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Flood Plains (Building)

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 10 October 2006

16. What plans she has to revise planning guidelines for building on flood plains; and if she will make a statement. (92551)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
(Angela E. Smith)

We expect to publish a new planning policy statement 25 later this year to strengthen and clarify planning policy on development and flood risk.

As part of the revised guidelines, will the Minister give the House a commitment this afternoon that the question will be dealt with of insurance cover for houses on functional flood plains that are prone to flooding? Thirsk, particularly Finkle street, has been flooded twice in less than five years, and a particular business and a number of residents have been told that there is simply no insurance cover available. Will the Minister plug that loophole with the guidelines? [Interruption.]

I do not think that the hon. Lady recognised the pun that she made, but it was well appreciated on the Labour Benches. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, Baroness Andrews, is looking at this matter, which will be discussed, and I can assure the hon. Lady that her comments will be drawn to my hon. Friend’s attention.

Recently, Heywood experienced the equivalent of one month’s rain in a few hours, and it was the second serious flooding episode that the town has had. Does my hon. Friend accept that local planning authorities need to enforce stricter regulation of new housing developments that are trying to link into existing drainage networks, which cannot carry the capacity? That is part of the problem.

It is clear that planning policy guidance 25 has had quite an impact, and according to the Association of British Insurers it has proved very relevant when looking at development. The new statement will strengthen the current guidance, but I should point out that there is a statutory duty to consult the Environment Agency on all new developments, and that will inform any planning authority’s decision.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that two rivers meet in my constituency, and that the flood problem goes much further than that? The situation is not helped by the fact that my constituency is constantly being asked to take more and more houses; indeed, the problem has been made even worse by the regional spatial strategy proposal to build thousands more. That will not help the area, which is a totally inappropriate place for those houses to be built; it will be very environmentally damaging. Will the Minister go back to Labour’s pre-election pledge to end the predict-provide approach to house building?

I sometimes wonder about Conservative policy. The Conservatives share in our demand for, and recognition of the need for, more housing, but wherever they are, they say no to more housing. We have to ensure that local planning authorities have all—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may not want to listen, and choose instead to go on a party political rant, but there is an important point to be made about the hon. Gentleman’s comments on flooding. It is important that local authorities have all the relevant information from the Environment Agency, which is now a statutory consultee, when looking at the development of a particular area. We believe that PPG25 is good, and we have strengthened and clarified it through planning policy statement 25. That addresses the questions, and the hon. Gentleman cannot just say no to any housing anywhere.

When the German Government looked at exactly the same problem of developments on flood plains and developments that put under pressure the existing drainage system’s capacity, they came to a very specific conclusion: that they needed to change planning and building regulations so that all new developments were required to incorporate rainwater collection and water recycling in the structure of the development. Will the Minister consider doing exactly the same in the UK?

It might help if I refer my hon. Friend to our plans to issue a new planning policy statement on climate change before Christmas. Such matters are being discussed to determine whether they can be addressed through building regulations and planning policy.