a great champion for them, and he makes a good point about the role of local authorities in the local flood forums. It is important that everybody plays their part in this, not just the emergency services who come in if there is a problem. It is about the messaging early on, and that is why the Environment Agency has a comprehensive system of warnings that people can sign up to. Some 1.6 million people are signed up to its flood warning scheme and I would urge people to ensure that they know how to join it. I also urge local authorities to play the role that they really should be playing, and I will be talking to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to stress that further.

Photo of Samantha Dixon Samantha Dixon Opposition Whip (Commons)

Following the storm at the weekend, several areas in my constituency were affected. There are still active flood alerts across Cheshire, so many areas are not out of the woods yet. On Saturday morning, I visited a number of my constituents living in close proximity to Finchett’s Gutter who expressed serious concern over the timings of the flood alerts received over the weekend. Some of them were already standing knee-deep in water by the time the alerts came through. I join Members across the House in asking the Minister again what discussions have been had to ensure that as the rainfall continues, alerts are sent out in a timely fashion to give residents plenty of warning.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Of course it is critical that warnings go out appropriately at the right time, and that was why this incident started to be flagged the previous weekend and why the national flood response centre was set up. There is a comprehensive Environment Agency flood warning service and I advise people to sign up to it, as well as checking whether they are in an area that might be at risk of flooding. One of the issues is awareness. The EA runs a lot of comms programmes on this, but if there is more that should be done, I will look at that in the review.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

When Storm Arwen hit Cumbria two years ago, many of our villages and other communities lost electrical power for several days due to damaged power cables. I know that that has happened to many communities over the last few days. What progress have the Government made since 2021 to make Britain’s power infrastructure more resilient—for example, by creating a national bank of mobile generators to ensure that communities are not left cold, dark and vulnerable for days on end? Have the people hit by Storm Babet benefited from lessons learned from Storm Arwen, or are we no further forward?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I would like to assure the hon. Gentleman that DEFRA has been working closely with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, which has a strategy for exactly this issue, because it is critical that power outages are considered when emergencies such as this take place. Effective action was taken over the Rolls-Royce plants in the Derbyshire area; that was a very effective alignment with the Energy Department. Just as an aside, we work closely with the water industry on preparedness, should there be electricity outages, some of which might be linked to flooding. In fact, there was another incident near Derby and it had a clear management plan.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Equalities Office)

My heart goes out to all the communities affected, and particularly to those who lost their lives. The images on the news of the devastation of the floods will also have an impact on communities who have been flooded previously and have escaped. Many people in Prestolee on the River Irwell in my constituency will be among those watching with great anxiety. I have raised this issue several times in the Chamber and with the Minister. Can she assure me that every house in every community that has faced repeated flooding this week and in previous years, including Prestolee, will get the funding they need to be able to protect their lives, livelihoods and property?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady and I have met and discussed her issues a number of times. I will just flag that we launched the frequently flooded fund of £100 million, which allocated funds to 53 projects. The areas that put forward viable projects for the funding are finding it very effective, and another round will open shortly.

Insurance is also really important for houses where there is a possibility of flooding, and Flood Re works intensively on that. The process has been tweaked to ensure that as many houses as possible can get into it and a huge number of properties have been helped. Those that have difficulties can go to the inventory that has just been set up, and 13,000 people who had slightly more difficult cases have been helped through that. The Association of British Insurers has worked closely to ensure that all people are being catered for. There is also an extra “build back better” £10,000 to build one’s property back better.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Scottish National Party, Dundee East

Many of my constituents in Dundee and Angus were hit very hard by the storm, and I wish to add my thanks to all the emergency services and others, particularly at Dundee City Council and Angus Council, who did so much to help. It is absolutely tragic to see cars submerged, homes flooded, businesses closed, bridges washed away and, of course, lives lost.

Given that we are seeing more, and more frequent, extreme weather events, and given that the Minister recognised climate change in her statement, does she not now regret the Prime Minister’s recent statement rolling back many of the measures necessary to tackle climate change quickly?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman proposes, we take this matter extremely seriously. That is why we have doubled the flooding budget to £5.2 billion, as we are aware of these extreme weather incidents. It is also why we have opened a range of other funds, such as the £200 million flood and coastal resilience innovation programme, to look at how we can accelerate flood protection in areas where it will be trickier as sea levels rise, and so on. Another £8 million project in the Thames estuary, the Humber estuary, the Severn estuary and Yorkshire is looking at pathways to deal with exactly these things.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

My heart goes out to everyone affected by flooding, particularly in Barnsley, Darfield, Wombwell, Worsbrough, Lundwood and Darton. The response to flooding is obviously fragmented by its nature because there are so many agencies involved, from the emergency services to the local authority, the Environment Agency, the water companies and national Government.

I mention in particular Worsbrough Bridge Athletic football club, which has suffered flooding five years in a row. Because it is not a home or a business, it often struggles to get support. What advice and, more importantly, action can the Government give to community groups such as Worsbrough Bridge Athletic football club that are affected by persistent flooding?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Individual businesses can seek insurance. There is insurance out there, which I urge Worsbrough Bridge Athletic football club to seek. There are many other measures, including our natural flood management schemes, which are looking at much wider ways of encouraging flood protection. We have just launched a new £25 million fund on that, and there is also our frequently flooded allowance. There are funds out there, but the hon. Lady’s local authority could also do a lot to come up with the correct plans for its area.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

I thank the Minister for her statement, but she made a significant omission in relation to the impact on the railway network, which has implications for funding and the response in Scotland, because the network is not devolved.

Following August 2020’s fatal derailment at Carmont, near Stonehaven, in which three people lost their lives, Network Rail gave a commitment to the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers that it would put in place additional resources to address the drainage maintenance failures that were responsible, but the RMT’s Gordon Martin has claimed that Network Rail’s modernising maintenance project has less to do with improvement and everything to do with cuts. As the Minister is responsible for flooding and its impact, will she raise this with her counterpart in the Department for Transport to ensure that Network Rail’s failings do not again lead to death and injury, as they did in August 2020?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister very much for her statement and for her enthusiasm when it comes to improving and doing better, which I think we all welcome. Does she accept that this storm and others like it have adversely affected coastal erosion around the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, especially in areas such as the Ards peninsula in my Strangford constituency? Has she had any discussions with the Cabinet about creating a dedicated fund to build up defences in coastal communities against the battering winds and waves that are literally beating away our coastlines and impairing road and rail safety?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman mentions the particular challenges that coastal areas face. We have launched a £200 million flood and coastal innovation programme to look at those issues in particular. I urge him to suggest that his own Cabinet looks at some similar projects. We are happy to share the detail.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property)

My sympathies are with all those affected by these terrible floods. Thousands of residents of Reading, Caversham and Woodley in my constituency live in areas that could be affected by catastrophic flooding, yet plans to build flood defences next to the River Thames in Reading have been delayed. Will the Minister write to me urgently with an update on this important issue, to reassure local residents and businesses?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the water resources management plans are under discussion right now. Protections, reservoirs and water supplies will all be discussed within those plans. I cannot comment on what will be in the plans yet, but I am sure that he has fed into them. I urge him to continue to do so, because keeping people safe along this great river is of the utmost importance.

Photo of Helen Morgan Helen Morgan Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Levelling up, Housing and Communities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Local Government)

Vast areas of my constituency are once again under water, despite Storm Babet not being the most serious that we have experienced in recent times. Although my residents are largely dry this time around, they are often cut off for weeks when floodwaters rise, and many of them are old and vulnerable. What conversations has the Minister had with her colleagues in DLUHC about protecting people who are cut off from basic services for such long periods when floodwaters rise?

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have had a great many discussions with DLUHC about these issues; we also work closely with the Environment Agency, as the hon. Lady will know. The local resilience forums will be factoring in areas at potential risk of being cut off, so that they have emergency systems in place.

I have been right up the river into the hon. Lady’s constituency to look at these issues. I know how closely the Environment Agency is working on those plans, and how mindful it is of getting the right warning systems in place for any such areas. That is why our nature-based solutions funding, our frequently flooded allowance and our £5.2 billion fund is so important.