Flooding: Staffordshire

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade) 4:30 pm, 7th October 2020

Before we begin, I briefly remind Members that there are some changes to normal practice in order to support the new call list system, and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. Members should sanitise their microphones before they use them and respect the one-way system around the room—that means you come down this side and out that way. Members should only speak from the horseshoe and they can speak only if they are on the call list. That applies even if debates are undersubscribed. Members cannot join the debate if they are not on the call list. In the case of heavily oversubscribed debates, Members are not expected to wait for the wind-ups, but that is not the position we are in today.

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 4:31 pm, 7th October 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered flooding in Staffordshire.

Storm Alex this weekend has been an all too timely reminder of the havoc that flooding can wreak. In January 2020, we saw some of the very worst flooding in Staffordshire for a century. The River Sow in Stafford burst its banks. Throughout my constituency, from Bishop’s Wood to Ranton, from Lapley to Hopton, my constituents have yet again suffered from flooding.

I am grateful to a number of Staffordshire colleagues for coming today to provide support on this important topic. I am sure they will provide numerous illustrations of how their constituents have also been impacted by flooding in Staffordshire.

Staffordshire has done more than its fair share of house building over the last few years. Increased development in Stafford is important, given its strategic location in the UK, but with that come consequences for residents. It is vital that our local infrastructure is able to cope. Increased surface run-off means that, over the last 20 years, homes that were never affected before have suffered from flooding, once-dry sports grounds are now regularly unusable due to being waterlogged, and local businesses are often left counting the cost due to floodwaters preventing them from opening, or destroying their goods. Something needs to be done to tackle these issues. I fear that if we do not act now, the situation regarding flooding in Staffordshire will only get worse.

The major problem in Staffordshire is who to call when your house starts to flood. We all know who to call when a crime is being committed, when someone falls ill or if there is a fire, but there appears to be no answer for flooding. There is literally no one available to answer that call. I have repeatedly had constituents calling me and my constituency office, often at midnight, as water has been pouring into their homes and there is no one to help. It is simply not good enough. I am urging the Government today to create an emergency three-digit flood phone number—for example, 555— that everyone in our country knows to call if they are experiencing a flood emergency.

We already have the technology available. It could work like the 101 number that puts people through to their local police force. In this instance, it would put my constituents in touch with someone in Staffordshire who is able to help them with their flooding situation. The emergency flood phone number should run 24/7, because flooding is an emergency. When water is pouring through your letterbox in the middle of the night, the place where you live, your livelihood and even your life could be risk.

That brings me to another question that, frankly, the Government need to answer. It appears to be a very simple question: who is the lead authority responsible for flooding? Many agencies are involved with handling flooding, but when I speak to them, none seems keen to take overall responsibility. That is not good enough for residents.

Let me give an example from my constituency. Tixall Road was flooded for nearly a month and no agency sorted it out. The main roads from Great Haywood and Little Haywood were blocked due to floodwater; residents told me they had to go on a detour of many miles and it cost local businesses, such as the Canalside Farm shop whose customers come from far and wide, a huge amount of money.

What was I told when I tried to find help for my constituents? The agency responsible for the road said it could not deal with it because it “wasn’t their water,” as the water had come from a field. That is just one of numerous examples of the complete lack of joined-up thinking in relation to flooding, and I am sure the House will hear more examples from my colleagues in their speeches this afternoon.

Of course, I called all the different agencies that are meant to help with flooding but no one was willing to move the water on Tixall Road, and all gave me a different reason why it was not their problem. But it was a problem; the weeks went on and the villagers still could not get on with their lives. They were still cut off by floodwater, farmers’ crops were being destroyed in the fields and local businesses were suffering. The only official response was that the police came along and closed the road. I agree that that was necessary in the short term, but shutting the road did not solve the fundamental problem that it was still flooded and no one could use it. In the end, the residents had to remove the water at their own expense. In my view, that should not have happened and they have been badly let down.

In order to try and find a solution to such problems, I held a flooding roundtable this summer with all the key stakeholders in Staffordshire. They all told me how seriously they take flooding, but not one of them was prepared to say that it was the lead flooding agency or to take responsibility for the specific examples that I gave. It was almost farcical. Let me make this clear: the situation regarding flooding in Staffordshire is not a joke, and this bureaucratic runaround is the same problem that my constituents face every day.

I said earlier that there was a need for a telephone line for constituents to call if they were experiencing flooding, but in tandem with that I am calling for a flood control centre, which is something that I have raised repeatedly, and which has significant local support in Staffordshire. We need a flood control centre with a real person at the end of that telephone number, in Stafford, who is able to do something to help my constituents. It is frankly not good enough for my constituents to have water pouring through their front door, and to call number after number and be sent from pillar to post, when all the while the water is rising and their home and possessions are being destroyed.

Even worse, I have been told by constituents that, on the rare occasions that someone has agreed to help them with flooding, when the agency has arrived it has informed residents that it cannot do anything because, “It is the wrong type of water.” I repeat—“It is the wrong type of water,” and the agency says it is not responsible for it. Another constituent told me they were informed by an agency that, “The water was in the wrong place for them to deal with it.” My constituent was well aware that the water was in the wrong place—it was in her living room.

I am sorry, but this situation is unacceptable. I do not believe that it is my constituents’ job to figure out where water is coming from or the type of water it is. What they want is to have a lead authority for flooding, an authority with statutory responsibility for helping people suffering from this problem—no ifs, no buts, just a lead authority to help them.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

You are allowed to take interventions from people on the call list.

Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Thank you, Mr Hosie. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the system is too fragmented; to give an example from my constituency, parish councillor Mike Joynson in Halmer End reported exactly the same problem, but this time it was with developers—there was a dispute about whether it the utility company or the developers were involved. Again, if we had a single point of contact and people knew who was responsible, it would make it much better for people in both her constituency and mine.

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The whole point of today’s debate is to say that creating an emergency three-digit telephone number would mean that all our constituents had a direct number to call in flooding emergencies, which would be linked to our Staffordshire flood control centre, and that having an agency with statutory responsibility for flooding would lessen the impact on our constituents.

We must also have a long-term plan to try to prevent people’s homes from being flooded in the first place. To give another example from my constituency, Sandon Road is flooded all too frequently. As rain begins to fall, it is always the Marston and Sandyford brooks that start to overflow and the water often floods into my constituents’ homes. I recently attended the Sandon Road residents’ meeting, where I was distressed to hear at first hand the impact that regular flooding is having on my constituents. I pay tribute to Councillor Jonathan Price for all his efforts to try to help the residents of Sandon Road.

I am very grateful for Government-supported schemes such as Flood Re, which provides insurance for constituents who would otherwise be unable to access it. It is a vital safety net and very helpful when the worst does happen. However, we should strive to do better. Insurance cannot prevent the fear of flooding that my constituents have every time it rains. Insurance cannot replace priceless items such as family photographs, and floods can often destroy and take away the lives of many of my constituents, with days, weeks or even—in many cases—months being blighted by the impact of their homes being flooded. I therefore believe we need to do more to stop water getting into people’s homes in the first place.

Councillor Price helpfully put out a letter to local residents in Stafford last week in which he said that he has arranged the delivery of sandbags in case of imminent danger of flooding. While that may slow down the water, I am afraid it will not stop it coming in eventually. That is the crux of the problem. While it is vital that we continue to provide short-term emergency support for residents affected by flooding, that will only be truly successful for the residents of Sandon Road and elsewhere in Stafford if it is accompanied by properly funded long-term measures.

I welcome the Conservative party manifesto commitment to £4 billion in new funding over the coming years for new developments as part of a £100 billion investment in infrastructure. I was also pleased to hear the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirm in March that the Government will honour that commitment and spend £4 billion on flood defences over the next five years. Agencies have told me repeatedly that they do not have the funding to maintain and improve the waterways in Staffordshire to combat flooding effectively, so I look forward to working with the Minister and the Department constructively to see how some of that funding can be used to tackle the significant problems in Staffordshire.

I believe that, having left the European Union, the Government have a great part to play in promoting the role of farmers and landowners in preventing residential flooding. We should encourage our farmers to protect land, improve access to the countryside and take measures to prevent residential flooding. Farmers in Stafford should be congratulated on the work they are already doing in this area. I recently visited farmland in my constituency that is very prone to flooding, which has been replanted with willow trees. The area has become a thriving sanctuary for wildlife. I urge the Minister to investigate making such schemes more attractive to farmers, to allow compensation for some of their land to be flooded and to ensure that we can encourage nature as well as protecting homes.

The impacts of climate change will mean that, unfortunately, there will be an increase in both the severity and frequency of flooding in Staffordshire in the future. It is therefore vital that we have robust plans in place to deal with flooding not only over the next year but for the next decade, and to look to the future.

I am afraid that, when we try to look up the true picture of what is going on with flooding in Staffordshire, it is very hard to find out. I have welcomed the Government’s reviews into flood risk management and flooding, but it has been difficult to find a clear picture of the impact of flooding today. The people of Staffordshire completely understand that the Government do not have the power to control mother nature and that they cannot expect the Government to stop the rain from falling or the rivers Penk and Sow from flooding. However, they are asking for our help. They want help to know who exactly to call when water is pouring through their front doors, help to encourage and properly compensate farmers whose land is being submerged by flood waters in order to protect their neighbours’ homes, and help to fund flood management schemes to ensure that no one in Staffordshire lives in fear that one bad spell of rain could leave their house or their family home destroyed.

I am not demanding the impossible from the Minister. I do not expect her and DEFRA to hold back the tide, but I am asking for the measures I have outlined to be implemented to help us to tackle flooding and level up the country so that whether someone lives in Westminster or Stafford, they will know that the Government are doing their best to protect them, their family and their home from the devastating effects of flooding.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

I want to start the summing-up speeches at a quarter past five. There are six more speakers, so if they could take five minutes each it will all be super.

Photo of Kate Griffiths Kate Griffiths Conservative, Burton 4:45 pm, 7th October 2020

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I commend my hon. Friend Theo Clarke on securing this important debate, and sympathise with the difficulties she and her constituents have experienced.

As Members know, 2020 has not been a great year. We started with the wettest January and February on record, with catastrophic results for many people as their homes and businesses suffered horrendous flooding. My own experience is slightly more positive than that of my hon. Friend; I felt that when severe flood warnings were in place, the stakeholders involved worked well together to keep the public safe, preparing for an emergency response, if needed, and keeping me updated as matters progressed. As grateful as I am for their support during those tense nights when we waited to see if flood defences would breach, I think much more work needs to be done all year round, not just as an emergency response.

The flood defences held in Burton town centre, but in villages, such as Marchington and Rolleston on Dove, residents were not so lucky. Following storm Dennis in February, I visited the village of Marchington. I met with parish council representatives and residents who, time and again, have battled with flooding. They have bought their own sandbags and prepared their own flood defences. One constituent told me she was woken by a flood warning alert at 3am and, upon looking out of her window, was already surrounded by a foot of water. Even though she had spent £1,000 on flood barriers, water was starting to enter the back of her property.

Residents and the parish council have worked tirelessly to set up a flood warning scheme that would allow them to close the road through the village and minimise the flood damage caused to surrounding homes. Some 18 months on, that flood warning scheme is still not in place. Bureaucracy seems to stop progress at every level. I urge the Minister to look at what we can do to support the flood warning scheme and ensure that communities get the training and support they need, in order to implement these measures and protect their villages.

For those who have not suffered the horrors of having their homes flooded, it is not a case of just needing to get rid of the water afterwards. The flood water contains all the dirt and grime that has been collecting in the drains, which brings me to the second issue I would like to raise—the ongoing maintenance needed for drains and gullies.

In another area in my constituency, Branston, there are streets that flood with the lightest of rainfall. The local authority works hard to ensure regular drain cleaning, but in July this year silt levels in Branston were at 60%. Regular jetting did not work and the council had to bring in expensive, specialist equipment to clear the drains. Can we look at what further support our local authorities need in order to provide regular drain clearing and equipment to undertake that work?

We also need to find a way to ensure all those with responsibility for drainage are playing their part in its upkeep, whether it is housing developers, highways teams, the local authority or water companies. We must ensure that we are regularly inspecting, repairing and renewing the existing infrastructure, so that our communities have the best possible chance to withstand flooding from heavy rainfall. These long-term cross-departmental projects seem to be where the projects stall, much to the frustration of constituents.

I started by saying that 2020 has not been a good year. After the flooding in January and February, I am not sure we would have expected to go straight into a pandemic. Our emergency response teams across many services have been stretched to their limits and I am grateful for their ongoing dedication and support. It is quite possible that going into 2021, we may have to respond to severe floods while operating under the restrictions that coronavirus brings. I urge the Minister to ensure plans are put in place to consider how responses may need to differ this year, with particular households with vulnerable people and those who may be shielding.

I hope the strategic coordinating group in Staffordshire, which supported residents unfailingly at the start of this year, has been given the tools it needs to continue that support throughout the coming months.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee 4:49 pm, 7th October 2020

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Theo Clarke for securing the debate.

It has to be said that although I am an MP in Staffordshire, we are the most hilly bit of the county, as the name of my constituency might suggest. In many ways I feel a slight fraud for standing here and taking part in the debate when I know many of my colleagues have such dreadful, systemic problems with flooding. On the whole, we in the Moorlands tend to create the water and send it to them, and I therefore feel a bit guilty about that. That is not to say that we do not have some areas of significant flooding; I have residents who suffer enormously with flooding in their homes whenever there is even the slightest rainfall. On the whole, however, the Moorlands is home to the heads of the Rivers Trent and Dove. We have the heads of many brooks and streams, which all feed into the big rivers. I am afraid that they feed into the back gardens and roadways of many of my hon. Friends present, and I have great sympathy with them.

I will touch quickly on some of my local issues. There are some very specific issues in the Moorlands. I want to raise the matter of the village of Endon, which is on the main A53 road between Leek in the centre of my constituency and Stoke-on-Trent. Endon is at the bottom of the valley and therefore suffers from flooding. I was due to visit and see the work that the locals were doing and what support they needed, but unfortunately lockdown happened and we have not yet been able to find an opportunity for a physical meeting. I want to go and see my residents there and find out what is happening and what we can do to help. The idea that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford has for an individual phone number is very good, and I know lots of people in Endon would welcome that.

There are newbuild homes in the Moorlands, and some of them have been built on floodplains. Looking at the topography of the Moorlands, it might seem extraordinary to think that there might be floodplains, but there are. Homeowners in the area really suffer, and I urge the Environment Agency and others to work really hard whenever there is contact from those homeowners, to make sure that they have the protection they need.

I agree with my hon. Friend Kate Griffiths about drains and gullies. There is no doubt that the proper cleaning of drains and gullies would stop many of the problems. The fact that I am starting to see such problems in the Moorlands tells me that we really need to deal with this issue at source.

My final point is about what we can do in the Moorlands to help our work on flood defences. I have visited many of the examples of natural flood defences, including Tittesworth reservoir, just inside the Peak District national park, where Severn Trent Water has been putting in special watercourses, woodland areas and log chicanes in order to slow the water down and to try to stop the flood risk further downstream. Likewise, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust does incredible work. I was at Gun hill—anyone who does cycling will know the Gun hill climb on the Tour of Britain. Right at the top of Gun hill, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust is ensuring that rewilding happens and that protection of the natural peat bogs is maintained, so that the flood defences are the best they can be and are sustainable.

I have to mention that we had a dreadful fire on the Roaches a couple of years ago, which was the result of a barbeque that was left during very dry weather. It caused absolute devastation. It was not just devastation for the wildlife in that area; it was the impact on the peat that really will affect my hon. Friends’ constituencies. I fear that the damage that was done will be very long lasting, but Staffordshire Wildlife Trust is doing great work to repair that.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford on securing the debate. I support her idea for a phoneline, and I hope that the Minister can take account of the natural flood defences that we can introduce and help to support the Wildlife Trust and others to do the best they can with that.

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 4:54 pm, 7th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my hon. Friend Theo Clarke on securing this important debate, and I absolutely endorse what she says.

Last year’s floods were terrible right across the north midlands, sometimes with long-lasting effects. While campaigning for the general election, I met residents in Fonthill Walk in my constituency who suffered severe run- off flooding from Hulton Abbey park. I raised this issue with the council, which I am glad to say has undertaken work to improve drainage around the bungalows and the pool that is supposed to prevent flooding in the first place. Long-term damage, such as mould, was caused to their properties, and residents felt forgotten.

Keeping existing flood defences working needs constant attention. This includes the drains, of course. Even in the highest elevated part of my constituency at Bagnall Road, there is a problem with water not draining away. Too often, we see the drains are full and too often there is a tussle over whose responsibility it is to unblock them. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend Karen Bradley.

In Joiners Square, a Mr Mandley has had to put steel supports under his house because a broken drain has swept foundations away. To make it worse, he has been told that, because Severn Trent did not admit responsibility soon enough, he has no recourse to compensation. Six years have elapsed—that cannot be right. I will raise this case directly with the Minister. Mr Mandley has been told his house is now uninsurable.

It could be so much better, and I am increasingly confident that it will be. The River Trent runs through my constituency and work is at last under way to let people know that it is there. For years, the Trent has generally been hidden away when it should have been one of Stoke-on-Trent’s greatest assets. It has been engineered into concrete channels and culverts, but it is sometimes fenced off and overgrown. That has exacerbated flooding from time to time, not just from the Trent, but from various brooks that have likewise been channelled through concrete.

Floods can leave behind some very nasty things. I know of cases of toilet waste, used sanitary products and even a used syringe. There is also a problem with Himalayan balsam invading more and more of the city along water courses and flood plains, crowding out natural flora.

The more of the concrete engineering we can remove, the less of a problem there will be, making our beautiful waterways a visible asset to the city and increasing its appeal. At Boothen, the old Stoke City football ground—the Victoria ground—has been transformed into much needed housing. This has given us the opportunity to re-channel and rewild the Trent there. BBC Countryfile featured the project the other week as an exemplar of bringing the countryside, wildlife and biodiversity back into urban space. It is a hugely exciting flood prevention project offering so much more than flood prevention.

At Etruria, a shovel-ready link road has this month seen shovels hit the ground as part of a multi-million pound Department for Transport and Stoke-on-Trent City Council scheme to improve the Fowlea brook with 100 trees planted along it for flood prevention purposes, which will also make a nice walk. Further down from the Fowlea brook, in the historic centre of Stoke town, I am delighted that the Environment Agency is funding flood prevention works that will protect 300 properties and allow 300 more to be built. This will keep the town and the Spode works, an increasingly important tourism and arts destination, open and far less vulnerable to floods. It is wider benefits such as this that build public support for costly flood prevention measures beyond the residents affected by the floods, nearly 200 of whom currently benefit from the Flood Re insurance scheme.

At Bucknall park, one of the few places where people can already walk around the Trent in Stoke-on-Trent, the footpath is partly lower than the grass on either side of it, so it readily floods. It has been suggested that the lower part of the park be made into a water meadow, so raising the path or building a boardwalk would be necessary to accommodate the many residents who use the lower park walking route, not least for walking their dogs. It could be both beautiful and useful if got right, and would help to win support for the SUNRISE project’s proposal for a permanent water meadow.

To conclude, the water courses of Stoke-on-Trent are gradually being reengineered so that they are a source of enjoyment for all in the future, not, as now, a source of worry for the few. The meandering Trent and the lush floodplain in the centre of my constituency are both beautiful and oddly unknown, but things are getting better. By getting it right in Stoke on Trent, we will make it better down valley for the rest of Staffordshire too.

Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme 4:59 pm, 7th October 2020

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. It is also a pleasure to follow my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Jo Gideon who was with me at the opening ceremony for the Etruria valley link road the other day, which will increase the links between her constituency and mine to the mutual benefit of all our constituents.

I congratulate the other Members who spoke, particularly my hon. Friend Theo Clarke, who secured this debate. She is a doughty champion for her constituents in Stafford. As she said, too often residents across Staffordshire are passed from pillar to post, frequently between the council and the water authority, and they are supposed to somehow referee between the authorities. It should not be for them to do that. It often falls to us to do it, and we are happy to. Our constituency staff teams do a great job, but it really should not be for them, either. There should be a solution put in place, and I know the Minister will respond to that.

Over recent months, I have been contacted by constituents whose properties have been flooded as a result of heavy rainfall, capacity issues in the sewers and blocked gullies. In most cases it appears to me that the main cause of blocked gullies is not debris, although that is sometimes the case, but tree roots. Sneyd Avenue in my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme is a clear example of that. Owing to a culmination of capacity issues and blocked gullies, residents of Sneyd Avenue have experienced serious flooding for several years. One constituent who has lived there since 1982 says that it is getting increasingly worse.

Following hydraulic modelling undertaken by Severn Trent Water, for which I thank it, it was identified that six properties are at risk of being flooded once every two years as a result of water capacity issues. Severn Trent had previously uncovered a taproot in the drainage system that required a precision cut to be removed. Tree root ingress is a main cause of blocked drains, pipes and sewerage systems in the UK. It is common for fine tree roots to gain access to the drainage system, and once inside they develop into taproots and root masses. That is what comes through to me in my constituents’ correspondence.

Staffordshire County Council is responsible for the highway drains. I know that it routinely cleans the gullies, based on the road classifications, but there is also a need for improved management and preventive measures with regard to the tree roots. For instance, CCTV drain inspections can identify drainpipes that are in close proximity to trees and hedges before a serious problem, such as root ingress, develops.

Flooding in Newcastle-under-Lyme appears to occur most frequently in the residential suburbs to the south of the town centre in areas such as Clayton, the Westlands, and Thistleberry. Many of the streets in those areas, such as Sneyd Avenue and Howard Place, are lined with trees, and therefore the tree roots are likely a contributing factor.

Earlier this year, on 12 August, communities across north Staffordshire experienced widespread flooding after scorching temperatures led to very heavy rain and thunderstorms. It led to some of the worst flooding that residents had seen. Together with the local borough and county councillor for Newcastle South, Mr Stephen Sweeney, I went to see residents of Lincoln Avenue in Clayton to see for myself the damage caused.

Lincoln Avenue rises gently uphill in both directions from the centre of the road, and the houses in the dip have long been plagued by flooding during heavy thunder- storms. Severn Trent addressed the issue approximately 15 years ago, but unfortunately the issue is now back and I can see for myself the damage caused. Again, it seems that tree roots are the issue. My constituents certainly believe that and have been advised of it by people who know about such things. I am pleased to report that Severn Trent has responded to me and undertaken to survey the local sewerage network.

I understand how disruptive floods are. I have heard about the awful cases in Burton and Stafford, although not so much in the Moorlands, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley, who is no longer here. I entirely appreciate the frustrations of all the constituents whose properties have been flooded, especially when it has happened on multiple occasions. In one case in my constituency, an elderly constituent could not return to her home for several months, and still has concerns about it flooding once again.

As the winter months approach, it is vital that Severn Trent Water and Staffordshire County Council work together to alleviate the significant disruption caused by flooding. They should employ the appropriate technology, such as hydraulic monitoring and CCTV drain inspections. I look forward to working with all my colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, who secured this debate, to find a solution to the problem.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North 5:03 pm, 7th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend Theo Clarke for securing this important debate because my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, and Kidsgrove and Talke, is fortunate to be close to the sources of several rivers, brooks and streams. Although my constituency does not have mighty torrents running through it, it is by no means immune to flooding.

Through Norton Green runs the canal feeder to the Caldon canal and the River Trent. The river is hardly dredged. The canal feeder is man-made and beset with historical issues and when it rains, both flood: a double hit to the village of Norton Green. The river is the responsibility of the Environment Agency, and the canal feeder is the responsibility of Severn Trent Water: two agencies that, if they co-ordinated their work, could help alleviate the problem that my constituents face in Norton Green when it rains.

The houses in between the river and canal feeder are regularly cut off on an island of their very own when the Trent and the feeder flood the only roads to the village. I must give credit to the residents of Norton Green who pull together, and to the three local councillors, Dave Evans, James Smith and Carl Edwards, as they lend a hand to bail water out of the village.

Further downriver, properties and families who live on the strategic A53 Leek Road, which connects the major settlements of north Staffordshire, regularly face flooding. The road is not on a floodplain—it is relatively high up—but water drainage from the road runs into the River Trent; when the river levels increase, it backs up the drainage and floods the road, cutting the main arterial route connecting Newcastle, Stoke and Leek.

Further to the comments of my hon. Friend Kate Griffiths, I highlight two examples of my constituents tackling flooding caused by poor drainage. First, Mr David Barber contacted my team pleading for something to be done about flooding on The Avenue in Kidsgrove, which runs down his neighbour’s property and obstructs pedestrians, including schoolchildren, with ankle-deep water. An investigative team from the council was sent out and discovered a severe blockage in the drains on both sides of the road. Repairs are finally being made, but the stress it caused residents is extremely unwelcome.

Similarly, Mr Amrik Rai has been battling poor drainage for the past 12 years, with his home being severely flooded twice over that period. The family is consumed by worry every time it starts to rain. Councillors in my patch have been fighting for Severn Trent Water to undertake work to link storm pipes, to prevent the overloading of single pipes during heavy rainfall years. Like Amrik, residents of Braithwell Drive have been fighting localised flooding due to poor drain management for more than a decade.

Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council continue to face funding pressures, meaning that routine maintenance of gullies and highway drainage is less regular than it used to be. Across Stoke-on-Trent, though, £4.2 million from various partners is being spent on flood alleviation schemes, as my hon. Friend Jo Gideon referred to, including on redirecting the River Trent downstream in the neighbouring constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central, which will benefit floodplains upstream in my constituency.

Locally, we suffer from a Victorian drainage network, underfunded and over capacity. Clarity is needed as to which authority, agency or company is responsible for what drainage. Disputes between Severn Trent Water and local councils in Staffordshire over responsibility for drains and ditches take years to resolve, but the actual work needed to alleviate the flooding takes only days to carry out. There is something wrong when it takes longer to establish who is responsible for the works than the time it takes to carry out needed improvements. We need to adjust the priority given to everyday maintenance and drainage of rivers and amend the gap in everyday funding for such essential services.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham 5:07 pm, 7th October 2020

I am not a Staffordshire MP—I am from Shropshire—but I join the debate because it is obviously a great pleasure to support our friends and neighbours across the border. Shropshire and Staffordshire are very much interdependent. Many people have businesses or homes on both sides of the border; as I say, we are mutually interdependent.

A caucus of 44 Members is campaigning on flooding from the River Severn, the longest river in the United Kingdom. I am pleased that my hon. Friend Theo Clarke has joined that caucus. She realises that the River Severn’s continuous flooding has a deleterious impact on her county as well as mine. We have received £40 million of investment for a more holistic management of the river going forward—the operative word being “holistic”. For far too long, we have depended on small, ad hoc, piecemeal flood barriers that protect a small number of properties and push the problem further downstream. For the first time ever, Members of Parliament are working across a whole region and a whole river, with DEFRA, to come up with solutions to holistically manage these rivers, because the economic consequences for all of us and our constituents, in terms of lost business, the inability of companies to get insurance and the devastation caused to residents, is something that many constituents will no longer tolerate.

I am meeting the head of the River Severn Partnership, Mark Barrow, on Saturday to evaluate where we are and how we have spent the £40 million to date. I will continue to lobby the Minister and keep her informed about how this money is being spent and what additional resources we will require for the River Severn partnership. We have also invited the Minister to visit the River Severn; I very much hope that she and her officials will find time to do so later in the year. Many constituents are already worried about what will happen this winter, and how their homes will be affected by flooding. The investments, although they are extremely welcome, will take time to implement and to bed down.

I want to end by praising the Minister. She has been absolutely on the ball and attentive. She has engaged extremely well with the River Severn partnership, the council and officials. I do not envy her the position that she has, given its responsibility for something that has, historically, brought so much misery and devastation to so many large parts of the United Kingdom. I have every confidence that she and her officials are doing everything possible to ensure that the massive, multi-billion pound investment announced by the Government will be spent in the most erudite and cost-effective way. I look forward to working with the Minister, and also our friends and neighbours in Staffordshire, on a cross-party and regional basis, to make sure that such an important part of the west midlands will be protected more effectively.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:11 pm, 7th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank and pay tribute to Theo Clarke for securing this important debate. She spoke passionately on behalf of her constituents, calling for the creation of a flood control centre in Stafford to co-ordinate the responses to flooding. It is an excellent idea. A joined-up approach is required to manage flood risk and co-ordinate multi-agency flood responses.

Labour is calling on the Government to protect at-risk homes and businesses now. The climate crisis, surprisingly, has not been mentioned in the debate but it means that flood events will only become more frequent and severe. It is not enough to stand in wellies in front of TV cameras and commit to action. Flood-hit communities want deeds, not words.

I begin by paying tribute to our emergency services and first responders, who work so hard to protect us and are often first on the scene to deal with crises. As hon. Members have mentioned, residents too often do not know who to call, and that becomes incredibly frustrating. That came up throughout the debate. Kate Griffiths spoke about support for a flood warning scheme, and Karen Bradley, who is no longer in her place, outlined how water and flooding affect many areas of the country and do not respect or follow boundaries.

Jo Gideon raised important issues about flood insurance and the difficulties that residents can face in insuring their homes. Aaron Bell spoke about the increased frequency of flood events, and the fact that those are becoming more of a problem as they happen more often. Jonathan Gullis rightly paid tribute to residents pulling together to respond to devastating local floods, and Daniel Kawczynski spoke about how all our areas are interdependent. That is absolutely right.

As hon. Members have stated, constituents’ businesses across the country—not least in Staffordshire—have been badly affected by flooding. Many people’s lives and businesses have been turned upside down, and we need adequately funded prevention schemes. For every £1 spent on flood defence and prevention, £5 in property damage is avoided. Such damage has been felt repeatedly in Staffordshire over the years. The flooding there late last year and more recently in August resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage to listed buildings, as well as to residents’ homes and businesses, as we have heard today. I know that Staffordshire Members have been making the case for further flood mitigation schemes and a more co-ordinated approach to respond to those crises. I agree with their concerns and must ask why the Government are not engaging with all areas and voices to build a long-term plan that addresses their concerns.

Local authorities work on the frontline during flood events to protect homes and businesses. Yet under the present Government the capacity of councils across the country has been decimated by a lack of funding and support. My local council has faced the biggest cuts in the country, and there has been a 40% reduction in its day-to-day spending in the past 10 years.

Despite that, it worked hard to respond quickly to November’s floods, which left 89 homes in Barnsley with flood damage. However, our councils need adequate resources to deliver their services and to ensure that they have the capacity that they need to react to flood events to the best of their ability and to support residents. I welcome the action taken by Staffordshire County Council to improve its road network and to fix problem drains and gullies to prevent future flooding. That matter was discussed quite widely in the debate.

It must be noted, however, that the Conservative councillor responsible for highways and transport spoke last month about the pressures on public finances and the impact on the council’s ability to maintain Staffordshire’s road network. In August, the Express & Star newspaper reported that the Environment Agency did not have the funds required to protect Sandon Road, where homes and businesses have been flooded several times over the last few years. Flood defence works would cost £2 million; the Environment Agency has £400,000 available.

I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion by asking the Minister to address some points raised during the debate. How will the Government ensure that all regional voices, including those in Staffordshire, are listened to? It was only last week that the Government gave a date for the long-awaited South Yorkshire flooding summit, which was promised back in November, so how will Ministers ensure that Members of this House do not face the same difficulty that I had in attempting to secure that summit? As I have this opportunity, I would like to press the Minister to set a date for all future Yorkshire-wide and Staffordshire flood summits, which I think the Government should hold. In the case of Yorkshire, they did commit to it in writing, so I think we should have that in Yorkshire and we should get a date, but I also think that it would be a very worthwhile thing for the Staffordshire region. We need more local control over decision making relating to flood risk protection or funding, because for too long Whitehall has sidelined regional and local stakeholders.

What are the Government doing to improve access to affordable insurance for homes at risk of flooding, and will they commit to acting on the recommendations of the Blanc review on affordable cover? After reading posts for the Stafford Borough Flooding Support and Action Group and the Help for the Victims of the Sandon Road Flooding group on Facebook, I am concerned that many reported difficulty in insuring their homes and properties.

Finally, what are the Government doing to ensure that responses to flooding are co-ordinated across agencies, regulators and local government bodies, so that flooding solutions do not merely shift the problem from one place to another? This has been discussed in the debate today. We need catchment-wide planning that makes use of natural flood management measures now, to deal with the challenges brought on by the climate change crisis. Whether in Barnsley or Staffordshire, our communities feel forgotten and they have been left to face increasing flood risk without the means to protect themselves. The homes and livelihoods of people from our communities will continue to be at risk unless a fully funded long-term plan is agreed, so I will conclude, as many other speakers in the debate have done, by urging action now.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:17 pm, 7th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your auspices, Mr Hosie. This is my first time back in Westminster Hall, so I think this is quite an event for us all.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Theo Clarke on securing this really important debate. She has been an assiduous proponent on behalf of her constituents, which is the right thing to do as the MP representing her area. She has bent my ear many times, it must be said, on some of the issues that she has talked about today.

I thank all hon. Friends and the shadow Minister for taking part in the debate, and showing a really strong and concerted effort on behalf of Staffordshire. I think that it demonstrates that, far from the regions not being listened to, we do listen to the regions in government. I think that our Severn colleagues would reiterate that, given the work that we have jointly all done for the Severn valley before.

In February this year, Storm Dennis brought more than 40 mm of rain in 24 hours. That deluge of rainfall over a short period caused 181 properties to flood in Staffordshire. Flooding affected properties, shops, homes, transport networks, towns, including Burton, Stafford and Rugeley, and the villages of Barton, Marchington, Handsacre, Hinksford, Rolleston and Yoxall.

I know that my hon. Friend has held a number of meetings with local residents about the impacts of the flooding. I know also that this summer she hosted a flooding roundtable with key constituents to raise these issues. I know that Staffordshire has suffered, but I do want to say that of course the Government are absolutely committed, as is the EA, to combating flooding. Flood and coastal risk management is a very high priority for Government.

We know of course that flooding has a severe impact on communities, individuals and shops. I know that from my own experience in Somerset, where we have had terrible flooding over the years. However, I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that the existing flood defences across Staffordshire already protect 25,000 properties, and did so during the winter floods; that figure includes 4,555 in Burton-on-Trent alone.

Over the current six-year investment period, which runs to 2021, we will spend £40 million to better protect 5,500 properties from flooding, and this sum includes £37 million of direct central Government funding. We expect over the next investment period, which runs from 2021 to 2027, to invest a further £26 million, of which £24 million will be funds from central Government, and that investment will better protect over 3,000 more properties in Staffordshire from flooding. These last figures that I have just given all relate to Staffordshire, so the Government are certainly committed to providing funding in Staffordshire.

In addition to this investment in new defences, I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that Staffordshire has also benefited from a proportion of the £120 million of recovery funding awarded by HM Treasury to repair assets damaged by the 2019 winter floods. Approximately £160,000 has been allocated to projects in Staffordshire, including on floodbank repair in Marchington, which I believe is in the constituency of my hon. Friend Kate Griffiths, on repairing flood warning telemetry at Coven, and on removing deposited silt and stone from a channel in Yoxall.

I will expand a little on some of the successful schemes. Phase 2 of the Burton-on-Trent scheme, which is the largest investment project in Staffordshire, is under construction. It will reduce flood risk for 4,555 homes and 1,000 businesses, and it will upgrade 3.7 km of existing defences. The scheme is expected to be completed in February 2021. During the February 2020 floods, the scheme continued to protect homes and worked perfectly, even during construction. I think that we can be proud of all the work that has been going on there.

In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford mentioned the funding of, and her support for, natural flood defences. The Government are very committed to such schemes. A project that both the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency are involved with was cited by my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley, who has now departed from Westminster Hall, among others. Through the new environmental land management scheme that is coming in now that we are leaving the EU, we anticipate that natural flood management will be one of the public goods that can be paid for and delivered by our farmers to help to tackle flooding. It will deliver lots of other public benefits, but it will help to tackle flooding, so I am pleased that hon. Members have raised the issue of natural flood defences.

Of course, there are still challenges and lots of those challenges have been mentioned by hon. Friends today. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford mentioned Sandyford brook and the issues there, which in October 2019, I think, affected 50 homes. I understand that the brook is a confined channel running through a densely populated area. A preliminary economic analysis has suggested a cost in the region of £2 million for that scheme, and it would provide economic benefits to the area of around £4.5 million. However, delivery will be dependent on sufficient partnership funding contributions being available, as the scheme would only be eligible for £400,000 of flood defence grant in aid under the updated partnership funding rules. I understand that the Environment Agency has been in negotiations with a potential contributor, but further negotiations are required.

I also wanted to say, because lots of colleagues have mentioned it, that the EA aims to finalise a delivery plan this autumn—autumn, going into winter—and to set up strategic delivery groups, as an opportunity to encourage local flood resilience forum partners to help deliver key activities, such as on highways issues, planning permissions and community support.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend supports the significant amount of money that the Government are pouring into flooding and flood defences. Our new £5.2 billion capital programme will continue to be allocated in accordance with DEFRA’s partnership funding policy. It is my duty as Floods Minister—I take the responsibility very seriously—to take a national perspective on flood risk management and to ensure that the available funding is fairly and consistently distributed. Although I appreciate that there can be challenges in securing the partnership funding, it would be contrary to the aims of the partnership funding policy for DEFRA to fill funding gaps for individual projects, and we have made no provision to do so.

I want to touch on my hon. Friend’s one-stop shop suggestion. I listened to her with great interest, and I definitely encourage her to continue to engage with at local level with the EA and any relevant risk management authorities. I know that we have seen successful collaborative working of this kind elsewhere in the country, particularly in the Calder valley, where the eyeoncalderdale.com website provides a one-stop shop for flood information. Clearly, solutions of this kind need to work for the community and one cannot use the same approach everywhere. I urge my hon. Friend to go and meet colleagues there in order to learn lessons from them.

Similarly, I thank my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski for his input and his kind words. There are lessons to be learned from what is being done in the Severn valley, and that partnership working will be invaluable as we go forward.

I want to touch on a couple of other issues that have been raised. The issue of blocked drains was mentioned by a number of colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Burton and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis). In August we published an independent review into surface water and drainage responsibilities, which looked at some of the complexities of determining responsibility for surface water and drainage assets. The Government have already accepted a number of recommendations from that review, including new measures to strengthen partnership working.

We are also implementing the 22 actions set out in the surface water management plan in order to improve understanding and to strengthen actions to reduce surface water where it impacts on drains. That links to the issue of who takes responsibility for what water, where and when. There seems to be a lot of angst about that, but the local sewerage network is the responsibility of the local water company. It is a risk management authority, and the Floods and Water Management Act 2010 sets out a duty to co-operate with other risk management authorities to manage flood risk, so that is for the water companies.

My hon. Friend Aaron Bell touched on tree roots. He is doing exactly the right thing by getting in contact with the water company, because it is largely a local issue. I am nearing the end of my speech, but, to link to the one-stop shop suggestion, the EA runs a comprehensive flood warning system that works 24 hours a day non-stop, and 1.4 million properties are signed up to that free service. We also have a really comprehensive flood forecasting centre that is improving its services all the time.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford for securing the debate. She raised many important and interesting issues, but I hope it is clear that the Government are absolutely committed to tackling flooding and the terrible issues that people and communities face. We have upped all the funding towards that. However, if my hon. Friends have any other issues that they would like to discuss with me, they know that my door is always open.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

I call Theo Clarke for the briefest of summings-up.

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 5:29 pm, 7th October 2020

I thank the Minister for taking the time to respond to this important debate and all my Staffordshire colleagues for their support, as well as our neighbour from Shrewsbury. I hope the debate has demonstrated how important a problem and how Staffordshire-wide flooding is. I urge the Minister to reflect on what she has heard and implore her to make a lead agency to have statutory responsibility for flooding, to create a Stafford flood control centre that my constituents can contact on an emergency phone number 24/7 for them to receive help; and to ensure that we have sufficient Government funding. I urge the Government to make those changes as soon as possible to ensure that the people of Staffordshire no longer live in fear of flooding.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered flooding in Staffordshire.

Sitting adjourned.