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Flood Defences

Volume 522: debated on Thursday 3 February 2011

11. When she plans to make an announcement on funding for individual flood defence schemes during the comprehensive spending review period. (37806)

The Environment Agency has been consulting regional flood defence committees on the programme for 2011-12. The agency’s board will be deciding the allocation of funding to each region shortly. Information on individual schemes will be published as soon as possible. Decisions on funding for future years depend on the outcome of DEFRA’s consultation on the way schemes are funded.

People in the north-east whose homes were devastated by the floods in 2008 have learned that planned flood defences have now been deferred. What message does the Minister have for those people who, as well as living with the worry of future floods, have the added financial concern of losing all insurance cover because those defences are not guaranteed to go ahead?

First, those schemes have not been rejected; they will be looked at again to ensure that they can provide good value for money for the taxpayer. Secondly, we are consulting on a payment-for-outcomes scheme, which for the first time will ensure transparency in flood funding, allowing local communities to understand where they are in the pecking order and how they can assist in ensuring that their flood schemes come forward. On insurance, we are working closely with the Association of British Insurers, so that we can ensure future cover after the statement of principles ends.

Everyone realises that money is tight, but will the Minister look again at the importance of the Leeds flood alleviation scheme on the River Aire? In 2007, the city centre was centimetres away from flooding, with £500 million of damage to 3,000 properties projected. It is an incredibly important scheme that cannot simply be left to gather dust.

I am conscious of the scheme’s importance to the people of Leeds, and much work can be done to ensure that parts of it are certainly brought forward in a viable form. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues and she will be happy, as I will, to discuss the intricacies of the scheme. At the moment, it will cost roughly £250,000 per property, which is a difficult sum to get around in terms of value for money. Many other schemes provide much better benefit, but I very much hope that we can work with the local authority and with hon. Members to ensure that, in time, we bring forward elements of it.

It is a matter of fact that the Government have decided to cut flood defence spending by 27%. Those cuts mean that the Environment Agency has had to change the way in which it allocates resources through its outcome-measure assessments, and that has already had an effect upon flood defence schemes throughout the country. Will the Secretary of State today give a guarantee—not assurances, but a guarantee—that her cuts will not prejudice flood defence schemes in rural areas and other less populated areas, where the economies of scale for flood defence spending are very different from schemes in more urban areas?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that proposals under the payment-for-outcomes scheme, on which we are consulting, will make things easier for communities that have traditionally missed out on flood funding, such as those he describes in rural areas, and that funding allocation will be clear. I shall just correct him, however. On a direct comparison of funding, we are spending approximately 8% less than the previous Government over the same period. One year ago, his party announced 50% capital cuts, and if he were sitting on the Government Benches and intending to favour flood funding, he would have to explain where else he was going to make cuts.