Flooding: Management and Defence

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 18th April 2007.

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Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 3:21 pm, 18th April 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much was spent on flood management and defence in 1997 and 2006; and how much capital was invested in preventive measures in those years.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, in 1996-97, total government spend on flood management in England was £307 million. Last year it was £590 million. The capital sums for the two years were approximately £127 million and £273 million respectively. All these figures include coast protection projects, which often provide significant flood-risk benefits.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Does he agree that spending on flood defences needs to rise from the current level of £590 million to £750 million a year by 2011, which is an increase of around 10 per cent each year, so that people and businesses can continue to feel secure in the knowledge that the Government have a long-term, planned and sustainable approach to the reduction of flood risk?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord's general point but I cannot agree with the figure. We are spending more than ever before and some £4 billion has been spent across England in the past 10 years. The later years of which he speaks will be subject to the Comprehensive Spending Review that will be conducted later this year.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, does the Minister accept the advice given in Sir David King's Foresight review, which is backed up by the Association of British Insurers, the LGA and the board of the Environment Agency, that the funding needs substantially to increase, particularly given the need for adaptation around climate change?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. One can spend a lot of money on flood defences and preventive measures for an island nation. We have a fairly large programme of works on the coast and inland but I cannot stand here and say that it should be a certain figure. I have given the figures for the past 10 years, which were asked for in the Question. It has been a substantial programme. There have been modifications to the budget but there have been no capital cuts in the budget. I understand that the Association of British Insurers is content with our programme and with our keeping to our commitment to making flood defences a priority.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, the fact is that improvements in the programme, which I readily acknowledge and am grateful for, do nothing to match the increased damage caused because of enhanced property values, which have risen much more rapidly than the expenditure on flood prevention. I am not suggesting for a minute that the two could be kept equal but there is a very real problem for property owners in areas that are prone to flooding.

Noble Lords:

Question!

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, the question is coming immediately. There is a problem because the floods are increasingly the result of freak conditions. Have the Government modified their policy to take account of the change in the weather that is going on increasingly over time?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the value of properties obviously goes up. I understand that the Association of British Insurers has reported very few instances in which members have declined to make flood insurance available to households. We, the Government, are keeping our commitment to the ABI for our programme. I understand that the ABI is content with that. There is ongoing work with the shoreline management programme and the long-term work of the Environment Agency in planning for Thames safety for 2100. That work will be needed for the protection of London in the latter part of this century; it is certainly safe for the earlier part.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, given the likely tight Comprehensive Spending Review, can my noble friend tell us whether his department would be able to manage with a smaller sum?

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, local authorities and the British Waterways Board are under constant pressure from builders and developers to allow the development of housing and other buildings on flood plains. Will the Government assure me that they will assist local authorities and the British Waterways Board in resisting such pressure? If they do not, all the flood management measures will amount to nothing.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Planning policy statement 25 on development and flood risk was published in December last year by the Department for Communities and Local Government. It gives strength to local government and planning departments in refusing planning permission where there is a flood risk and improves the surveillance of the Environment Agency, which is able to block some of these projects.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs

My Lords, was the flood defence budget for 2007-08 cut in the review prior to the financial year which has just started?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, no. There was a £15 million cut in 2006-07, which has been more than restored for the Environment Agency in 2007-08, with a budget allocation of £436 million. There was slight dip in 2006-07, none of which affected capital. There was no capital programme cut in flood defences.