Skip to main content

Pitt Report

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2008

With permission, I shall make a statement on the Government’s response to Sir Michael Pitt’s final report on the floods of summer 2007.

Last weekend’s flooding in the south-west, in which two people sadly died, reminds us of the ever-present risk that we face, and of the importance of Sir Michael’s comprehensive and impressive report. In his 92 recommendations published in June, Sir Michael identified a need to clarify who is responsible for what; to ensure that the public have all the information and guidance they need; to work with essential services to assess risk and protect critical infrastructure; to have a clear recovery plan right from the start of any major emergency; and to establish the right legislative framework to tackle flooding. I can tell the House that the Government’s action plan being published today supports changes in response to all his recommendations, but before setting out those changes I want to acknowledge the continuing effects of the flooding, as a second Christmas approaches.

The fact that most people are now back home, thanks to a great deal of hard work, will be of little comfort to those families who are still out of their homes, or who are living upstairs in them. Our thoughts are with them, and their plight reminds us of the toll that flooding takes not just on people’s lives, but on their emotions, and just how difficult it can be to get things going again. That is why, working with local authorities and the insurance industry, we will continue to do all we can to help. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, to whom I pay tribute for the extraordinary amount of work that he has done to help people affected, announced last month further help for those families.

We have taken action in the 18 months since the 2007 floods. The Environment Agency has spent £5 million on repairing defences that were damaged. Forty-nine flood defence schemes have been completed, protecting 37,000 homes, from Selby in Yorkshire to St. Ives in Cornwall and from West Bridgford in Nottingham to Worcester and Hexham, the town whose newly built defences successfully protected it from significant flooding in September this year.

Since summer 2007, more than 78,000 more people have registered with the Environment Agency’s telephone flood warning system; the total is now 280,000. All local resilience forums have been briefed on critical national infrastructure in their areas, and we have brought forward to 2009-10 £20 million of flood defence spending. That will mean an earlier start on those schemes, which, when completed, will protect more than 27,000 homes from flooding and coastal erosion. In total, our £2.15 billion investment in flood defence over the three years to 2010-11 will protect an additional 145,000 homes across England.

The further steps that I am announcing today draw both on the £34.5 million that I set aside to implement Sir Michael’s report and on funding from other existing budgets. We are creating a new national flood forecasting centre, bringing together staff from the Environment Agency and the Met Office. That will start operating in April and will improve our ability to respond quickly, by providing better information and more detailed warnings directly to emergency responders.

Having previously decided that the Environment Agency will take on a strategic overview for all forms of flooding, I am today announcing that local authorities will be responsible for ensuring that arrangements are in place to assess and manage local flood risk from all sources, including surface water. In two-tier council areas, that responsibility will rest with county councils, but we will encourage them to work closely with districts, internal drainage boards and others. I am increasing funding to local authorities by £15 million to allow authorities where the risk is greatest to take on that new role straight away. Part of that will be for the development of surface-water management plans. I can announce that the first six local areas that have successfully bid for the funds are Hull, Gloucestershire, Leeds, Warrington, Richmond upon Thames and West Berkshire.

In addition, I am establishing a £5 million grant scheme, for which local authorities can bid to help people better protect their homes from the risk of flooding—for example, through fitting flood boards and air-brick covers. That help will be available where it is not possible to provide protection through community-level defences. I am also providing funding to help the Environment Agency improve flood warnings, including moving to an opt-out system for ex-directory numbers. Furthermore, I am putting money into improving our flood rescue capability, so that we can make the best use of the skilled personnel and boats available.

The national flood framework will help to ensure that all the organisations involved in responding to floods, including those responsible for critical national infrastructure, understand—and are fully prepared for—what they have to do. An outline framework has already been published and the consultation that we are launching will enable us to complete the job. Meanwhile, organisations are already taking action to identify and protect infrastructure.

On reservoir safety, we are doubling funding for inundation maps for all the country’s larger reservoirs and we are providing support for local resilience forums to prepare reservoir emergency plans. We will be publishing a draft floods and water Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny in spring next year to deal with those of Sir Michael’s recommendations, including clearer roles and responsibilities and strengthening reservoir safety, that require primary legislation.

On Monday, I informed the House that we intend to transfer to water and sewerage companies private sewers and lateral drains that connect to the public system. That was welcomed by Sir Michael, and it will release many householders from a liability that they often do not know they have until something goes wrong and they face a hefty bill to sort it out. The transfer will take place from April 2011. Finally, we are establishing a Cabinet Committee to oversee work on flooding. Sir Michael will continue to be involved in reviewing progress.

The House knows that we can never eliminate the risk of flooding, particularly as climate change takes hold, but we are all determined to learn the lessons from what has happened and to be better prepared in future. All of us—the Government, local authorities, emergency and other services, local communities and individuals—must take flood risk seriously. This report, and the steps that we are taking, will help us to do so and I commend them to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and repeat my thanks to Sir Michael Pitt and his team for the excellent work that they have done. I also commend the work of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who has made a useful contribution on these issues.

The Secretary of State is entirely right to acknowledge the human cost of flooding. I am sure that the whole House will wish to send condolences to the family and friends of those two people who tragically lost their lives over the weekend. Anyone who has met people whose homes and businesses have been destroyed by floods knows only too well that there is often a lasting, less visible, but none the less real, emotional impact on top of the physical disruption that people suffer. Some things, such as personal possessions, simply cannot be replaced by insurance. Can the Secretary of State confirm that hundreds of people are facing a second Christmas out of their homes as a result of the floods of 2007? Why have the Government not published monthly summaries of the number of households displaced, as Pitt recommended? Is it because they are embarrassed about the rate of progress?

There are, of course, aspects of this statement which we welcome, particularly the establishment of the national flood forecasting centre, which seems an eminently sensible way to proceed. I cannot help but observe, however, that progress in this area is glacially slow. After three years of announcements and statements of good intentions, our country is still acutely vulnerable to flood risk. The number of homes at risk from flooding has increased by 20 per cent. in the space of a few years. Some 43 per cent. of flood defence projects have been delayed, and more than half are not in their target condition. Additionally, 6 per cent. of hospitals, 15 per cent. of ambulance and fire stations and 15 per cent. of power stations are at risk from flooding. When will the natural hazards team, which is responsible for identifying risks to national infrastructure, complete its assessment? Is it not extraordinary in view of the risks involved that that work has not already been done?

I have to say that the Government’s approach to this issue has been lackadaisical. In 2005, the Government knew that there was a problem and promised to put it right. Then they announced that the Environment Agency needed to have the strategic overview of flooding. Today it seems that local authorities will be made responsible. There is still uncertainty about who is in charge. We know the gravity of the risk, and have a wealth of recommendations on how to move forward. Pitt called for strong national leadership if his recommendations were to be implemented. Since when was dithering a feature of strong national leadership?

Can the Secretary of State confirm that all of Pitt’s urgent recommendations have been implemented? Does he agree that his statement is no substitute for legislation? The Pitt report called for a “rapid implementation” of the floods and water Bill. Will he confirm that, as a result of his announcement today, there is no real chance that the floods and water Bill will make it on to the statute books before the next general election?

There is a sense that the Government are shunting the problem away, beyond the next election, on to local authorities. I note, however, that the Secretary of State has announced additional funding for local authorities, which must be welcome. Can he confirm where that money is coming from? Climate change will only increase the frequency and severity of flooding. As the Stern review pointed out:

“Adaptation is the only response available for the impacts that will occur over the next several decades before mitigation measures can have an effect.”

My chief concern today is the slow progress that the Government are making in their response to these urgent issues.

Finally, some 2.3 million homes are at risk of flooding. It is essential that we do not add to that number, so will the Secretary of State join me in calling for a clear presumption against building on floodplains?

I echo the words that the hon. Gentleman expressed about the impact on individuals and businesses. When flooding happens, it is devastating. I can tell him that about 1,000 households are either out of their homes or living upstairs, and of those, 118 are living in caravans. The number is coming down by about 100 a week. We make an assessment every two months.

I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of what has happened in the past 18 months. Protecting 37,000 homes since summer 2007 cannot, under any measure, be described as “glacially slow” progress. As he is pressing for faster progress and given that Her Majesty’s Opposition have indicated that from 2010-11 they will not be committed to the Government’s spending plans, a lot of people would like to know—he might not be able to say today—what their stance is on flood defence investment, because we are all waiting to hear.

Next, there is no uncertainty, because the steps that I have announced today and the action that we have already taken are all about people getting on with the task in hand, without waiting for the floods and water Bill, which we will publish in draft form, as I have indicated. Saying, “That’s what you’ve got to do,” to the Environment Agency and, “This is what you’ve got to do to deal with the problem of surface water,” to the six local authorities that will start the mapping in the areas that were affected is not about waiting to change the law to require that action; it is about getting on with the job now. Then we will look at the changes that are needed subsequently. The same applies to the mapping of the risk from reservoirs. We are getting on with the job. We are not waiting, but we will change the law as necessary.

As I indicated to the House when I made my statement in the summer, we have made good progress on implementing the urgent recommendations. Incidentally, the latest figures for people out of their homes are from mid-November, so there will have been further progress and a reduction in the numbers since then.

The funding that I am making available is from funding that I set aside and which I told the House about in the summer for implementing Pitt’s recommendations. As for not adding to the problem, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, which is why the Government have strengthened the planning guidance not once, but twice. PPS25 is absolutely clear about the responsibility on local authorities when they take decisions to grant or not grant planning applications; and, at a practical level, we have already implemented changes to the planning rules on paving and concreting over front gardens.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to ensuring that Gloucestershire is part of the pilot project on surface water. That will be welcomed by residents in Barton and Tredworth in my constituency, which were flooded at the weekend. May I also urge him to continue the work on flooding with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government? We know that removing Whaddon, which lies in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), from the regional spatial strategy, which is likely to be published in the coming days, will make a huge difference to surface water in Gloucester. That surface water has to go somewhere and at the moment it largely goes to that area in Whaddon.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the huge amount of work that he did, as did many hon. Members in all parts of the House, in the wake of the flooding. I remember the conversations that we had at the time. The whole purpose of the surface water management plans is to get all the people who have responsibility for the water—where it goes and where it ends up—to see how they can better deal with it when large amounts of rain fall and to ensure that it can be taken elsewhere. That means dealing with a legacy of 200 years of drains and culverts that were not designed for the kind of rainfall that we have seen and for the climate change that is coming—the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) is right about that—and planning who is going to do what as a result, and, at the same time, taking the right decisions on planning and providing places where the water can go when new developments are made. Designing sustainable drainage systems into development is a way of avoiding adding to the problem.

I wish Gloucestershire all the best in that work. May I commend Gloucestershire on the excellent booklet that has been published for residents? It is full of the most useful guidance and information. It is a model of its kind and I hope that other local authorities will follow it.

I pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard to prevent flooding, mitigate its effects and provide support to those affected, not just in the summer of 2007, but in the 18 months since, and express solidarity with those who continue to suffer as a consequence of flooding.

In thanking the Secretary of State for his statement, I welcome the announcement of the action plan and the national flood forecasting centre, and the announcement that the Environment Agency will take on strategic overview responsibilities. Also, the announcement earlier this week that liability for private sewers will be passed to water companies is extremely welcome.

However, as we receive the statement on learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, many of us are working alongside our constituents who are still picking up the pieces following the floods of autumn 2008. That raises the question why the Secretary of State has taken so long to come to the House to give us a statement on a report that called for immediate action six months ago. Many incidences of flooding could have been avoided, had there been clarity about who was responsible for flood risk management at different levels. How many people have been adversely affected in the six months since the report was published, during which time the Government have failed to act? How many households and businesses have suffered this year because of the Government’s failure to implement the recommendations more quickly?

Furthermore, recommendation 86 in the report proposed the immediate establishment of a Cabinet Committee. We welcome the announcement today that that is going to happen, but will the Secretary of State tell us whether he thinks that waiting six months constitutes immediate action? As Scotland already has its own Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill in progress, why is this House being offered only a draft Bill, with subsequent legislation some way off?

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many of the 92 recommendations in the Pitt report he has already been able to implement? Will he expand on his plans for the establishment of a national flood forecasting centre? Will he also confirm that many instances of flooding this autumn have occurred because the lines of communication have still not been corrected? Is not that further evidence that the Government’s casual approach to the implementation of the report has cost many people dear? Does he accept that even a small improvement in the lines of communication could make a huge difference to those on the front line? Even half an hour’s advance warning of a serious flood risk could allow householders and businesses to take vital action to safeguard their property and protect themselves.

Will the Secretary of State also comment on the backlog in flood relief works in many parts of the country? Can he give assurances to residents and businesses, such as those in the Windermere road area of Grange in my constituency, that the long-awaited flood relief scheme planned for their area will actually come into being in the near future? Does he agree that there is now a strong argument for front-loading investment in flood relief schemes?

Will the Secretary of State comment on the continuing granting of planning permission for building in high-risk areas, despite Pitt’s recommendation for a strong presumption against such development, and will he now support a review of PPS25, to examine whether it is fit for purpose? Will he also take to task the insurance industry, which promised at the time of the floods that no one would go uninsured as a result of the flooding? Now that insurance policies are coming up for renewal, many insurers are refusing to cover flood risk. Will he also take action to ensure that speedy payments are made by insurance companies to householders and businesses?

Finally, will the Secretary of State comment on the concerns that many of us have about the regionalisation of fire control centres, given that that is highly likely to undermine the responsiveness of local fire crews to developing local situations?

I think that this is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post from the Dispatch Box. I thank him for a little bit of what he said, but I must express sorrow that he did not seem to have listened to what I was saying or, more importantly, to have noticed the action we have been taking since the summer of 2007.

The hon. Gentleman raised a point about lines of communication in recent instances of flooding. If he, or any other hon. Member, has an example of something that did not go right or that they are worried about, will they draw it to my attention? I am determined that we should learn the lessons and try to get things right.

On early warning, one thing that has happened is the piloting of the extreme rainfall alert service, which I did not have time to mention earlier because there are quite a lot of things that we have done. When the hon. Gentleman has a chance to read the action plan that I am publishing today, he will see the answer to his question on that point. I should like to give the House an example. On 5 September, the Met Office forecast thunder storms and heavy showers in the south-west, and it put out one of those alerts. We have subsequently heard from Cornwall county council that the alert enabled it to pre-deploy the fire service, which, as a result, was able to rescue someone from their car at a time when the flood waters were rising by 1 ft every 20 minutes. That is a practical example of the measures that we have put in place, helping the emergency services to do a better job of protecting the public in those circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned bringing forward flood defence schemes, but he has just heard me say that we have already brought forward £20 million-worth. We are indeed front-loading flood defence.

On the insurance industry, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have worked hard with the Association of British Insurers on agreeing a new statement of principles to ensure that there continues to be insurance cover. That has been very important, although I recognise that, in some cases, premiums and excesses have gone up. However, it is as a result of our efforts that we have that agreement, and the principal factor that made that possible was the significant increase in flood defence expenditure.

I thank the Secretary of State for the work that he has done on this matter, for the welcome statement today and, in particular, for the surface water management funds for Leeds, which was hard hit. In the heart of my constituency is the Farnley balancing reservoir, but it cannot cope. Every time there is a deluge, it overwhelms the local Farnley beck, which then floods all the homes around. In assessing the risk, we need to consider not only the mopping up but the underlying causes. I accept that they go back some years, but we will continue to have problems if we do not do that. Will those funds help to address that systemic problem?

They are intended to do that. I am aware of the case that my right hon. Friend has raised, and I understand that there is some dispute between Yorkshire Water and Leeds city council over who should take responsibility. However, the fact that Leeds will be one of the six local authorities to produce the first of the surface water management plans will mean that such issues can be resolved and that there can be clarity over who is responsible for doing what.

I should also like to say to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) that we will review PPS25 early next year.

The Secretary of State’s statement rightly underscored the crucial role of local authorities in co-ordinating a response to surface water flooding. That was a key finding in the Committee’s report and in Sir Michael’s inquiry. However, given that the weather events that led to the flooding that gave rise to Sir Michael’s inquiry were of an unpredictable nature, how quickly will the remaining local authorities—besides the six mentioned in the statement—be able to take on those responsibilities? If Sir Michael’s report is to be fully implemented, all local authorities should be co-ordinating their responses now, not waiting until some point in the future.

I want to acknowledge the excellence of the work done by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in looking at this matter. This is a job for all of us to work on. I have announced the first six authorities today. The plan is to fund another 44 or so to complete that work over the next couple of years. We are going to do that in order, depending on where the risk is greatest. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the increasing unpredictability of the weather. In agreeing with Sir Michael’s recommendations, we are saying clearly today that this is a responsibility for all of us, everywhere. All local authorities need to think about what they would do in such circumstances. During the summer, and subsequently, we saw the benefit of advance planning and of the emergency rescue services. By and large, those arrangements worked pretty well over the summer of 2007, and that was because people had got organised and because the Gold Command system worked.

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, in January 2005, there was severe flooding in Carlisle. The flood defences are now being built, however, thanks to the good efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who I see is just leaving the Chamber. Is the Secretary of State sure that the private utilities are prepared and that they have learned the lessons? They had not done so after Carlisle, and there were also problems in the west country with losing water. Furthermore, once the flood defences are built, will my right hon. Friend put pressure on the insurance companies to bring down the premiums in the areas that have been defended?

My hon. Friend and his constituents know all about the devastating impact of flooding. He has been able to demonstrate how we have responded, and how we are trying to prevent further flooding in Carlisle. I want to give the House some practical examples in relation to the critical infrastructure. The National Grid has bought 1.2 km of temporary flood defences, which it is storing at a number of locations around the country. In the event of flood warnings being given, it will be able to use those defences to protect its assets. Indeed, defences have already been put around Walham and Castle Mead sub-stations. We have also issued new guidance to Ofwat, requiring water companies to consider vulnerability, and about £1 billion of investment is being proposed by companies in their draft business plans to increase resilience. Plans for protecting all national critical sites will be in place by the end of 2009.

We will continue our discussions with the insurance companies, because it is important that people are able to avail themselves of the cover.

I speak with experience, having been caught in my car in a flash flood on Saturday morning. Happily, my daughter and I escaped unharmed; we were luckier than Mr. Henry Collier, who sadly died in similar circumstances in Martock on Saturday.

Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the money available to authorities that face regular flooding, such as Somerset, will be given on a needs basis or will it be distributed according to a formula, which will almost certainly disadvantage a county such as Somerset? Secondly, has the right hon. Gentleman been in contact with his colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families about these issues? The Countess Gytha school in Queen Camel in my constituency was flooded again on Saturday and it is a regular occurrence for that school. It seems to me that extra money is needed either to make schools like the Countess Gytha safe for the future or to reposition them somewhere where floods cannot reach.

May I also express my condolences to Mr. Collier’s family? On money for local authorities, under the current year’s revenue support grant, £87 million was already in the system for dealing with flood risk, although I gather that local authorities spent slightly more than that. The £15 million I have announced today will be allocated in order of priority to authorities where we believe the risk is greatest, particularly in respect of surface water management. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about schools. If he would be kind enough to give me the details of the particular school he mentioned, I will indeed follow it up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement on private sewers, which will be most welcome in my constituency. He will know that parts of my constituency have suffered from chronic flooding problems—particularly the village of Cubbington, which has flooded about half a dozen times in the past few years. We have established a local flood forum to ascertain why it happens and who needs to fix it. It has made some progress, but it has stalled on the issue of who is responsible for remedying surface water problems. In his statement, my right hon. Friend referred to local authorities having responsibility for assessing and managing surface water, but is he clear that local authorities are also responsible for remedying surface water problems?

I am sorry to hear about the problems that my hon. Friend’s constituents have had to face. In the end, given that there is a two-tier system in some places, we have to make it absolutely clear who has the lead responsibility, which is why we decided that upper-tier authorities should be primarily responsible. Councils need to talk to each other, as they do, and they need to work out how to allocate the responsibility, albeit that the upper-tier authority has the prime responsibility to ensure that allocation. It is about getting together all the people who have responsibility for all the different bits and pieces—including some private owners, as people do not always know who owns a culvert that might cause a problem if it is blocked and there is a lot of rain—and sorting the problems out. We want to make it clear that local authorities have a lead responsibility for sorting them out; that is what people want.

The Secretary of State will be aware that on 30 October the small town of Ottery St. Mary and many surrounding villages in my constituency were flooded at 2 in the morning, with 4 in of rain coming down in an hour and 3 ft of hail, which was still sitting there two days later. My own home and those of my neighbours were flooded for the second time in 11 years; we all hope to be back in by Easter. It is the most appalling experience to go through.

May I ask the Secretary of State about flooding in rural areas? Experience has shown that it is often minor watercourses, not necessarily the main river that flows through towns, that behave in ways that no one expected and often cause the damage, turning lanes and roads into rivers. As well as looking into the run-off from buildings, has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to study run-off from land and consider farming practices, for example? The relevant boxes that need to be ticked are often left unticked in rural areas because only small clusters of properties are affected, so has he thought of anything further that can be done to mitigate flooding problems in rural areas?

The hon. Lady raises an important point, and I am sorry to hear about what she and her constituents have experienced. I discussed this particular event with the head of the Met Office, as even with the extreme rainfall alert system in place, this event was so specific and localised that, as the hon. Lady will know, it was not picked up by it. We could perhaps use the hon. Lady’s particular example as a test case, and if she comes to see me with further details, we can look to see whether the present structure will be able to pick up that sort of problem. I am conscious that when everybody thought about surface water flooding in the summer of 2007, they thought of Hull because so many people were affected. The hon. Lady, however, is absolutely right that it happens on a much more localised basis in many parts of the country. That provides another argument for getting all those with responsibilities, including landowners, together to see what they can do to reduce the risks in those circumstances.

May I say that my constituents will think it a bit rich to hear Conservative spokesmen complaining about building on the floodplains when it was the Conservative county council that tried to build over Kennet meadows in south-west Reading? I applaud the Secretary of State’s decision to sort out the archaic system of private drains and sewers, which causes so many problems for residents of the Haddock estate in my constituency. I also welcome the additional funding for the West Berkshire council, which desperately needs help to sort out the management of surface water because that was what caused the vast majority of the flooding in my area in 2007.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. What we have done on the sewer transfer is effectively to create a sort of national insurance scheme. Individual householders, as Members will be aware from specific cases, can often suddenly realise, “Heavens, I did not realise that I was responsible for that”. It is a sensible step to have taken. We looked at West Berkshire’s proposals and decided that we would fund them. Local authorities have the responsibility to deal with surface water flooding, including from minor watercourses.

If the heavy rain of July last year had fallen slightly further south, the Somerset levels, which are prone to flooding in any case, would have been catastrophically affected. There was severe local flooding last week. Is the Secretary of State aware that a contributory cause of this vulnerability is the failure of the Environment Agency properly to maintain the rivers for which it is responsible in Somerset? Will he have a word with the Environment Agency to make sure that it carries out proper and regular dredging and removes potential obstructions? Will he ensure that the agency’s discharge of its environmental responsibilities is not at the expense of its drainage responsibilities?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this case, which I know engenders a great deal of debate in many parts of the country. The Environment Agency is acutely aware of its responsibilities for dealing with flooding. Sometimes, however, clearing out a channel and making it even wider may speed up the rate at which the water ends up in another place, so the operation is not always as straightforward as it might appear in the first instance. If the right hon. Gentleman would be kind enough to drop me a line with further details, I would be happy to take up his particular case and pursue it with the Environment Agency.

It has been a long campaign to get private sewers adopted, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State has taken that decision. The real work now is to ensure that things happen on the ground after 2011. Secretaries of State can be assured that Nottinghamshire county council will work with district councils in the county to tackle surface water draining problems—but they will need resources to sort out problems in villages such as Woodborough, Lowdham and Lambley.

I am very glad to hear from my hon. Friend that this work will be done and that the council will pursue it with great vigour. I wish him and all others working on the project every success.

I appreciate much of the Secretary of State’s statement, particularly where it relates to householder liabilities for private drainage and the review of planning policy statement 25, which is very welcome. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman tells the planning inspectorate that that document is now up for review. I appreciate the funding that has followed the right hon. Gentleman’s interest in Cheltenham and the work on flood alleviation schemes in my constituency. However, at a time when it is difficult enough for people to sell their homes and sustain their businesses, will the Government make an absolute commitment to prevent insurance companies from offering cover but then excluding flood risk—even when people have paid for flood resilience work on their properties—or imposing wholly unreasonably premiums, sometimes running to tens of thousands of pounds? In my book, that is not really insurance.

If that is what is going on, we will take it up with the insurance companies.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned people having flood resilience work done on their homes. It seems to me very sensible to have such work done when a home has been flooded, as part of the restoration. It may cost the insurance company a little more, but fitting flood boards, air brick covers and so forth will reduce the likelihood of a further claim. It is important for us to take action to help ourselves to protect our properties, and I can understand why householders with insurance policies would be more than a little miffed if, having taken such action, they could not obtain cover.

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he had to say, and particularly for the financial help that we shall be getting in Gloucestershire. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) said, we thought that we were going there again last Saturday, because there was quite serious flooding. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend consider innovative solutions which, in many instances, will involve community self-help? The problem in my constituency is what I would call diffused flooding: the areas that are hit are randomly distributed, but they are hit very regularly. Dealing with it will involve money, but it will also involve considering how communities can come together to do a number of things to help themselves. I hope that that is one of the measures that my right hon. Friend will encourage.

I am happy to encourage all efforts to deal with the problem that anyone is prepared to make. The fact that my hon. Friend has described community self-help as part of the solution is very much in keeping with what Sir Michael Pitt said in his report. One of his most striking observations was that, although Government, local authorities, the Environment Agency and others should act, ultimately this was also a matter for individual responsibility, because we can all be affected and we do not know when flooding may come. I applaud the approach that my hon. Friend has advocated, and I hope to see more of it around the country.

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s kind words about the excellent work that Gloucestershire county council has been doing in informing residents about how they can protect themselves. I shall ensure that it is fed back to the leader of the council.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned surface water management plans. Obviously it is good that local authorities have that responsibility, but, given the number of different bodies involved—not just local authorities but water companies and private owners—one of the problems is getting them all to accept the responsibility. Can the Secretary of State confirm that until the floods and water Bill has become legislation, local authorities can draw up plans, but do not have power to enforce behaviour by those other bodies? Having such power would make the process of drawing up plans much more effective.

I agree, but we are not waiting for the powers that are needed to get on with trying to deal with the problem. Even in the absence of a formal power to require, it is possible to get members of the local community together in a room and say “A particular problem is this culvert here, and that is the person responsible.” As Members will know only too well, there are many ways of encouraging change in the absence of legislation, and I am sure that Members will employ them in order to look after their constituents.

I, too, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and, in particular, the money for Leeds, which is one of the trial areas for the surface water management.

As my right hon. Friend will know, residents of the Wellhouses in my constituency are regularly flooded because of the overflow of Gledhow beck, which, further downstream, will affect his constituents as well. Can he confirm that, after 2011, Gledhow beck will be one of the areas transferred to public responsibility, and Leeds city council will be able to take over responsibility for it? Residents often have no idea when they move to the area that they are responsible for maintaining its banks.

Will my right hon. Friend also put pressure on Leeds city council to do something about the balancing lake at Roundhay park, which is often the cause of the huge amount of flooding in the Wellhouses?

I shall need to check whether Gledhow will be covered by the transfer arrangements. I think it will depend on the definitions, but I will pursue the point. As for my hon. Friend’s second question, that is exactly what the council’s surface water management plans are intended to identify.

I pay tribute to the work of the staff of Leeds city council. I think it fair to say that the council has a pretty good national reputation for its work on flooding. Following the efforts to protect the people who have been affected by the flooding of Wyke beck three or four times over the past four years, they have certainly noticed a difference. For instance, one of the pilot schemes involved the introduction of flood guards and other flood protection, which has helped to prevent their houses from being damaged in future.

May I remind the Secretary of State that a great many people in Northumberland are still out of their houses following this year’s floods, and many more feel that their houses are vulnerable and will remain so unless the Environment Agency agrees to changes in river management? Will he use his good offices to ensure that his own Department deals with the serious damage to the harbour at Amble, and also to persuade the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) to deal with the issue of funding for the district, county and unitary authorities?

I believe that the new chair of the Environment Agency will visit the region tomorrow to see how matters have been progressing, and I shall be happy to take up the issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman with the agency.

I welcome the money provided for Leeds city council to draw up a surface water management plan. Will the Secretary of State use his considerable influence in our city to ensure that the Liberal-Conservative-controlled council speaks to people like me so that we can raise the issues affecting people living beside Kippax and Collingham becks, people in Methley living by the River Aire, and people in West Garforth? Will he assure me that he will use that power to ensure that they speak to me, and to other councillors?

It is very kind of my hon. Friend to say that I have the power to make that happen, but I hope that all local authorities—including Leeds city council—always talk to all Members of Parliament in their areas.

The floods in the summer of 2007 affected four rivers in Chesterfield: the Rother, the Hipper, the Whitting and the Holmebrook. The Environment Agency moved quickly to draw up plans to prevent the worst two offenders, the Rother and the Hipper, from flooding again by introducing upriver catchment areas, but the Environment Agency has warned my constituents in the affected areas that it will be at least five to 10 years before Government money will be available to enable them to be built. Can the Secretary of State offer any hope of more urgent action, or is the Government’s response to residents of areas such as Alma street in my constituency, and many others, that they should simply cross their fingers and hope that it does not rain for another 10 years, because otherwise they will be flooded again?

I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s constituents who have suffered in the way that he has described. The Government’s job is to ensure that we play our part by providing more funding for the Environment Agency for flood defence work, and that is exactly what we are doing. I think I had been in the job for about a week when I stood at this Dispatch Box and announced an increase of £200 million over the three years to 2010-11. It is because we have been putting in more money that we have been able to protect an additional 37,000 homes since the summer of 2007, and 145,000 homes will be protected by the end of 2010-11. We all have a responsibility to ensure that we argue the case for further investment in flood defence, because that is the only way in which we shall be able to help the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.

Following the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), may I refer particularly to recommendation 45 of the report? It states:

“The Government should be encouraging more local communities to promote innovative schemes, including contributing towards the costs”.

That has been done in the village of Elvington in my constituency, and there is a prospect of its being done in the village of Saxton. Should it perhaps be more of a priority for the Environment Agency, where possible, to provide technical advice and support for such schemes, as it is beginning to do in Yorkshire and the Humber?

That is a very sensible suggestion. I think it inevitable that communities and others will increasingly wish to participate in the carrying out of works, and in some cases contribute to the cost, on top of what is provided by Government expenditure.

My hon. Friend will be well aware of the benefits of big flood service schemes. Only yesterday, I saw a photograph of him sitting atop the defences at Selby that have been protecting his constituents.

When homes and businesses are flooded, very often the first help comes from the fire and rescue services—I speak from experience as the cellar of my constituency office was flooded last summer—but I am told that the funding formula for the fire and rescue services does not include any flood work or the resources to do that work. The Secretary of State said in his statement that he was also putting money into improving our flood rescue capability. Does that mean that the fire and rescue services will now get real support for the work that they do, which is so valued during times of flooding?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the skill, expertise and, in some cases, bravery of our fire and rescue services in helping people when flooding strikes, and I am sure all Members would wish to applaud them for that. The fact is that a considerable number of fire and rescue services have built up their capability; they have bought boats and undertaken training, for example. The additional money I am now providing is to help ensure we make the best use of the assets, because there are quite a lot of boats around from various sources and we must ensure both that they are in the right place when they are needed and that there is the personnel with the training to use them. That is what we should focus our efforts on. Most people not unreasonably think that if they are in danger because of rising water and they ring 999, they can expect the fire and rescue service to come and help. That is what the fire and rescue service does—its overriding responsibility is to help people in trouble.

First, may I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement? It will give a lot of hope to those of my constituents who have had some very nasty experiences with flooding over the past few years. We have been working extremely hard to try to tackle the flooding that has taken place in my constituency, particularly in Great Sankey and Penketh, which has caused horrible experiences, sometimes for vulnerable people. That flooding has been caused by two things: in some cases, ineffective management of current water systems; and also the extensive building growth in Warrington over the past 20 years. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that there is effective information sharing and communication between the local authority, the Environment Agency and the utilities companies so that they can both manage current situations and plan for the continued housing growth that is due to take place in Warrington, as a designated housing growth area, over the next few years?

The single most important step we have taken to deal with the problem that my hon. Friend identifies is PPS25, because it clearly lays the responsibility with local authorities to take full account of flood risk in taking decisions. It gives the Environment Agency a statutory responsibility to be consulted—the agency is, after all, the expert. The experiences of my hon. Friend’s constituents, and of the many other constituents who have been talked about today by other Members, reinforce the importance of people getting themselves on to the flood warning system and of the practical change we are making to get more telephone numbers on the system, because if people get the phone call, the text or the e-mail—whichever they have asked for—they might be able to take upstairs the kinds of valuable possessions that have been mentioned, and they will not suffer quite as much as when they have been completely unprepared. We have a responsibility to get on that system; the number is 08459881188. If anyone is not on it, they should get on it, so they can get a warning if flooding threatens.

The source of the River Severn is in my constituency and settlements such as Llandrinio, Crew Green, Meifod, Bettws, Tregynon and Caersws have always lived with flooding. However, these communities are concerned that they could be deliberately flooded more often in order to protect larger conurbations downstream. Can the Secretary of State confirm that rural communities will not be sacrificed for the sake of towns and cities, and that we will instead find creative solutions that work for town and country alike?

We certainly do need to find ways of dealing with the problem in order to protect as many people as possible, but, as Members are only too well aware, in the end water is going to find somewhere to go. That is why understanding the likely path of that water and looking at the options for dealing with it is part of the process that we have now started and the responsibility that local authorities and others will take on.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I am sure he will recall that last year in both Barnsley and Doncaster in my constituency 5,000 homes were affected as a direct consequence of the bursting of the banks of the Rivers Dove, Dearne and Don. I certainly welcome the greater role local authorities will now play in flood alleviation, in the hope that they will be able to provide a more rapid response. However, will my right hon. Friend also look at trying to tap into the willing support from parish and town councils for their bigger metropolitan district councils in terms of methods of flood alleviation, even if it is only to provide more flood warnings?

I certainly would encourage the parish and town councils to get involved. The truth is that this is a job for everyone; and the sooner everyone gets on with it, the better we will be able to deal with it.

My constituents in Kidlington, west Oxford, South Hinksey, north Abingdon and south Abingdon have been flooded by five or six tributaries of the Thames, and the Secretary of State was kind enough to visit some of those communities last year. Some of them have been flooded four times in the past nine years, and they are terrified each time that it rains that it might happen again. Therefore, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the timetable for the adoption of private sewers appears to have slipped to 2011, and might it be possible to front-load some of the funding in the spending plan, which would enable extra schemes that cannot otherwise pass the threshold to be started now and also give a boost, as part of the fiscal stimulus, to the construction industry, which could usefully do some of the work next year, rather than in two years’ time when some engineering firms may be out of business?

I do not think that the transfer of the private sewers will help the hon. Gentleman’s constituents; it depends on the source of the flooding, and it will take time to deal with that. Some of the houses I visited when I came to his constituency would certainly benefit from some of the flood resilience works—we saw some homemade versions as we walked around on that occasion. We have, indeed, brought forward expenditure. The £20 million identified in the pre-Budget report is in addition to the increase in expenditure we had already put in place, and it will allow more schemes to start earlier so that protection is provided faster than would otherwise be the case.