My Lords, between 2015 and 2021, we are investing £2.6 billion in managing flood risk, including 1,500 flood defence schemes using both hard engineering and natural flood management solutions. As a result, 300,000 homes, 690,000 acres of agricultural land, 279 miles of railway and more than 5,000 miles of roads will be better protected. A further £1 billion is being spent to maintain defences.
Will my noble friend look favourably on the report to be published next week, entitled Bricks and Water, by the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum, the two central conclusions of which are that that the new environmental body will have real teeth when it comes to upholding environmental standards in flood protection and that farmers could be reimbursed for public good, such as retaining water on land? I know that my noble friend and the Department are keen on natural flood defences such as Pickering’s Slowing the Flow, and I hope that that will be the model.
My Lords, we are consulting on the new body, but we have strong aspirations, particularly with our 25-year environment plan, to enhance the environment, and of course that involves reducing risk from natural hazards such as flooding. Given the responses to the Health and Harmony consultation on future farming arrangements, we are also exploring ways to incentivise farming methods that reduce flood risk. Slowing the Flow, at Pickering, to which my noble friend refers, is a good example of natural flood management.
My Lords, the flooding of Millbank House and its subsequent closure shows how quickly flash flooding can affect any infrastructure, particularly vital infrastructure. We know that tube stations, electricity substations and so on have been knocked out in the past. Has a national survey been done of vital infrastructure where flooding could knock out services, what steps are being taken to ensure that we protect it from flash flooding, and when can we be assured that the things that keep the country moving will be protected in the longer term? What is the deadline for doing all the repair and protection of that infrastructure that will allow us to sleep more soundly in our beds?
My Lords, surface water is often much more difficult to forecast than flooding from rivers. Obviously, flash flooding has occurred, but following earlier floods the National Flood Resilience Review, published in September 2016, specifically examined the scale of flood risk and the resilience of infrastructure to flooding. That is why there are many examples of utility companies and other national infrastructure locations ensuring, rightly, that their assets are better protected from flooding. Much of this work will continue for the long term: adapting to climate change, changing with coastal erosion and deciding where the coast is to retreat and where we need to replenish. All this is part of a cocktail that we will always continue to consider.
Undoubtedly. To go back to Slowing the Flow at Pickering, tree planting was part of that process. It is about crops to be grown, trees and buffer zones. We are increasingly realising that there are all sorts of ways in which natural capital is a resource for us to use, and that we can work with farmers and landowners to support it.
Flooding can be devastating for businesses, homeowners and tenants. The cost to business can sometimes result in the business folding. Despite flood risk measures, many retailers and businesses have been flooded several times. As Flood Re applies only to domestic properties that cannot get insurance due to flood risk, do the Government have any plans to introduce a scheme that would help hard-pressed businesses which also suffer from the continual threat of flooding?
My Lords, whether it affects families, communities or businesses, clearly flooding is devastating and the clear-up can be very much a long-term affair for many. That is precisely why the business-led Property Flood Resilience Roundtable published an action plan in 2016. It is now working on a flood resilience code of practice—this is really important for places such as York, which unfortunately flood very frequently—and how to adapt the electricity supply, for example, so that if there is future flooding, recovery is much speedier. That is the way forward.
I am not sure whether I heard properly, but in spite of the United Nations World Water Development Report, which promotes very favourable natural solutions for water, both ecologically and financially, did the Minister say that out of £2.2 billion, we are spending only £15 million on natural-based solutions? If so, can we think again?
I did not talk about £15 million, but there are some specific projects involving natural capital and the £15 million that I did not mention. But, the £2.6 billion includes both hard engineering and the use of natural capital in the scheme. So, the £15 million is about specific, often community- led projects.