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Extreme Weather

Volume 559: debated on Thursday 7 March 2013

3. What steps he is taking to prepare and adapt homes, businesses, agricultural practices and infrastructure against the threat of flooding and water scarcity resulting from the increased frequency of extreme weather. (146578)

The Government will publish a report on the national adaptation programme later this year, which will set out actions to address the impacts of the increased frequency of extreme weather events on the built environment, our infrastructure network, businesses, our farming and forestry sectors, the natural environment and our health. The Government are spending £2.3 billion on reducing the risk from flooding and coastal erosion over this four-year period.

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He will know that last year in the UK flooding was experienced on one in every five days, while on one in every four days there was drought subject to a hosepipe ban. One in seven houses and 10% of the country’s critical infrastructure are now exposed to flood risk, yet by 2014-15 some 23% less will be spent on these matters. Will the Minister consider the exhortation from the chairman of the Environment Agency to take urgent action now to avoid the coming problems?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about the extremes of weather we have experienced in the last 12 months. We were facing a real problem with drought, and there was a 3% chance of getting a sufficiently wet summer to alleviate it, yet it happened. However, it has of course brought huge other problems. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the level of spending—I refer him back to my response to the previous question—and I can assure him that we listen very carefully to experts in the EA. When we asked its leadership what further projects it could bring forward if we found extra money, it told us and we got the money; that was announced in the September statement.

What can the Minister do to assist residents who live near small tributaries and who cannot understand which authority is responsible for them? There seems to be confusion between highways authorities, the EA, local councils and county councils as to who has responsibility for clearing the waterways around tributaries.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. This matter was discussed at yesterday’s EA board meeting and we are in close touch with the EA and other organisations. There is a degree of confusion. That was brought out in the Pitt review. Some effort has been put in, and some progress has been made in addressing the problem, but I absolutely concede we are not there yet and there is still confusion about who is responsible and what the priorities are. We want to make sure that the priorities are protecting people and their properties and the environment.