I appreciate the hon. Lady’s point. She is a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on flood prevention, which I chair, and I am always impressed by her knowledge of and passion for her area and the wider field. I commend her for everything she does. As chair of the APPG, I had plans to visit some areas, but unfortunately a general election has come along in the middle of those plans. Kevin Hollinrake painted a picture of Pickering as a place of modern art, so if we are both re-elected, I will take the opportunity to visit that area, too.
Flooding is the UK’s predominant natural hazard, and a significant increase in properties at risk is projected in the years to come. As we all know, flooding is rarely good business. For small and medium-sized enterprises, it is sometimes a matter of survival. I learned that all too well as a councillor in Falkirk. When the River Carron is in spate, it is the second fastest flowing river in Scotland and, I assume, in the UK. During that time, I found myself helping people and businesses affected by flash flooding and saw first hand the disruption that was caused to traffic and the community.
Getting involved in finding a solution opened my eyes to the value of preventive measures. There is no doubt that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Mitigation measures such as weirs, widening and increasing the height of bridges, and some hard defences are all needed, and mostly they are planned under the area’s flood risk management strategy. We also introduced fish ladders and a mini-hydro project, which are starting to bring additional benefits to the community. To emphasise what the hon. Member for York Central said, once one person is brought in, that seems to attract another. Groups follow, and are motivated by other people’s initiatives, including the one I am describing.
As chair of the all-party group on flood prevention and a member of the EAC, I took it upon myself recently to visit various areas—Tadcaster, Leeds, Ballater, Newton Stewart and Hoy—and began to put together, to present to the Minister, the evidence about small and medium-sized enterprises and how they are affected. I understand that a lot of good work has been done in Calder Valley. The community is extremely resilient, but there is still a continuing problem for small and medium-sized enterprises. I believe that insurance brokers there formed their own insurance funding, to help to cover such enterprises that could no longer afford to insure their businesses and properties, or, indeed, the excess amounts given to them.
I have heard people identify the need for better catchment level co-ordination between the bodies responsible for flood management in England and I have had an insight, from seeing and hearing things at first hand, into the willingness of communities to take part in flood risk management; but I have also heard their frustration, and I have heard about the reluctance of the Environment Agency, local authorities and other agencies to work with those local groups.
A water body’s catchment is the entire geographical area drained by that water body and its tributaries. Since the system is all connected, flood risk in a given part of the catchment area will be heavily influenced by what is happening above it in the catchment. Traditional flood management has focused on building hard defences and of course, as I have said, they are needed; but upper catchment management treats the catchment area as a single system, and it is vital to use natural flood management measures to slow the flow of water towards vulnerable areas. The approaches complement each other. Slowing the flow of water decreases pressures on hard defences and, most importantly, reduces the maintenance costs and the risk of failure of those already established flood defences.
Natural flood management has already been a lifeline for communities such as Pickering in Yorkshire that are too small for hard defences to be cost-effective. Such measures can have additional benefits, as has been said—trapping sediment and agricultural pollution and providing human amenities such as parklands and habitats for wildlife, including game.
The use of natural flood management at catchment scale is still in its infancy, and measuring the effects of a given flood management measure across something as hydrologically complex as a large catchment is difficult. I am certain that that fact is realised by those employed in the industry. There are risks as well as opportunities. As far as I know there is no conclusive evidence that natural flood management can be used at a catchment scale to reduce flood risk.