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Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2007

We are committed to ensuring that the areas hit by the floods in the summer recover as soon as possible. So far we have made available comprehensive support of up to £57 million. However, we know that full recovery for many households, businesses and communities may yet take months. We will remain available and give the support needed for them to achieve that.

Given that some houses that were flash-flooded in Cheltenham in June and July now face spiralling insurance premiums and, possibly, a fall in price, is it wise or unwise to plan to build more homes in flood-risk areas such as Leckhampton? In time, houses built in such areas could be unsaleable and uninsurable, and could exacerbate flooding in nearby communities in Cheltenham.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have tightened up considerably planning legislation and regulations; we did so in December last year. That means that the preference now is for locations with a low flood risk. Given the area from which he comes, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is not always possible to avoid flood risk altogether. Therefore, where there is a flood risk, we have built into the process a requirement for the Environment Agency to offer an assessment of the risks entailed to the planning authority. That is reducing the risk for developments in the future.

It is clear from the evidence that we have received on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, as part of an inquiry into flooding, that the advice of the Environment Agency on development on flood plains is far too often set aside. What plans are there to toughen up the framework so that at least those who can predict reasonably accurately where floods might take place will not see their advice rejected and floods taking place in the years that follow?

That is exactly why we tightened up the regulation and process in the first place. First, the new guidance requires developers and planners to take account of the flood risk. Secondly, it directs development to areas of lowest risk. Thirdly, where there remains a flooding risk, the guidance requires that the Environment Agency assessment and advice should be made available as part of the planning authority’s decision. Although it is early days, the evidence so far suggests that the number of go-aheads given contrary to Environment Agency advice is falling.