I beg to move,
That this House has considered coastal flood risk.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and I welcome the Minister to his role in the new Government.
I am glad to be able to raise the issue of coastal flooding in my first Westminster Hall debate. Normally, flooding gets little or no attention from Westminster until a major flooding incident occurs; then, politicians of all parties cannot get to the flooded communities quickly enough, armed with their wellies—or not, as was the case with the previous Environment Secretary, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson). Someone being forced to leave their home, seeing their possessions destroyed, or being unable to open their business is an extremely difficult thing for them to go through, so I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this issue.
We have seen several major flooding incidents over the past few years, several of which have caused huge disruption and devastation to many residents in my constituency, Great Grimsby. In December 2013, the east coast was hit by the largest tidal surge in 60 years. In June and July 2007, Yorkshire and Humberside was the region worst affected by the summer floods, which also affected coastal areas further down the east coast and across the south, as well as many inland areas. That was a consequence of the wettest summer on record. The floods in Grimsby last summer were also the result of exceptionally high rainfall, with some areas getting two weeks’ worth of rainfall in just one hour. Elsewhere, the early 2014 floods in the south-west and areas around the Thames came during the wettest winter on record.
What initially seemed like exceptional weather is quickly becoming the norm. According to the Met Office, four of the five wettest years in the UK since records began in 1910 have occurred in the 21st century. According to the Committee on Climate Change, sea levels around the UK coastline are now an average of 16 cm higher than they were at the end of the 19th century. It would be wrong to attribute each and every extreme weather incident to climate change, but it is clear that the climate is changing, and flooding is one of the main ways we are feeling the effects. History will repeat itself. We will see similar or even higher levels of rainfall and tidal surges, so are we doing enough to prepare?
Last week, the Committee on Climate Change reported on the progress being made under the national adaptation programme. The report is the first of its type and is required under the Climate Change Act 2008. The message in it is clear: the Government need to be taking much more urgent action to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. As the Member who represents the most beautiful coastline in the UK, the Giant’s Causeway, I am particularly delighted to discuss the issue.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government must do much more on planning to prevent building in the floodplains along our coasts? There should be a moratorium—there should be no more building until the issues are resolved.
There is definitely a role for the Government in the planning rules for building on floodplains. Not enough consideration is given to the requirements on the builders of large numbers of new properties in such areas. There is clearly a role for the water companies as well, because there should be effective drainage in those areas. We need to increase the number of homes that we build throughout the country, so we must consider these factors.
One of the least controversial parts of the report by the Committee on Climate Change reads:
“Investment in flood and coastal defence assets will need to steadily increase in the future to counter the impacts of climate change.”
That was the consensus reached among all political parties following the devastation of the 2007 floods. Yet on coming into office in 2010, the previous Government abandoned that consensus and cut £100 million of funding from flood protection. Such short-sighted thinking is exactly the opposite of what is needed to protect against the effects of climate change.
After the 2013-14 floods, the Government made an additional £270 million available to repair and restore damaged flood defences. How much of that would have been needed had they not cut the budget in the first place? We will all be better off if we accept that these events are likely to become more frequent and so prepare ourselves better from now on.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has set out in detail its plans for capital investment in flood protection over the next six years, including the Grimsby docks flood defence scheme, which will protect more than 12,000 properties. Nevertheless, now that we are past the election, I urge the Government to support Labour’s call for an independent commission to set out flood defence spending in a much longer-term context. The Committee on Climate Change has said that the best-case scenario, on an assumption of 2° C of warming, would lead to at least an extra 45,000 properties being in the highest flooding risk category by the middle of the century. We know the future consequences of rising temperatures and sea levels. There should be parity between the length of time over which our adaptation strategy and our mitigation strategy are set out.
Although capital spending has been set out six years in advance, revenue spending on flood defences has been set only for the current financial year. With huge cuts to DEFRA’s budget coming in the Chancellor’s Budget statement tomorrow, many will be worried that funding to maintain existing defences will be further reduced. The National Audit Office reports that already half the nation’s flood defences are only minimally maintained. According to the Environment Agency, three quarters of defences around the Humber estuary are in less than good condition. On a visit in my constituency at the weekend, the council’s flood risk officers told me that as cracks in the sea defence walls appear each year, they are cementing over them by hand. We need investment in a continual maintenance programme. Will the Minister reassure us that his Government will put an end to the perverse situation in which new defences are put up while existing defences are crumbling?
As well as calling for greater investment in building and properly maintaining defences, the Committee on Climate Change said in its report that local authorities need to do more to manage the risk of surface water flooding by heavy rainfall. Following the floods in Grimsby last summer, North East Lincolnshire Council’s cabinet member for the environment, Dave Watson, is working with Anglian Water, along with his colleagues, to identify where flooding has resulted from Anglian’s infrastructure. They have recommended a change in maintenance practices or sewer upgrades to reduce the risk of flooding. But should not water companies be maintaining their systems in that way anyway? They are, after all, private monopolies. Is it not time the Government ensured that the companies do a bit more for the public they serve? They could start by ensuring that water companies provide better maintained drainage systems that can cope with heavy rainfall.
The Government must do all they can to minimise the risks of flooding, but the reality is that there will always be some people affected by it. It is therefore vital that Government relief reaches flood victims as quickly as possible. People in the Yarborough area of Grimsby are still recovering from the floods of last summer. Across the country, we saw delays in the Government stepping in to take action, and in getting relief funding out to affected residents and businesses. One example is the support promised to the fishermen in the south-west who were unable to work because of last year’s storms. Six months on from that extreme weather, just one fisherman has received any Government support. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government have prepared a more effective relief programme for the next major flooding incident, both for providing immediate assistance while communities are flooded and for getting payments to them afterwards?
One major problem identified by North East Lincolnshire Council’s investigation into last summer’s floods was a lack of information for residents. The lack of transparency across the board on flooding is a major problem, and I will set out a few examples. First, there is a lack of a reliable warning system for surface water flooding. River flooding has a 27% false alarm rate, but surface water flooding has a 74% false alarm rate. Last year the lack of warning in Grimsby meant that the council was unable to make preparations in advance of the rainfall. The relevant agencies need to make a lot of progress in improving the warning system, and that is not something that local authorities can pursue on their own. Will the Minister update us on what the Government are doing to improve detection and warning systems?
North East Lincolnshire Council also identified a lack of awareness as a cause for avoidable disruption and stress for those who were flooded last year. Many property owners in high-risk areas do not know that they live on a floodplain, so many of those people were unprepared. With no plans for what to do in the event of a flood and many not knowing which organisation had responsibility for helping them, flood victims were left feeling that they were being passed from pillar to post as they contacted several different bodies before receiving assistance. We need to make people aware that their property is at risk of flooding and empower communities to protect themselves.
Finally on the subject of transparency, the Environment Agency in particular needs to do a far better job of opening up and starting to have conversations with local people. In my short time as a Member of Parliament so far, I have been contacted by several different constituents expressing their bemusement at actions taken by the agency. For example, more than 1,000 people have signed a petition to get the River Freshney dredged. The Environment Agency has rejected the proposal, saying that it is not a priority. At the same time, however, it has blocked planning permission for a housing development next to the river, because of the high flood risk. I am not saying that the Environment Agency is wrong in either of those decisions, because there might be good reasons for both, but the reasons have not been communicated to the communities that are ultimately affected by them.
Following the 2013-14 floods in the south-west, local people expressed considerable anger that the Environment Agency had failed to dredge the Rivers Parrett and Tone in the Somerset levels. The then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), agreed and said that the Environment Agency had “made a mistake”, in effect blaming it for the floods. His motivations were clear—he was directing the blame away from the Government for cutting funding to flood defences. The feeling among the local people was real, however, and the anger shown at the time should give the Environment Agency reason to become far more transparent. If dredging was not the right method in those circumstances, a more open, ongoing dialogue with local communities might have won them over to seeing that, or it might at least have given people an understanding of why the decision was made. Had dredging been appropriate, a two-way dialogue with local communities might have led to the realisation of that before the floods, preventing some of the devastation eventually caused.
In conclusion, the scale and regularity of floods in recent years have shown the costs of the failure to prepare for them, both financially and from the disruption and devastation caused to people’s lives. The Government need to be ahead of the curve and not wait for ever-more destructive flooding before taking the real preventive action that we need.
Several hon. Members
Order. We have six Members to speak, apart from the Labour party spokesman and the Minister. I want to get them all in, so will they please keep an eye on the clock? Please, on no account, speak for more than 10 minutes. I am sure that I can rely on the first speaker, Mr Martin Vickers, to obey my instructions implicitly.
Thank you, Sir Edward. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and it is particularly appropriate that you are in the Chair, because you know the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area well and have experienced flooding in your own constituency on a number of occasions.
Since the flood surge in December 2013 I have spoken in a series of debates on flooding, so today will seem a bit of an action replay as the debate continues in pretty much the same way. My constituency was badly hit; in the village of Barrow Haven virtually every home was flooded, and the New Holland and Goxhill area was particularly badly affected. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, is right that parts of Grimsby and the north end of Cleethorpes would have been severely affected had it not been for the actions of the port master at Grimsby to lower the levels in the dock. That saved thousands of homes in the north end and in the East Marsh area of Grimsby from flooding.
The 2013 surge was 1.93 metres higher than the one that killed 326 in the east coast floods of 1953. Since the 2013 tidal surge, the local authorities, the local enterprise partnership, the Environment Agency and local MPs from the Humber area have come together to produce a comprehensive document that is at present being mulled over by DEFRA officials. In reply to a recent question from me, the Secretary of State stated that there would be an announcement on any progress this month.
In last December’s autumn statement, the Chancellor announced the contribution of £80 million towards a proposed scheme, which is an adequate down payment. Yes, £1.2 billion is an enormous amount of money, but I emphasise that it is over a period of 17 years and it is essential for the people in my constituency and in neighbouring Grimsby, as well as to the south, that the work is carried out. The Environment Agency recently completed some flood defence work in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area, which is welcome, and it no doubt contributed to containing the surge 18 months or so ago. The context for the scheme is that it is a national one, not only local, and I emphasise that the £1.2 billion is for the whole of the Humber estuary. The scheme would protect an enormous number of homes and an important industrial and business area. The Grimsby-Immingham dock complex is, by tonnage, the largest port in the country. Without proper protection, those and other ports on the estuary are particularly vulnerable. A third of the country’s coal imports pass through Immingham, and the refineries there constitute 28% of UK refining capacity.
Based on best estimates, there will be another event with the potential to do as much damage as the December event. My constituents and those of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, as well as everyone throughout the Humber estuary, deserve protection equivalent to that for a once-in-50-years event, rather than the estimated existing once-in-200-years level. Associated British Ports—as I mentioned, the ports are crucial to the local and national economies—has produced a case study and a strategy document expressing its concerns and emphasising the importance of the Humber ports to the national economy. In December 2013, Immingham was out of action for about two and a half or three days. Had that been two and a half or three weeks, the impact on the local economy and the maintenance of power supplies would have been enormous.
The hon. Lady was somewhat critical of the previous DEFRA Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), but in fairness it is worth pointing out that he was in Immingham receiving reports from officials and local MPs, among others, within 36 hours of the December 2013 event. It was immediately recognised that the port was of great strategic importance to the country.
I appreciate that the timing of the debate is somewhat inconvenient, because the Budget statement is tomorrow. I therefore suspect that the Minister might not be as free as he would have been in a week or two’s time to give us details of how much more money the Chancellor will give us. Since the incident and the compiling of the report, MPs from throughout the Humber region have met with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to urge them to commit to the scheme. I suspect that the Minister will be somewhat reluctant to say much—although Budget leaks are common these days, so he might like to give us advance warning that we will receive that cash.
It is an awful lot of money, but my constituents, those of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and those in the wider Lincolnshire area deserve adequate protection. It is fair to say that flooding issues have not been given the priority they deserve in recent years. Local knowledge—for example, from internal drainage boards or the farming community, which is particularly well versed in these matters—needs to be used as well as all the mapping and scientific data collected by the Environment Agency. We need to make better use of the farming community, to serve as flood wardens and the like.
My constituents in Barrow and New Holland live in fear. Twice in the past six years their homes have been flooded. That cannot be repeated. I urge the Minister to give us at least a hint of what might be coming in tomorrow’s Budget and commit to the £1.2 billion that is absolutely essential over the next 17 years.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing this important debate. I will make a couple of brief points related to my constituency.
As is the case with Grimsby, the main overall flooding risk for Hartlepool is the tidal flood risk from the North sea. A tidal flood risk mapping study carried out a couple of years ago identified two principal areas of tidal flood risk in Hartlepool. The first is in the area of the south marina and Church Street, where wave overtopping could lead to significant flooding of residential and commercial property, key roads such as Mainsforth Terrace, and the railway line and station. The second is on the headland, where it was projected that wave overtopping from the town wall defences could lead to significant flooding; in a worst case scenario, flooding could cut off the headland from the mainland.
In addition, in the Hartlepool area, Seaton snook and Greatham creek and beck discharge directly into the Tees estuary. Those watercourses are tidal and therefore vulnerable to rising sea levels, high tides and storm surges. Work is taking place to strengthen the sea defences on the town wall. In addition, a £10 million scheme, funded by the Environment Agency and Hartlepool Borough Council, will place concrete blocks on the existing sea wall from the Heugh gun battery to the far end of Marine Drive. That will help 500 households in the area.
Capital works are ongoing in my constituency, but I have a number of questions to the Minister. With coastal flooding risk, there is a need to be constantly vigilant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby said, we are increasingly finding that defences meant to withstand a once-in-100-years incident are insufficient. Given increasing severity of flooding and additional flood risk from climate change, what further funding can be given to coastal defences in vulnerable areas such as Hartlepool?
Secondly, capital funding is very welcome, although I would question whether it is sufficient. However, as my hon. Friend so eloquently said, in many respects the effectiveness of sea defences will be based on adequate maintenance, and council budgets have been reduced by as much as 40%—certainly, that is the case for Hartlepool Borough Council—and are set to be squeezed even further. How will the Minister ensure that local authorities have appropriate resources to ensure that flooding risk is mitigated?
Hartlepool has a nuclear power station on the coast; there are plans both to extend the current station’s life and to build a replacement station. Given that the power station is an important part of the nation’s energy infrastructure, providing some 2% of Britain’s electricity generation at any one time, what additional resources and attention can be given to my area to ensure that that important strategic asset is not put at risk?
My final point is about the Heugh breakwater. The Heugh has protected much of Hartlepool from the North sea for many years. It is astonishing to watch the sea there. I encourage you, Sir Edward, and other hon. Members to come and have a walk along the promenade; you will see how fierce the North sea tides are as they bash in against the breakwater, and how effective the Heugh is at absorbing the strength of the waves, ensuring that Hartlepool bay is as flat as a pane of glass.
The Heugh is owned by a private company. Over many years now, it has been suggested that it would be acceptable to allow the final third of the breakwater to go to rack and ruin and fall into the sea. But people whose families have lived in the area for generations and know it well say that the impact of that on sea defences and flooding risk would be immense. The recently built sea defences I mentioned earlier will help to mitigate that. I know the Minister may not be aware of this particular case, but will he look at the importance of the Heugh breakwater for Hartlepool and see what can be done to preserve it?
This debate is incredibly important. Making sure we can mitigate the rising risk of flooding is absolutely essential. In recent years that has been a lower priority than it perhaps should have been, in my area and others. It is important that we mitigate the risks to ensure that businesses and residents are safe as far as is possible.
I look forward to taking my summer holidays on the seafront at Hartlepool.
You will be very welcome, Sir Edward.
It is a pleasure to speak for the first time in this Chamber and to do so under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing this important debate.
It is important that we are talking about flooding in the middle of this warm and sunny July. For too long the problem has been that flooding has been discussed only when it is raining or the wind is blowing and the seas are at their most violent. From our experiences down in Somerset over the past few years we have learned that the key to protecting our countryside and towns from flooding is persistent effort rather than going from crisis to crisis.
On planning ahead, does the hon. Gentleman agree that although there is strong support for targeting areas that are currently affected, and strong empathy for those areas, if the Government are to think strategically on climate change, they should be looking 10 to 15 years ahead, and at areas that are currently not affected but probably will be in that time span? We really need to plan for the future.
I agree with hon. Gentleman to a degree. I invite him to join the queue of those of us seeking Government money to protect ourselves from flooding in our areas.
Today’s debate is focused on coastal flood risk, which is an important issue. In my constituency, the town of Burnham-on-Sea is often challenged by storm surges and violent seas. While campaigning in the area over the past few years, on a number of occasions I have seen people filling sandbags when there is not a raincloud in sight. However, the real challenge—and to this end it is interesting that representatives of areas in Lincolnshire and Somerset have opened the debate—is the confluence of high tides challenging coastal defences at the same time as heavy rain inland. That has certainly happened on a number of occasions in Somerset, and the challenges it poses grow ever more acute.
There are therefore three key points that I will focus on this morning. The first is the importance of continuing to invest in and reinforce coastal flood defences. In Somerset, our efforts are currently focused on having some sort of barrier to protect the Parrett, which would defend the whole of the low-lying Somerset levels from high tides. Having just been elected to the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, I will use this opportunity to put in the Minister’s mind the idea of another barrier, further out to sea, that could lagoon the Bridgwater bay as an energy generation scheme while also providing some much-needed coastal flood protection.
My second point is about the importance of sensible planning. Although there is huge sympathy across the whole of Somerset for those who were flooded last year, there is still not yet acceptance in our county—I suspect this is the case in many other counties around the country—that tackling flooding is not simply a problem for those who live on the low ground but a responsibility of those living up on the hills as well. Upland councils across the country need to pay greater heed to the importance of attenuation, in particular, so that planning policy ensures that water can be held upstream as much as possible rather than simply running down on to the low ground.
On maintaining inland waterways and drains, I must ever so slightly challenge the criticism from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby of the Government’s response to the flooding in Somerset in 2014. My experience is that there has been a fantastic response to our county’s problems, with tens of millions of pounds put into the effort there. There has been great success in dredging our waterways and drains.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but that came after a major incident that gathered national news. That is the only reason his area received the funding. Other areas around the country are equally, if not more, at risk of flooding, and they need funding for preventive work. That is what I am asking for today.
The frustration locally was that the flooding came after more than a decade of under-investment in local flooding protection schemes. The dredging has been a great success. Farmers and local communities report that the water moved off the land much more quickly this winter, so the dredging had an immediate benefit. The improvement of local pumping infrastructure has also been well received, and water has been moving more quickly out to sea.
I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate, but I was at a meeting of the all-party group on flood prevention—I thought I should make it quorate before coming here.
Did my hon. Friend see the satellite photograph of the Bristol channel at the time of the floods 18 months ago? It showed a plume of soil going out into the sea, which gives credence to his point that we need to take an holistic view in areas such as Somerset and, no doubt, in Lincolnshire too. That needs to be about dealing with not only the problem in rivers such as the Parrett, but land use in the hills surrounding areas such as the Somerset levels. When maize and other crops are planted in the wrong place, Somerset ends up in the Bristol channel.
I absolutely agree: we cannot tackle flooding simply by dredging a river, building an attenuation pond or building better flood defences—taking a dynamic, holistic approach to managing the whole area is key. Within that, it is important to recognise what land is used for, and farmers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the impact of what they plant on their land and its ability to hold water.
I am pleased the hon. Gentleman responded in the way he did to the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon); he is absolutely right.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Environment Agency did offer the local authority money for dredging—I am not sure of the figure, but I think it was about £7 million—but the local authority rejected it?
I have a suspicion that the hon. Gentleman may be better informed about that than me, and it is not within my expertise to comment on it. However, it would be churlish not to recognise that in the wake of the flooding in 2014, there was fantastic investment, which has put right the lack of investment that we saw—for whatever reason—over the previous decades. That investment has been most welcome.
The key point I would make is that the response to the flooding in Somerset, where there was a confluence of high tides and heavy rain inland, allied with out-of-date flood protection infrastructure and land use that was perhaps unwise, saw the emergence of the Somerset Rivers Authority. At the authority’s heart is the belief that the solution was a locally sensitive, dynamic organisation that would tackle the causes of flooding across the entire catchment area. That is welcome, although I should report to the Minister that there are, I am afraid, still some conflicts between the community and conservationists. However, I am sure he will agree that, when push comes to shove, the community and local business must win out on this issue.
Finally, I have a request for the Minister. His Department has been looking at enduring options for funding the Somerset Rivers Authority. Will he update us on what point those options have reached and whether the Department is close to being able to offer Somerset County Council its recommendations on how the authority should be funded in the future?
It is vital that we talk about flooding year round, not just when it rains or when the seas are high.
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman draw his remarks to a close?
Of course, Sir Edward.
The impact of flooding on the Somerset economy, and particularly tourism, has been profound. The people of Somerset have been encouraged by all that has been done to help us over the last few years, but the Minister’s commitment to provide future help would be most welcome.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am pleased to take part in this important debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for securing it.
Like other Members, I think it is important that the Government put in place measures to deal with coastal flooding and the coastal erosion it causes, not just when they happen, but beforehand, to try to mitigate their impact. Although weathering, the denudation of the land, coastal erosion and floods, which are a consequence of the confluence of storms, tidal surges and heavy rain, are very much natural phenomena, they have been accentuated and accelerated by climate change, which is the result of man’s inhumanity to the environment.
This is an interesting debate, but the emphasis has been on the Government doing x, y and z. Surely, there is a role for other agencies—a cocktail of agencies—to work together in partnership to deal with these issues.
I do not disagree, but the Government need to set the priorities and the strategic policy. Other agencies, along with local communities and councils, need to spell out their particular requirements so that we can determine the best interests of the wider public and what planning policy should be, and so that we can ensure that we protect our environment and our local economy.
In the last Parliament, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which I was a member of, dealt with flooding. The hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who may have been the Minister then, talked to us about the issue, and we asked the Government to assess the possibility of a transition to a total expenditure classification for flood and coastal risk management to allow funding to be targeted at local priorities. We also looked at the Flood Re insurance scheme. Obviously, those issues have to be developed, and I look forward, as an incoming member of the Committee in this Parliament, to discussing any outstanding issues and to giving the Government a plan they might wish to consider, notwithstanding what may be in tomorrow’s Budget.
The challenges of climate change are great, with coastal flooding one of the most pressing we face. The marked increase in storms and tidal surges is leading to coastal flooding, at a cost to residents, businesses and farmers. Rising sea levels are a particular issue in my constituency, as climate change leads to coastal surges and rising tide levels in the Irish sea. Government agencies have undoubtedly focused their efforts on erosion in areas close to roads, and they have carried out work, but the problem extends far beyond that. We are experiencing serious, irreversible environmental damage along our coastline. That is having not only a long-term impact, but an immediate impact on businesses, residents and farmers. They may find that they have less land this year than they did two or three years ago and that sewer pipes have been exposed on the coastline. A premier links golf course in my constituency cannot get planning permission at the moment; those concerned are looking for rock armour to protect it from the impact of climate change and the effects of coastal flooding and erosion. There is a need for a sensible path forward, to enable the economy to grow and the environment to be protected, and so that we do not lose funding as a consequence.
In my experience Departments will go a certain distance, but then they and the Crown Estate commissioners invoke the Bateman formula, which says that Departments are each individually responsible for the land in their own territory. As a consequence, there is no joined-up thinking on the matter, whether in central Government or the devolved regions, so—notwithstanding budgetary issues for the Government and the devolved region’s responsibilities—they need to come together at a climate summit to tackle this important issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby has already suggested a Government climate change risk assessment and national adaptation plan, and that is another collaborative approach. That is needed to prepare the UK for the impact of global warning. It is urgently required to safeguard the environment, to protect the economy, individuals, families and farming and rural communities, and to make provision for financial growth and job creation.
I urge the Minister to spell out directly the direction of future Government action with the devolved regions, and to explain how we will move along the path of climate change mitigation and protection of our local natural environment.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for bringing the matter to the Chamber. The presence of so many hon. Members whose constituencies have requirements relevant to the debate shows its importance for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is nice to see the shadow Minister the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) in his place; we always look forward to his speeches. I especially welcome the Minister and look forward to hearing how he will respond to our requests.
There will not be many in this place who have not heard me rave about the unrivalled beauty of my constituency, Strangford. Those who have been there will agree with me about it, and will want to return to visit it again. It is truly a gem in the crown of Northern Ireland. It has perhaps—no, not perhaps—the most beautiful, majestic and breathtaking landscapes and shorelines in the entire United Kingdom. That is a fact, and it is a pleasure to put it on record. However, to quote a superhero film that my boys love,
“With great power comes great responsibility”,
and the power of the sea off the Irish coast has brought coastal erosion, which has a great impact on homes and businesses along the coastline of Strangford. For that reason I am very thankful to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby for bringing the issue to the attention of hon. Members.
I want to outline the effect of coastal erosion in my constituency and to conclude by asking the Minister about the strategic response. The problem has risen to a head with massive storms and tides. I and some concerned councillors felt we had to hold a public meeting, at the community house in Ballyhalbert, a beautiful seaside village on the Ards peninsula. I highlighted the fact that it is beyond time for a strategic plan on coastal erosion and better co-ordination between Departments. The matter is devolved to Northern Ireland, but we have tried to consider a strategic response and a way to co-ordinate the response between the regions, as well as to co-operate with Europe. Also taking part in the meeting were Diane Dodds MEP, Michelle McIlveen MLA and Councillors Adair and Edmund, along with the chief executive of Ards and North Down Borough Council, Stephen Reid. All of them have been seeking action on the issue, as have I and the many constituents who took the time to attend the meeting on a wet, windy and inhospitable day. It was abundantly clear that the public need action. It is not too often that there is such co-operation between bodies in Northern Ireland, but it was good to see it, and it highlights how essential the issue is.
Hon. Members may not know the areas on which I am focusing, but it is the same general picture for all UK coastal areas. The storm of the winter before last meant extra costs of some £800,000 for the Department for Regional Development, or Transport NI as it is now called. The road replacement at Whitechurch Road in Ballywalter cost £280,000; the damage to the Shore Road in Ballyhalbert cost £36,000; Roddens Road cost £86,000; and road repairs were needed at Portaferry Road, Ards, Greyabbey and Kircubbin. The total was in excess of £800,000. What was a once-in-100-years flood became a once-in-20-years or once-in-18-years flood. The frequency then came down to once in three years; flooding now seems to happen with shocking regularity, and the need for money for repairs is building up.
Frustration reigns—and all hon. Members who have spoken have alluded to that. Transport NI, the Department of the Environment, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Rivers Agency or the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development cannot or will not accept responsibility for damage to property or take action to prevent flooding. At the Saltwater Brig in Kircubbin in my constituency, high tides led to damage to many houses and business properties; and insurance claims for that small area were in excess of £100,000. The council had a small role to play, and had a small sum of money that it could give to those who made contact immediately. It was a small sum in relation to some of the insurance claims, but it gave people £1,000, which at least enabled them to find alternative accommodation at short notice.
It is now obvious that someone needs to take control. After discussions with the chief executive of Ards and North Down Borough Council, it is intended that the council will be the conduit to pull together all Departments and to address what is needed and what the council priorities should be. That is one of the things that we set about doing. No longer will we be using sticking plasters, or putting a finger in the dyke. As flooding caused by coastal erosion becomes regular and commonplace, we need longer term action, as otherwise flooding will have an impact on the life of the community, on the accessibility of the road network, and the potential of tourism to deliver more jobs and boost the economy; it would be a tragedy if coastal erosion were to hold that back.
I would like the Minister to talk about the role of Europe. I believe it has a strong role to play, and that is why we invited a Member of the European Parliament as well as councillors and a Member of the Legislative Assembly to the meeting that we held. We need a strategic response. The newly installed chief executive of Ards and North Down Borough Council has given a commitment to initiate a study on the impact of coastal erosion, and to prepare. Prevention is the correct policy; that will address the massive expenditure that has resulted from high tides and storms. That strategy must be implemented UK-wide with additional funding from and the co-operation of Europe. I hope that that will be the outcome of today’s debate—that it will be a look at how we can do things better.
Many residents have conveyed their concerns to me, and given that my constituency is bounded by the Irish sea and Strangford lough—it has the longest coastline in Northern Ireland, taking in almost three quarters of my constituency—that is no surprise. We need to highlight the seriousness of the situation, given the severe weather conditions that often hit our coastlines, and then take action to preserve our beautiful coastline and people’s homes, livelihoods and lives. We are attempting to take action locally, but today’s debate and the speeches from all parties and regions of the United Kingdom show that we need funds to enable us to address the issue adequately. We need a UK-wide strategy on coastal erosion, involving all regions, DEFRA, DARD and the European Union. Europe has a vital role to play and must be part of the solution.
I call Liz Saville Roberts. There is still another speaker after you, so it would be good if you could try to finish by roughly 10.20 am.
Thank you very much, Sir Edward, for calling me to speak. I will be brief.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing the debate, and I welcome the Minister to his place. I have listened with great interest to the previous contributions. This is the first time that I have spoken in Westminster Hall, and it is a delight to do so.
A number of communities, large and small, in my constituency have been contacted as part of the consultation on the regional shoreline management plan and alerted to potential flooding threats. I understand that there are 787 residential properties and 710 non-residential properties at high risk of flooding in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and it is mainly a coastal threat. It should be noted that the third best beach bar in the world, Ty Coch at Porthdinllaen, is named by its owners, the National Trust, as a potential loss in the next 50 years; the bar is possibly a poster boy for the dangers of global warming. Also, if anyone is enthusiastic about golf, I recommend that they visit Porthdinllaen, which is one of the most beautiful places in my region.
I shall refer to one particular community, Fairbourne, on Cardigan bay. Residents have recently established a group, Fairbourne Facing Change, and have worked alongside the local authority, Cyngor Gwynedd, in response to concerns arising from sensationalist media reports in 2014 about the potential impact of combined coastal and river flooding. The local authority has committed to protecting the community for the next 40 years, but the saleability of properties remains a challenge.
I wish to raise three specific issues. First, I draw Members’ attention to an innovative buy and leaseback feasibility study in relation to the village of Fairbourne, which will be reported back to the National Assembly of Wales.
Secondly, there are issues related to the saleability of properties. Mortgage providers appear to be committed to a set period of residual life before being prepared to lend against a property. If it is perceived that a house has a residual life of, say, less than 60 years—that is not a formally identified figure, but it seems to be a working number—the property is assessed as having nil value. It would be beneficial if mortgage lenders were prepared to accommodate shorter periods when there is a commitment to protect communities, and if a Government body were to provide a guaranteed value for a period of years to be realised at the end of a mortgage. Of course, that idea will be considered in the feasibility study that I mentioned.
Thirdly, and importantly for my constituency, I remind Members of the significance of the work that Network Rail does locally. I imagine that it does similar work in other communities as well. In our case, the work relates to the Cambrian coast railway line. It should be noted that maintaining the line from Machynlleth to Pwllheli serves both as a transport function and effectively as a sea barrier against extreme weather. We saw that 18 months ago in Barmouth, when the railway line effectively protected the town from flooding. It is essential that the Cambrian coast railway line is safeguarded for the future, for both those reasons.
It is important to mitigate the effects of flooding and to consider and address the wider implications of flooding for people’s lives. I reiterate what was said earlier about the need for co-ordinated action between the devolved nations and the Government here in Westminster.
Thank you for your brevity.
Thank you so much, Sir Edward, for just squeezing me in at the end.
I am delighted to be at this debate, which is so pertinent for Somerset, where I come from. I thank the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) for her pertinent points about what is going on in Wales. I will be very brief.
Yes, we had a crisis because of the floods last year—the worst flooding in our area for 200 years—but because of the joint effort of everybody working together, we got over that crisis, and I welcome the support that we received from the Government. The Burrowbridge wall is just unbelievable to drive past—it is a huge flood protection wall that has been put in place.
I will put in a bid for the Somerset Rivers Authority. There is debate going on this very week back in my constituency about how that authority will be run, how people will work together to provide flood protection in future, and how that flood protection will be funded. That is essential for what we call the wider catchment work, which many Members have referred to. That is attenuation work, which means having ponds and the right crops and trees up in the hills to stop the water rushing off the ground so fast. It also means looking out for what happens in the towns, so that when we have heavy rain all the water does not suddenly rush off the ground to the Somerset levels and out to sea, crossing our coastal area, where the tide is coming up at the same time. I ask the Minister to look carefully at what the authority will bring him, and I urge the Government to continue to support the funding of protection on the Somerset levels, particularly the Somerset Rivers Authority project, because it will be a model for many other areas.
This is my first time speaking in Westminster Hall, too, and I do so on a pertinent issue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing the debate. I represent a coastal community that is surrounded on three sides by the sea, so this issue is particularly close to my heart.
Of course, coastal flooding is a particular problem in England, with 5 million properties in England potentially being affected by it, and we have heard from hon. Members about some of the extreme weather that has impacted on their constituencies.
I will pick up on what hon. Members from Northern Ireland, including the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), and the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), have said about the devolved nations. I will talk about where we can learn from one another, which is quite important. Similarly, one hon. Member from Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), talked about Europe.
Let me talk for a minute about Scotland, where the situation is a little bit different from the situation elsewhere. Our topography is slightly different, but that is not to say that we have not been affected by the devastating impact of changes in the climate, extreme weather and flooding.
The environment is largely a devolved matter in Scotland, and flood risk management has been a priority for the Scottish Government, who have invested quite heavily in flood defences and maintained and protected funding for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. We have also looked at developing a national picture of flood risk across Scotland, which will help us with investment efforts in the future.
The subject of my first question was raised by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). Will the Minister give us a slight insight into tomorrow’s Budget? I ask because we are worried about cuts to the budget for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, especially at this time. The UK’s own climate change risk assessment of 2012 said that one of the biggest challenges in the UK will be flooding and water shortage. So can the Minister tell us why there is a possibility of DEFRA’s budget being cut, and what impact such a cut might have on the Scottish Government?
May I offer the hon. Gentleman some comfort, albeit without having any knowledge of what is happening to the DEFRA budget? At times of great austerity, DEFRA managed to protect the flood funding budget; in fact, it spent more on flooding than any Government had in any previous year.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, and I am glad that the situation reflected what was going on north of the border; I know that he had a good working relationship with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead. We need to talk about this issue, to find out how we can learn from one another across these islands as we face the challenges of climate change.
The hon. Member for South Down said that we were facing a situation arising from “man’s inhumanity to the environment”. We are seeing the devastating impact that that is having on communities across these islands, and further afield. That is why we are interested in looking at climate justice, and considering not only adaptation to climate change but mitigation of it. We also need to consider how climate change impacts on people beyond these shores.
We are seeing the increased impact of climate change. We have taken action in Scotland through our national coastal change assessment and our national picture of flood risk. I ask the Minister what he can he learn from us and what we can learn from him. I urge that the issue is treated as a priority, because it is a priority for communities across these islands. We must continue to invest in flood defences.
Sir Edward, it is always a great pleasure to speak in any debate chaired by you, given your wise counsel, but today I specifically thank my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), not only for raising a very important subject but for doing so with great aplomb and the sort of attention to detail that I imagine will endear her to her constituents for many years to come.
I am keen to get off to the right start with the new Minister, so I begin by saying that it is really good that there is a Government Department that takes coastal defence risk seriously. I might think that it is a shame that that Department is the Ministry of Defence and not the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and as a former distinguished Chair of the Defence Committee the Minister might feel that that is a point of welcome contact between us and that we can work from there.
The Defence Estates special focus investigation on flood implications for MOD locations set out plans to abandon the Hythe and Lydd ranges, valued at £200 million, which are next to the flood-prone Romney marshes on the south coast. A report released under freedom of information regulations states:
“The MOD estate will be exposed to greater risk as a consequence of climate change…Many sites, both inland and coastal, are vulnerable to flooding...Climate change and sea level rise means that defending coastlines is becoming more costly and technically difficult. The increasing cost of maintenance means that existing defences may be abandoned in areas with low population or fewer tangible assets.”
The Hythe and Lydd ranges, known as DTE SE—defence training estate south-east—form
“the principal area for operational training. The range complexes comprise the most extensive collection of urban training facilities in Europe and extremely varied terrain. This makes the region unique in its training provision.”
Paragraph 6.9 of the report shows that the Ministry has examined the possibility of locating the training facility elsewhere, but that
“capital costs and compulsory purchase issues aside, this size of space cannot be replicated in another part of the UK, simply because an area the size required to translocate these facilities…is not available.”
Sea level rises and the increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather in the UK show that climate change is an issue not just of national wellbeing but of national and global security. The threat that climate change poses to our ability to live well is growing in many parts of the UK, particularly on our coasts. The risk has risen because of human activity, but until recently people acted in ignorance, and therefore innocence, of the effects of their action on future generations. However, our failure to act today, with the full knowledge of the cost of our inaction, is, in the words of the Pope, “a sin against ourselves”, a sin against the world.
That other fine Catholic in another place, Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, has pointed out that it is unnatural for us to act like ostriches, but it is also irresponsible and immoral. The committee’s first statutory report to Parliament on the Government’s progress in preparing the UK for the impacts of climate change was published last week. It shows that the Government have taken the ostrich approach.
I will get to the committee’s findings in a moment, but first I want to raise two points that appear to me to show the Government’s disregard for their responsibility to protect our economy and wellbeing from the impacts of climate change. First, the Government were asked to put up a Minister to speak at the launch of the committee’s two progress reports. They chose not to. Secondly, no Minister currently has responsibility for climate change adaptation. The role has been handed to a part-time Lord and DEFRA “spokesperson”, whatever that means. It certainly does not mean a Minister of the Crown.
The Conservative-led coalition removed climate change adaptation from DEFRA’s priorities, and this Government have removed ministerial oversight. That is serious. Tens of thousands of homes, critical energy and transport infrastructure and many towns and cities in England are located on the coastal floodplain. The Government’s failure to take adaptation seriously is an insult to all of them.
We know that our efforts to reduce flood risk in the past have saved the lives of those who live on the coastal floodplain, as well as billions of pounds potential damage. No one died as a direct result of the 2013 tidal surge event, whereas the tidal surge of a similar magnitude in 1953 killed 307 people. Improved flood defence structures and reliable early warning systems protected hundreds of thousands of homes and ensured that 18,000 people were evacuated. However, many coastal communities were balancing on a knife edge during the 2013-14 winter floods. The fact is that defences protecting thousands of homes and critical infrastructure, not to mention much of the city of Hull, almost failed.
The Committee on Climate Change addressed a couple of simple questions on climate change adaptation. First, is there a plan? The answer that the committee gave was yes, but that it is inadequate. Secondly, are actions taking place? The answer was yes, but they are not time-bound and most are not being measured. Thirdly, are those actions reducing the risk of failure of our critical infrastructure and loss of life? Answer: no. That is the view of the Government’s independent Committee on Climate Change, set up to advise the Government on these matters.
Over the past four years there has been under-investment in flood and coastal risk management. I am sorry that the former Minister, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), is no longer in his place, because I want to rebut his words specifically. He said that there had been an increase in investment under the last Government. There was not. Over the past four years there has been under-investment totalling more than £200 million. The graphs are there for all to see in the report by the Committee on Climate Change. I counsel the Minister to have a look at those graphs; the graphs and the bar charts showing what was spent are all there.
The committee states:
“Due to this underinvestment, expected annual flood damage will be higher now than it was in 2010.”
That is a direct quote from the Committee on Climate Change. Against that evidence, can the Minister please justify his insistence and that of ministerial colleagues that flood risk has been reduced over the past five years? He will know that the only way in which that claim can in any way be substantiated is through the fact that those at low risk and very low risk of flood damage have been taken out of the equation, but those at significant, high or very high risk of flooding have seen that risk increase.
Only 77 local planning authorities out of 340—23%—have local flood risk plans. Of the 20 local authorities in England that have the highest number of households at risk from river or coastal flooding, 17 do not have adopted plans in place under the national planning policy framework. What is the Minister doing to ensure that all local planning authorities have those plans in place?
The Committee on Climate Change has identified that the Government have no plan to reduce flood risk to properties already protected by coastal defences. That means that as sea levels rise because of climate change, the chance that those defences will be overtopped or fail is increasing. However, the Government are focusing only on improved emergency evacuation planning. Why have the Government not informed coastal communities that they should be prepared for increasingly frequent evacuations as flood risk increases because of climate change?
Since 2001, 27% of floodplain development—that equates to 68,000 new homes—has been in areas with a one in 100 or greater annual chance of flooding, and about 23,000 new homes have been built in areas with a high likelihood of flooding; that is a one in 30 or greater annual chance of flooding even where flood defences are in place. Can the Minister explain why all the Government’s planning assumes that that development is not taking place? That is their own stated assumption behind their figures.
Ports handle 95% of the country’s imports and exports by volume. Half of the UK’s port capacity is located on the east coast, where the risk of damage from a tidal surge is greatest. However, it is not clear what improvements in flood protection have been made, or are planned to be made, to Britain’s ports. Some ports, having participated in the first round of reporting under the compulsory adaptation reporting power, have decided not to provide an update as part of round 2. Will the Minister confirm which ports have not reported in round 2, but did report in the first round?
Why was the risk of coastal erosion not mentioned in the Planning Inspectorate’s assessment of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station? Coastal defences can fail, as we saw during the 2013-14 winter storms at Dawlish, which has been mentioned in the debate. Projections suggest that the length of the rail network exposed to coastal erosion will increase from 11 km to 38 km by 2050 and to 62 km by 2100. What are the Minister’s colleagues in the Department for Transport doing to address that?
When will the Government release the findings of the national resilience review that was launched in response to the 2013-14 floods? Only two of the six wetland priority habitat types currently meet the 90% target for being in a favourable or recovering condition. The Minister will know that, as well as being extremely important for wildlife, those habitats play an important role in buffering sea defences from waves and storm surges. Only 37% of floodplain and coastal marsh is in favourable or recovering condition, and there is currently no process for reporting progress against the Government’s target. That should be a priority for DEFRA from the point of view not only of flood risk, but of habitats and the wider environment. Does the Minister expect to meet his 2020 targets in those areas?
It is the duty of Government to provide strong leadership and the investment that is required to ensure that all parts of the country and all sectors of the economy adapt effectively to climate change. Coastal flooding is not a stand-alone risk; combined with fluvial and surface water flood risk, the effect can be devastating. The Government have not risen to the challenge of matching the risk that we face.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for securing this important debate. Flooding is one of the biggest challenges that the nation faces, and it is of immense importance, particularly in the hon. Lady’s constituency.
Coastal flooding on the east coast is particularly extreme. Hon. Members from all over the country have made moving speeches, but it is difficult to think of any communities that face a more extraordinary collection of challenges than those on the Humber. Events that normally affect coastal flooding, such as low pressure zones and the height of the tides—this year, tides are at an 18-year high—combine with the geography of the east coast of England and the very low-lying land to make the Humber particularly vulnerable. It is good that hon. Members have focused on that problem.
In his good speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) made an analogy with the tidal surge of 1953 and pointed out that the 2013 coastal surge in the Humber was 1.93 metres higher. Although that is true, the coastal surge in 1953 resulted in the flooding of 24,000 properties and the death of more than 300 people; in contrast, in 2013, despite the fact that the surge was much higher, only 2,800 houses were flooded, no lives were lost and—perhaps most importantly for the Government—156,000 properties were protected on the Humber.
The tone of the debate has been, understandably, concerned and occasionally negative, but it is worth bearing in mind the fact that the Environment Agency and the Flood Forecasting Centre have made huge progress in making us safer against flooding. The basic arguments made by right hon. and hon. Members can be divided into three categories: the value of that which we protect from floods, the threat posed by the floods and our response to those floods. Our response includes advance prevention; capital and investment and maintenance to ensure that flood defences are in place; recovery measures; and, underlying everything—and as raised by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby—forecasting.
In the short time available, I will try to touch on all those issues. Powerful arguments have been made about the economic value of that which we protect from flooding. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes focused on the unique industrial base around his constituency, and the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) drew attention to power generation in his. More fundamental than the economic importance of these areas, however, is the protection of human lives. As the Member of Parliament for Penrith and The Border, I have, like everyone in this room, seen the impact of floods, and it is extraordinary to experience something that feels so biblical. I have seen families staring in disbelief at their possessions floating on the floodwater. I have witnessed the terror, the risk to people’s lives, and the complete upset of the ordinary relationship between land and water that flooding causes. We have an obligation, in a time of climate change, to make sure that that does not persist.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) described the £800,000 of damage caused by flooding to transport infrastructure in Northern Ireland, which illustrates the problems that flooding can cause in the absence of proper prevention. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) and the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) described the damage done in their constituencies by uncontained flooding. Their contributions bring us to the central question of flood response, which can be broken down into prediction, prevention, emergency response and recovery.
I am delighted to welcome to Westminster Hall the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), who is following in the footsteps of his distinguished predecessor. He and the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd raised some constitutional issues. As both hon. Members are aware, we are discussing a fully devolved issue, but one on which we can learn from each other. One of the great advantages of devolution has been the opportunity to look at each other’s approaches, particularly for my Department. The environment was one of the earliest things to be devolved, so we have been able to learn from Wales on recycling and from Zero Waste Scotland. I hope that we can learn from each other when it comes to flood insurance schemes, and there are certainly things that we can learn from Scotland on planning.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) raised a serious question about strategic thought. Governments are not always as good at strategic thought as they could be, but I am more reassured about the approach to flooding than I am about other aspects of government. The Environment Agency has a 100-year plan for shoreline management, which is a much more expansive and long-term form of planning than we are accustomed to.
In my contribution, I indicated the need to bring Government bodies together. In particular, we need to reach outside local government, regional government and Westminster towards Europe. Has the Minister given any thought to how we can best do that? In meetings in my constituency, we have brought all those people together. There is a European aspect to the long-term strategic response, so we need to involve Europe. Will the Minister give us some thoughts on that?
I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman and talk about his experience in his constituency. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby talked about detriment to fishermen, and European funds have contributed £400,000 to repairing the damage to fishing equipment that has been caused by extreme flooding events. There are many more ways in which Europe can participate, and I would be interested to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s experience.
Partnership is at the core of everything that we are trying to do. We are finding ways to bring together the excellent work of the Environment Agency, the genuine concerns of local authorities, the knowledge of people such as farmers—my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes has touched on that—and the private sector. Port authorities are highly profitable private industries, which have an obligation to invest in their own capital infrastructure.
Does the Minister agree that in areas such as mine, where the railway line at Rufford is at risk from flooding, Network Rail should contribute financially to the internal drainage board, which is on the table, and not leave the matter in the hands of farmers and rate payers?
That is an interesting proposal. I do not want to be bounced into looking at something that I have not thought about, but the basic principle behind my hon. Friend’s suggestion is correct. One would want all those stakeholders to contribute to IDBs. I would be interested to see whether that would work for Network Rail, and I would be happy to sit down with my hon. Friend and talk about that in more detail.
At the heart of the contributions by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and the shadow Minister was the question of resources. The discussion is becoming a slightly tedious one in which statistics are played back and forth. As the shadow Minister will be aware, because he has heard us say it again and again, we have invested more resources in flooding, in cash terms and in real terms, than the previous Labour Government did during their last five years.
This has been an interesting debate, but there have been suggestions that flood defence spending is at least £500 million below what is needed to keep pace with increased floods and rising sea levels. How do the Minister and his Department intend to address that, notwithstanding tomorrow’s Budget and its implications?
What exactly does the hon. Lady mean? Does she mean that there should be a particular target such as a once-in-100-years, a once-in-75-years or a once-in-200-years flood risk? How exactly would she weigh up expenditure on two or three isolated houses against other forms of expenditure? I ask because the Environment Agency runs extremely complex and serious models to try to get the right relationship between Government spending, public spending and the risk on the ground. Our models show that we have improved the level of flood protection by about 5%, rather than just keeping up with it, so I am interested in the source of her statistic. If she would like to sit down with me, I would be happy to discuss it in more detail.
I will try to be brief, but I want to enlighten the Minister on the question of funding. Simply, the projections are based on the peak year of 2010, after which there was an initial cut of some £200 million in the following two years. The Government then amended that figure for restoration, which was emergency funding. The bar charts and graphs produced by the Committee on Climate Change show that that funding bumped the figures above the original projected gain line. The Environment Agency has put in two new lines below that level, but those lines are deemed to be “best possible” and “rather optimistic” scenarios by the Committee on Climate Change. I recommend that the Minister looks at the reports and graphs by the Committee on Climate Change because they explain the situation in some detail and show exactly what the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) said.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I looked at the reports by the Committee on Climate Change because he, or somebody else, tried to submit an urgent question. I reassure him that I am the responsible person in the Department because I was being prepared for that urgent question on the climate adaptation report.
The central issue for this debate is not simply whether we define the emergency funding as part of the Government spend over the past five years; it is, at least from my point of view, that the six-year commitment in Government spending has allowed us to do much smarter long-term planning. The Environment Agency has done that well, and we were able to make considerable savings. It is a real model. Whoever is in government next—including the shadow Minister, if he were to take over—the most important thing is ensuring that the Treasury makes such long-term settlements, which have completely transformed the way we do our capital planning.
I thank the Minister for his reflections on where we can learn from each other across these islands. Does he see an opportunity for greater European co-operation in his long-term planning? The importance of the European Union was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Is this an area where we should be deepening our co-operation with the European Union, and is that part of his planning for the future?
In theory, I am very comfortable with that suggestion; in practice, a great deal of this is extremely local. There are four fundamental types of flooding in Britain, and a lot of that flooding is governed by specific weather patterns and geography. Much of the mitigation is governed by local knowledge, but of course I would be interested if the hon. Gentleman has ideas that he would like to share, particularly from Europe.
In the limited time available, I will touch on the four main issues raised by hon. and right hon. Members today. Those issues seem to fall into the categories of new technical solutions, the prioritisation of flood spending, emergency response and recovery. On new technical solutions, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby raised the question of dredging, particularly in relation to Freshney. My hon. Friends the Members for Wells and for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) talked about upland attenuation. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells also raised the issue of barrages, and the hon. Member for Hartlepool talked about the Heugh breakwater.
Different technical solutions have been proposed. I am happy if hon. Members want to take up those proposals and see why the Environment Agency is pursuing other technical solutions and has different views on the breakwater at Heugh, for example. I assure the hon. Member for Great Grimsby that we will look again at Freshney in this financial year, and she will of course be aware that dredging is not a solution in all cases and can lead to higher and quicker movements of water downstream. Upland attenuation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wells will be aware, can help in limited areas but is not suitable for large catchment areas and extreme flooding events.
Prioritisation is partly a question of perception. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes, for example, raised the concerns of farmers in Barrow. We have committed £4.6 million towards the £6 million scheme that will directly address the needs of the farmers of Barrow. The hon. Member for Hartlepool mentioned the power plant. Again, nobody doubts the importance of that power plant but, as he is aware, it is on relatively high ground. We calculate that, at the moment, there is a one-in-1,000 risk for that power plant, so we do not consider it a priority. If he has different information, he should by all means come to us.
The shadow Minister mentioned the Hythe and Lydd ranges, where I have been on built-up-area exercises. He made an important point, and the Ministry of Defence can be expected to contribute. I am happy to have that discussion again with the MOD. On the general question of the prioritisation of coastal flood erosion over other forms of flooding, I can reassure hon. Members that 43% of the £23 billion that we have committed to flooding is directly directed towards coastal flooding.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby talked about emergency response, which is the third conceptual issue. We have an increasingly sophisticated operation through the gold commands, the Environment Agency emergency room and Cobra. I take on board the shadow Minister’s point about local authority plans, which I am happy to follow up. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby also raised the issue of recovery, on which there is more we can do. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd talked about buying. We have chosen the Flood Re insurance scheme model, but there has been some examination on the east coast of exactly those kinds of models, which I am happy to discuss in more detail.
The final conceptual issue is prediction, which reminds us how flooding is so incredibly technical. North Lincolnshire Council asked why we are less good at predicting surface water floods than coastal floods, river floods and groundwater floods. The answer, of course, relates to the source of those floods. North Lincolnshire Council needs to understand that, if we are lucky, we can get four or five days’ notice of a coastal flood because such flooding is governed by the height of the tides, by a low pressure system and by the speed of the wind. We can see the height of the water in a river, and we can see groundwater. Surface water flooding, particularly at the moment, is caused by summer thunderstorms. The Met Office finds surface water much more difficult to address because—to make an analogy—although we can see that bubbles will raise the top of a boiling pot, we cannot tell where those bubbles are going to be. However, we plan to invest some £96 million in a new supercomputer that will increase sixteenfold our ability to do the kind of projections, and provide the kind of support, that are needed.
Over the next six years, we have a £2.3 billion programme covering more than 1,500 projects, and we aim further to reduce the risk to at least 300,000 households. That investment—the shadow Minister is now bored with these statistics—will help to avoid more than £30 billion of economic damage and will help economic development and growth. We estimate that every £1 invested in that way brings us at least £9 of economic benefit. That is why I agree with everyone who has spoken. I therefore pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, but I also pay tribute to everyone else for their service to their constituencies and their understanding of local needs. There is almost nothing in government that is more important than focusing on preventing floods and protecting communities against such risks. Nothing else can be as devastating to communities, and there is nothing else in which I am as proud to participate as a Minister.
I thank the Minister for taking our concerns so seriously. It is clear from today’s attendance that this is a national issue. We have had representations from the north, south, east and west, from the islands and from the devolved nations.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
I remind Members that at the conclusion of the next debate, at 11.30 am, the House will observe a minute’s silence to mark the 10th anniversary of the events of 7 July 2005. The silence will begin at the point at which the next debate is to end, so I would be grateful for Members’ co-operation in ensuring that we are able to commemorate those events appropriately.