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

As it stands today, I will not be looking at the matter again. I can assure the hon. Lady that the decision went through a rigorous process within the Department, and the decision was made by appropriately qualified officials. She will recognise that we will continue to invest in peatlands and continue to work on moor owners and stakeholders to further improve practices and conditions.

Catchment management is not restricted to the uplands. Enabling whole catchment management requires bringing together local government, internal drainage boards, landowners, third-sector organisations and communities to identify the issues and solutions that provide the maximum opportunities to manage and mitigate water in that catchment to the benefit of residents, businesses and wildlife. We are proactive in supporting local decision makers in catchments to ensure a co-ordinated approach in a catchment, including for water quality, supply and flood management. We intend to strengthen focus on integrated catchment level planning as we prepare for the next cycles of river basin and flood risk management planning. There are already very good examples of partners coming together to consider whole catchment management, some of which we have heard about today, including the work of the flood action groups and the catchment partnerships around the country, which encourage all those who use and depend on water to share in its stewardship.

Mary Glindon asked about catchment partnerships. Last month, we announced a £6.3 million investment this year to continue to facilitate and build capacity in catchment partnerships and to fund projects focused on meeting local priorities, building partnership working and securing multiple benefits, consistent with integrated water management.

Actions under the Cumbria and Calderdale flood action plans, to which my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker referred—I visited him in Mytholmroyd to see some of the progress on them—and which were published last year, include an integrated approach to managing catchment areas. Both areas are now considering how those flood plans can be incorporated into a wider catchment-based approach that considers not just flooding, but water quality, supply and environmental improvements. Of course, we must recognise that each catchment is different, so the solutions will be tailored to each area. We need to encourage more areas to take similar approaches. The Pioneer project we have started in Cumbria will explore that approach, and its learnings will be shared with others, but it is still too early to share any of those learnings.

Natural flood management can play an important role in the management of our catchments, and can have multiple benefits in encouraging biodiversity, habitat creation and improvements to water quality. In York and Yorkshire, the Environment Agency has already worked with consultants to model what and where NFM measures could be introduced into the Foss catchment upstream of York, and in Cumbria the Environment Agency has worked with the Rivers Trust and JBA to model potential natural flood management schemes across four catchments.

Between 2009 and 2015, we invested £4.1 million at Pickering in North Yorkshire—my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake has already referred to that. We also invested money in Holnicote in Somerset and Upper Derwent in Derbyshire. Those projects found that the measures could be effective in helping to manage flood risk when carefully incorporated into a wider suite of catchment measures.

John Mc Nally asked about the natural flood management projects. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced £15 million of funding for projects across England, £1 million of which has been ring-fenced as a competitive fund for local organisations to bid for. I ensured we set out that £1 million, as it was requested by some members of the National Flood Forum, who wanted the opportunity to have a much wider range of smaller-scale projects. I have also agreed that business cases should be developed for a number of projects across the country, including in Yorkshire and Cumbria, but I cannot give further details of the locations due to purdah. I note the pitch of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton for a Yorkshire and Derwent partnership. I am sure that will be carefully considered, as there is a small amount of money—I am not sure there is £175,000 left, but we will see.

I established the principles and chose the business cases we wanted to progress because I felt that we need schemes of different sizes that can be achieved at a good pace, so that we can gather evidence and take forward the learnings about the benefits of natural flood management in different catchment landscapes. I specifically ruled out some projects that would not be able to start for a few years’ time. We want natural flood management solutions to be fairly assessed and supported where they offer a viable way of reducing the damaging impact of flooding. However, we cannot expect that such measures alone will offer protection in areas of the greatest risk or in the face of the most significant flood events, so good integrated catchment management will consider those, along with more traditional flood protection schemes, as the Environment Agency already does in its capital programme.

The need to gather more data and evidence has been mentioned. The Oxford Martin School recently published a restatement of evidence, which looked at previous research and reviewed findings. It reached the conclusion that NFM can provide support in up to 100 sq km of smaller floods, but more research is needed into the impact on larger floods. The Natural Environment Research Council has provided £4 million of further research for natural flood management, and the Environment Agency and DEFRA are developing a directory of evidence and maps to support future projects.

The hon. Member for York Central invited me to visit York. I am certain that I will take her up on that offer in the next six weeks or will certainly be in Yorkshire. This is an important issue, and I am proud that it is our Government who have invested those funds, which will better protect more than 2,000 properties. I will be making clear which particular Government provided that.