Upper Catchment Management

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:57 pm on 26th April 2017.

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Photo of John McNally John McNally Scottish National Party, Falkirk 4:57 pm, 26th April 2017

Once again, I agree with the hon. Lady. At the last APPG meeting, we could hear that there is an urgency for all people to work together. One of the points emerging, every time we go to a place, is that no one seems able to take a lead. Everyone is waiting on someone else to do it. It is not a lot of money in the scale of things, and it will cost an awful lot more not to do it than to do it—so I absolutely, totally agree.

We also hear the argument that NFM might not provide protection against the most extreme rainfall events. Those arguments do not seem to take it into account that by taking pressure off hard defences downstream, NFM could decrease the risk that those defences might fail, and reduce their maintenance costs.

The cost of installing and maintaining the measures is very low compared with traditional flood defences. Most use natural materials obtained on site and are easily implemented by landowners or volunteers. If anyone takes some time to look at work that has been carried out, they would be impressed by how little it takes to make these things happen.

For example, in Stroud, Gloucestershire, the local authority designed and implemented a NFM scheme that was credited with sparing the town from flooding in March 2016. The total cost so far has been circa £215,000. Previous flooding in 2007 affected 200 properties. A reservoir built in 2011 to enhance the protection of 350 properties in Gloucester cost £1.5 million. I think that makes the point clearly.

The Government announced in the autumn statement that they will invest £15 million in natural flood management in England, yet they are evasive about its allocation. Thanks to investigations undertaken by Friends of the Earth, we know that before the announcement was made, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was commissioned by the EA to draw up plans for £20 million worth of NFM projects. When pressed about its allocation, the then Secretary of State would only say that the money would be used to test the methods. Given that large studies into the effectiveness of NFM are already under way, it seems to me that the Government need to give communities in flood-prone areas assurance that the money will be spent on implementing NFM, rather than on projects for consultants.

We have probably all heard of the Chinese saying that the best time to plant a tree is 25 years ago, and the second best time is today. Flood Re will run for roughly another 23 years. Either we implement a programme of action, or many of the 350,000 properties eligible for Flood Re will become uninsurable. Given the time that trees and wetlands need to become established, the implementation of upper catchment management has to be made a priority if it is to play a role in meeting that need. I urge the Minister to act urgently.