Flooding Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:29 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:29 pm, 25th February 2020

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. We echo his condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives and offer our solidarity and sympathy to all those whose homes have been flooded, particularly those for whom it has become an ongoing trauma. We also pay tribute to the emergency services and the staff of the Environment Agency, who have been battling the effects of these storms for several weeks without let-up. It is a shame that the Prime Minister could not find the time during his holiday to visit these shattered communities, to listen and learn from the voices on the ground as well as offer practical support.

The Minister rightly listed the scale of the challenge, with 632 flood warnings issued in one day and over 200 still in place. This is not a normal winter and these are not normal circumstances. There has never been a starker reminder that our weather is changing, with warmer and wetter winters an inevitable by-product of global warming. This is why, time and again, we have urged the Government to take more urgent and decisive action to address the climate emergency. Does the Minister now accept that the Government’s aim of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is too little, too late? By then the tipping point will have been reached. Does he accept the evidence from the Committee on Climate Change, which has estimated that there are 1.8 million homes at significant risk of flooding in England? That number will rise unless we hit net zero in the next 10 years.

We agree that harnessing nature and delivering better land management are part of the solution, but we have known this for some time. Does the Minister accept that the promise of a long-term flooding policy later this year is simply layering delay on delay? When will the Government take decisive action to stop any more houses being built on flood plains, an issue we discussed in Oral Questions? It has been reported that there are more than 11,000 new homes planned in areas with high flood risk. This cannot be right. When will the Government put a complete stop to this reckless profiteering by housebuilders or make sure that they take full responsibility for the long-term clean-up costs if flooding later occurs?

Of course we welcome the new flood defences that are being erected, but many areas flooded in 2017 have still seen no sign of improvement. Local authorities continue to protest that the current emergency funding system is not working properly, particularly where the need for match funding is emphasised. Can the Minister explain the proposed annual allocation of the promised £4 billion in new flood defences, and does he accept that it should be front-loaded to deal with the immediate and ongoing threats we now face? Can he clarify how quickly individuals will be able to access the £5,000 flood resilience grant that has been reported? I am sure he recognises that the money needs to be available now, as the clean-up repairs are put in place, to have any real effect.

During the last Statement on flooding, on 10 February, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, about funding for the Environment Agency but did not get a reply. It has said that it needs at least £1 billion a year to provide an effective response to flood risk. Is that money now forthcoming? The Minister also referred to the review of the Flood Re insurance scheme. We accept that Flood Re has provided a solution to many households, but many others are still excluded from the scheme and remain in uninsurable properties. Does the Minister accept that the review is rather urgent? When does he anticipate its conclusions being published and acted on?

I doubt that the communities under threat of flooding will be very reassured by the Government’s Statement today. The truth is that they feel supported by the emergency services and local staff, who are working alongside them day and night to alleviate the threat, but they feel let down by a Government long on promises but short on action. None of the issues we are discussing today is new. The Government have had 10 years to come up with a credible flood defence plan and an action plan to mitigate the impact of climate change. I hope the Minister can reassure us that there will be a more immediate, urgent and responsive plan for the future than we have heard so far.