It is an honour to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil O'Brien on securing this important debate. He gave a powerful speech on one of the most pressing issues that the Government face. I also welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister to his new role.
I want to concentrate on one important issue that has become all too poignant for many of my constituents, as well as for other people around the country, in recent weeks. That issue is flooding, whose impact in my area has been overwhelming. Although it has not been as great as in the constituency of my hon. Friend Craig Whittaker, we have still had our problems. When there is flooding in my constituency it is not necessarily because not enough money is being spent on sea or river defences, or dredging, important as they are. It is a question of new homes being built directly on flood plains when the existing homes in that area are already prone to flooding. I am talking about flooding that happens as a direct result of already overburdened local drainage systems and waterways getting worse, and as a consequence of a lack of the infrastructure that should be put in place prior to housing development. Conditions become worse for residents of existing and new properties.
It is not so much, today, that existing communities disagree with local authorities about whether infrastructure should come before, during or after the building of new homes; it is more that they feel dismayed at the rejection of the need to build it at all. Local authorities act as if they are oblivious to the obvious need for infrastructure, and we need to address that. It is as though we have become fixated on house building targets, regardless of the consequences, and that is having a damaging effect on many communities. The quality of life that a house gives is as important as the numbers that are built, for that is what turns a house into a home.
To take my constituency as an example, Bankfield Lane is prone to flooding. It is not close to the sea or a river, or at the bottom of a hill. It is prone to flooding because the drainage system is used by more than 500 homes and is already stretched. It cannot cope any more. After a storm, rainwater simply cannot flow away fast enough, so when it rains it floods. Storm Ciara left, at the end of the weekend, anguish and devastation and thousands of pounds of damage. Improvements have to be carried out. The utility company United Utilities says that the matter needs to be addressed, but it is in disagreement with the council about who should pay. While that stand-off continues, my constituents’ lives are being affected.
We must provide incentives and flexibility for councils, which are rightly concerned about the necessity of meeting housing targets, to reject applications if there is insufficient infrastructure. We must protect individuals whose homes are already subject to flooding. We do not want to make things worse for those who are about to get new homes to live in. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tackle the challenge head on.