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Midlands and North-East England Floods

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2012

I would like to provide an update on the significant flooding events that took place on Thursday 28 June following a further period of extraordinarily high rainfall.

Last Thursday, there were heavy thunderstorms across Northern Ireland, Wales and England where it particularly affected the midlands, Yorkshire and both the north-west and north-east. These thunderstorms caused intense rainfall over short periods, with levels of up to 35 mm seen in just 1 hour in Hereford and Shrewsbury, and up to 50 mm of rainfall in 2 hours in the north-east.

It has been confirmed so far that at least 570 properties were flooded, mostly through surface water flooding, caused by particularly intense rainfall over short periods in urban areas.

Around 80 properties have been reported to have flooded in both the midlands and the north-west, around 400 properties have been flooded in Yorkshire and the north-east, and approximately 35 properties flooded across Lincolnshire.

I am also very sorry to have to report that, tragically, one gentleman, Mr Michael Ellis, lost his life after being swept away in flood water in Bitterley, near Ludlow in Shropshire. I am sure that all Members of the House will join me in offering their heartfelt condolences to all his family and friends, at this difficult time.

The flooding experienced has also seen serious impacts on transport links. Both east coast and west coast mainlines experienced significant disruption due to landslides associated with the heavy rain. In the north-east and north-west there was widespread and severe disruption to highways, and across all affected areas many minor roads were temporarily closed. A thunderstorm near to Birmingham airport also caused temporary closure with delays to flights being caused, and a small number of diversions and one cancellation.

At the height of the flooding event on Thursday, more than 20,000 customers were without power, with 3,000 still being disconnected on Friday morning. Around 63 schools had to be shut on Friday due to the effects of the flooding, mostly in the north-east.

To put the amount of rain that we have seen recently into context, I can confirm that 2012 has had the UK’s wettest recorded April-June quarter since records began. I can also confirm that this June has officially been the wettest in both England and Wales since records began. Up to 27 June, the total UK rainfall was a record 130.1 mm. This has not been a normal event. The previous wettest June was that in 2007.

I would also like to once again take the opportunity to praise the excellent response from our front-line emergency services. I know that specialist flood rescue teams were requested and attended in affected areas, and this made a real difference in the response to the emergency.

The Prime Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who is the Floods Minister and I have all visited impacted areas in the past few days, giving us all the opportunity to meet with people who have suffered through the flooding of homes and businesses. We understand the devastation flooding causes. However, it has also been impressive to see the community spirit shown in those impacted areas where people really do come together to overcome adversity, as well as providing the opportunity to meet with some of the brave emergency responders who put their own lives at risk to ensure the safety of others. On Saturday, I visited the north-east where east Gateshead and North Tyneside bore the brunt of the storm. But I am pleased to say that existing flood defences like Blackball Mill protected at least 100 homes from serious flooding.

I am also very grateful for the diligent work by Met Office and Environment Agency staff in the Flood Forecasting Centre. Timely warnings were given as well as the promotion of the text messaging service for those in flood-affected areas. The predictions that have been in place, not just for this event but throughout all of the flooding events that we have been experiencing in the past month have been invaluable, and have made a real difference in our ability to prepare for flooding and limit its impacts as much as possible, such as teams of local authority and Environment Agency operational staff working well before the flood waters arrived, clearing drains, testing defences and preparing flood basins.

As the clean up for these events takes place, Government officials will soon be discussing the recovery arrangements with local authorities in affected areas. However, unfortunately over the past weekend we have experienced further significant rainfall, and this has led to further flooding of 79 properties in Cumbria and 18 in Lancashire. My sympathies go out to all those affected at what is undoubtedly a difficult time.

As I said last week, with our changing climate, we will never be able to completely prevent flooding as we have seen over the past week and in earlier June. However, through the excellent preparations and work of front-line responders, including the police, fire service and the Environment Agency, and the investment being made by Government, we are better prepared for flooding than ever before.