Upper Catchment Management

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:14 pm on 26th April 2017.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:14 pm, 26th April 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley, in what will be the last debate in Westminster Hall in this Parliament. I congratulate Rachael Maskell on securing this debate on upper catchment management, and I thank those Members who have joined us today in what is a busy week individually and for Parliament.

I am aware of the impact that flooding can have on a community, as it has happened in my constituency of Suffolk Coastal. I am absolutely committed to reducing the threat of flooding, as well as ensuring that we continue to improve our environment as a whole. The Government have played a key role in improving protection for those at flood risk. By committing to invest £2.5 billion by 2021, we will better protect the country from flooding. That money will go to more than 1,500 flood defence schemes to protect more than 300,000 homes. We will also increase maintenance spending in real terms to more than £1 billion.

The key change from which local communities have benefited is that we set out a six-year funded plan that will help the Environment Agency to efficiently and properly draw up schemes, rather than having the hand-to-mouth existence caused by annual budgets, which lend themselves to a stop-start approach. York, like many other places, suffered greatly in the 2015-16 floods, which as we all know were somewhat caused by record rainfall that winter. The hon. Lady will be aware that 627 properties were flooded in York alone. The Government made an additional £175 million available to support the worst-affected areas.

York itself received £45 million of that, which will better protect 2,000 properties with ongoing schemes. A further £35 million each is going to Leeds and the Calder valley. Cumbria received £33 million. The York five-year plan, which was published last December, sets out how the investment will build new defences and investigate new ways to reduce flooding in the city and surrounding area, giving priority to areas of the city that currently do not benefit from formal defences. The hon. Lady will be aware of the further £19.4 million being invested to upgrade the Foss barrier. By December 2017, construction will be complete and the barrier will be able to pump flood flows in excess of the record level experienced on Boxing day, thus protecting the heart of York.

Beyond the current plan for the city, and understandably after the general election, the Environment Agency will consult with stakeholders on the first stage of the York long-term plan, which will identify catchment measures to reduce flood risk in the city. Integrated catchment management is integral to our ambitions for the future of our environment, and we remain committed to holistic planning for our water to maximise benefits to people, wildlife and the economy. There is a consensus around the importance of conserving upland moorland habitats for all the benefits they bring, which include: the filtering of an estimated 70% of our drinking water, storing significant amounts of carbon and providing an excellent habitat for grouse and other wildlife.

The hon. Lady referred to the York University study. She will be aware that DEFRA has invested nearly £1 million in that research already, but following a rigorous prioritisation process, the Department will not be funding a second stage of the project. She will be aware that the learnings of the report will be out later this year, and there may be an opportunity to take lessons from that, but nevertheless, peatland restoration continues to be a priority. As announced earlier this month, DEFRA will be investing £10 million into peatland restoration projects over the next five years, recognising their importance.