Skip to main content

Flood Defences

Volume 573: debated on Thursday 9 January 2014

3. What recent assessment he has made of the sufficiency of flood defences; and if he will make a statement. (901856)

About 5 million properties in England are at risk of flooding. The flood defences protected more than 1 million properties during recent events. More is being spent during this spending review period than ever before. That will better protect 165,000 houses from flooding. In the six-year period from 2015-16, we will invest a record £2.3 billion in capital improvement projects, which will improve the protection for a further 300,000 households.

That is a remarkable answer, given that on 9 September, the former Minister, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), told my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) that total expenditure on flood defences was projected to fall from £646 million in 2010-11 to £546 million in 2015-16. Given those figures and the scale of the recent flooding, will the Secretary of State say how flood defences such as those in my constituency will be repaired? Will he confirm whether he will press for additional funds for flood defence repairs?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, because it gives me the chance to tell the House, yet again, that the Government are spending more in this spending round than was spent by the previous Government and that we plan to increase the amount to a record £2.3 billion up to 2021. Thanks to the fact that we have galvanised local councils through the partnership funding scheme, there will be all sorts of opportunities for his constituents to work with him and his local council to access more funds for flood schemes.

It is remarkable that the flood defences have held to the extent that they have during the battering that the country has taken. Will my right hon. Friend give a commitment to the House that he will review the budget for repairs to existing flood defences and look favourably on schemes such as the maintenance by drainage boards of the regular watercourses that protect farmland and other properties?

I thank the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for her question. What she says about maintenance is absolutely correct. In November, it was found that 97% of the defences were in a good condition and would remain so within our existing budgets. I repeat again that we have made a clear commitment up to 2021. I would love to see the shadow Secretary of State stand up and say that the Labour party will back that commitment.

10. Although there were major flood alerts, there was a lucky escape for the vast majority of residents of my constituency. I thank all those involved, particularly Natural Resources Wales, which has improved defences in recent years and, crucially, ensured that there have been no flood protection job losses. Given how severely Wales was affected by the floods, the size of our coastline and our exposure, will the Secretary of State consult the Welsh Government closely about the resource to be given to Wales in the future? (901866)

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about those who have worked so hard, and that situation was reflected across the country. As she rightly says, this is a devolved issue, and the Welsh Secretary and representatives of the Welsh Government have obviously been involved in our numerous Cobra meetings. I will be happy to pass on her comments, but I suggest that she takes up the matter directly with the Welsh Government and the Welsh Secretary.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the extensive damage along the west Wales coastline, particularly in Ceredigion in the Aberystwyth and Borth areas. Flooding is a devolved matter, as he says, but is the prospect of a bid to the European Union solidarity fund, specifically set up for the restoration of defences and infrastructure, a feature of the discussions that he has had and will have with colleagues in Cardiff and the Secretary of State for Wales?

My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion, which is well worth the Welsh Government and the Welsh Secretary taking up. We are happy to help liaise with him, but ultimately we have to respect devolution, and if it is an issue of money for Wales, it is down to the Welsh Government to negotiate it.

When he became Secretary of State in September 2012, the right hon. Gentleman reviewed his Department’s priorities. Why did his new list of four priorities make no reference to preparing for and managing risks from flood and other environmental emergencies, as the old list of priorities and responsibilities had done?

That gives me a perfect opportunity to explain the huge gain for the economy from our ambitious flood schemes. Very shortly after I took over, I met the noble Lord Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, at a brilliant £45 million scheme in Nottingham, which was not just protecting 12,000 houses but, on the other side of the river, freeing up a whole area of blighted land, which is now up for development.

My first priority is to grow the rural economy, and I am delighted to say that our ambitious schemes will help to do that. I just wish that, in her second question, the hon. Lady would say the Labour party endorse our plans.

When asked by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs where the £54 million of extra savings from his departmental budget announced by the Treasury in June 2013 would come from, he said:

“We will concentrate on my four priorities, so it is as simple as that. Pretty well every single activity in Defra has to be focused through those four priorities.”

Those priorities do not include flood protection. How can people facing an increasing risk of flood damage due to the effects of climate change have any confidence in a Secretary of State who has downgraded flood protection as a priority and thinks that climate change is benefiting Britain?

Dear, oh dear, this is lame stuff. We are spending £2.3 billion over the course of this Parliament, with £148 million of partnership money. We have an extra £5 million for revenue, and in the course of the recent reduction across Departments I specifically excluded flood defence, so the reduction is spread across the rest of DEFRA. Uniquely, we have a programme going right out to 2021, with £2.3 billion. Yet again—this is the fifth opportunity—the hon. Lady has not agreed to match our commitment. If you want flood defences, you vote Conservative.

Every time we have floods in the far south-west, our vital rail link with the rest of the country is either severed completely or severely disrupted. Is my right hon. Friend confident that, within the existing resources and his excellent existing budget in the Department, sufficient priority is being given to flood prevention measures for vital transport infrastructure?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. When I went to Exeter, I saw the real damage to the economy of the south-west caused by the important link to Exeter being interrupted by floods last year. I can reassure him that there have been senior Ministers from the Department for Transport at our Cobra meetings, and they are fully aware of the consequences and have been working hard to ensure that our transport links have been restored rapidly.