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Flood Prevention

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 1 May 2008

Total Government funding for England in 2008-09 is £650 million, of which £559 million is flood defence grant in aid disbursed by the Environment Agency and including local authority and internal drainage board capital projects. The Environment Agency flood defence budget includes a further £20.1 million funded from other sources, and there is a planned local levy programme of around £38 million.

As the Minister will know, those who ask for works to be carried out locally are always told that the budget is under pressure, but the Environment Agency is still able to find the funds to sponsor a flood impact study conducted by Cranfield university. My constituent Mr. Jeremy Chamberlayne put it well when he said:

“This everlasting reviewing and impact studying is beginning to get up my nose! It’s action we want and I seriously fear that the Environment Agency is incapable of delivering it”.

What can the Minister tell us today to change my constituent’s mind?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. I hear people express that sentiment, but it is based on a misunderstanding. The flood defence capital projects and maintenance projects have been enhanced month on month for eight or nine years. Of course the Environment Agency, as a responsible body, seeks to learn more about flood risk—particularly in the light of the lessons learned from surface as opposed to river flooding, which is one of the aspects recognised in the Pitt review.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he seeks. Action certainly is being taken, and if he visits the Environment Agency I am sure that its representatives will show him the projects.

While we are on the subject of misunderstandings and the Environment Agency, may I ask whether the Minister saw a letter in The Daily Telegraph on, I think, Monday or Tuesday from the agency’s chief executive, Lady Young? In that letter, she contradicted “Dod’s Parliamentary Companion” by saying that she was not a Labour peer, which according to “Dod’s” she has been for many years. Can the Minister clear that up for us?

I hope you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, for not reading The Daily Telegraph on Monday, Tuesday or indeed any other day. I do the crossword—it runs in my family—and it is a fine newspaper, but I do not think that this is really a matter for me. I believe that you would pull me up if I answered the question, Mr. Speaker.

Last year, the Prime Minister said:

“In addition to that”

—the money allocated—

“under the Bellwin scheme, it will be open to local authorities to be reimbursed for the additional costs that they face, and I know that those requests will be looked at sympathetically.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2007; Vol. 462, c. 325.]

In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), and indeed in the whole of Gloucestershire, there is a £16 million black hole that must be filled by the council. Moreover, I have been informed by the leader of Gloucestershire county council that it has received no new money to reduce the risk of flooding in the county. Can the Minister tell us why the Secretary of State’s constituency and other urban constituencies receive money for flood defences, while all that rural constituencies such as mine and my hon. Friend’s are given is money for flood impact and feasibility studies?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but I do not accept that the Government, through either local authorities or the Environment Agency, do not spend money in rural areas. That is simply not the case.

The hon. Lady referred to Gloucestershire county council. I believe the constituency of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) is in Gloucestershire. The Environment Agency provides moneys for flood defences, and, as I think most local authorities recognise, the Bellwin scheme has worked very well. The Minister for Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), has done a terrific job with that scheme, and with the solidarity fund.

I do not accept the idea that we give money to urban areas but not to rural areas. I suspect that there is a bit of 1 May behind that question, and I think it is unfair.