Flooding: Irwell Vale and Surrounding Areas

Part of NDAs: Universities – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 29th June 2022.

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Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 4:00 pm, 29th June 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered flooding in Irwell Vale and surrounding areas.

It is a pleasure to serve under your redoubted chairmanship for the first time, Ms McVey.

Flooding affects communities all over the United Kingdom. Many Members present will live in an area affected by flooding and will understand that when communities flood, the effect is profound and devastating. It is completely debilitating for those communities. Yes, they may have accepted moving to an area with a 100-year flood risk, but, by gum, have they been surprised to have been flooded two, three or four times in a decade. In the past few years, hundreds of lives across my constituency of Rossendale and Darwen have been negatively affected. Homes and businesses in Whitworth, Bacup, Stacksteads, Waterfoot, Darwen, Rawtenstall, Helmshore, Irwell Vale, Strongstry and Chatterton have been devastated by floods in the past 10 years.

The reason why our area floods is the same reason we are one of the most picturesque and beautiful areas in the United Kingdom: our lovely rivers. We have the Limey Water, the Whitewell brook, the Darwen, the Spodden, the Ogden and the Irwell. In the summer, they are beautiful, burbling brooks; in the winter, they become raging torrents. It is those last two rivers—the Ogden and the Irwell—that really affect the residents of Irwell Vale, where there is a confluence just before the village. Irwell Vale, Chatterton and Strongstry have been flooded repeatedly by those rivers, which has been devastating.

It has proved historically difficult to mitigate the flood risk because the water comes from a wide catchment area. I have visited those communities on several occasions after they have flooded and the impact on their lives has been completely devastating. It is something the Prime Minister has demonstrated that he understands. He recently visited Didsbury, in Greater Manchester, after some flooding, and said that there is a

“huge psychological, emotional and financial cost” to the communities that flood. I absolutely agree. That is why I am grateful that over the past nine years, the Minister and her Department have already provided £1 million of investment for our local communities to try to stop the flooding. Back in 2014, residents of the village of Stubbins were delighted when their long-awaited flood defences were opened by me and others after finally being completed.

Today, I want to talk about the ongoing challenge in the catchment area that makes up the River Irwell and covers other areas. Floods have particularly affected Irwell Vale, but they also affect tens of thousands of people across the country. That is why the issue is such a priority for the Government.

The Irwell, which cuts through my constituency, is a river that was previously thought to flood very infrequently. In fact, it had a 100-year flood risk. However, it has flooded in 2007, 2012, 2015 and 2020. The communities of Irwell Vale, Strongstry and Chatterton also have the dual risk of overland flooding. It is not just raised river levels; they are in a deep, sheer-sided valley and when there is heavy rainfall, combined with rising river levels, the flooding can come from the back of the houses as well as the front.

In February, I was down there talking to the community, who explained how family members felt they could not leave home because they were constantly clicking “refresh” on the Government’s online flooding monitor; they sort of felt they would be more likely to flood if they were not in the house. Although that is not particularly rational, it shows what a huge impact living on a flood plain and in a community that floods has on the mental health of these families. That is why it is really important we debate that impact today.

For a number of years now, I have worked very closely with the Environment Agency, the Government and the communities, to find a solution that will serve this community not just in the short term, but for generations to come. The Government’s policy is that flood defences are not about how big a community is. This is a small community, but all communities must be supported. I hope the Government will reaffirm that commitment today, because the whole point of the Government’s levelling-up agenda is that no community gets left behind. The smallest hamlet is as important to the Minister as the greatest city, but all too often it is the smallest hamlet that gets flooded and needs the flood defences. I hope the Minister will reaffirm today that no community is too small to have the benefit of Government flood defence spending.

I want to talk more directly about the Environment Agency plan for Irwell Vale, Chatterton and Strongstry. Following the 2015 flooding, the Environment Agency worked closely with me and the local community. It did a large-scale appraisal on a whole catchment basis for the River Irwell and its tributaries. That was followed by a capital funding bid to further reappraise flooding issues and possible mitigation work for the community.

Following the 2020 floods, which were again devastating, the Environment Agency did further extensive work to ensure that solutions would deal properly with increased flooding frequency. I find it extraordinary that between 2015 and 2020 there was such a change in the expectations of flooding in the community that the EA had to revisit all the work that had already been done. That tells us how concerned we should be for these communities, which will be subject to more frequent flooding.