With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the impact of Storm Desmond and flooding in the north of England.
As the House knows, this weekend has brought some enormously difficult and extreme weather conditions, and I begin by expressing my deepest sympathy to those who have been affected in all parts of the UK. I also wish to commend the Environment Agency, the emergency responders and volunteers who have been working tirelessly throughout the weekend, often in horrific conditions. People have come from all over the country—from as far as south Wales, Lincolnshire and Somerset—to help. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to them for their work, and to those who have shown such generous community spirit in offering food, transport and even beds to neighbours.
Over the course of Friday 4 December, it became clear that Storm Desmond would bring an exceptionally high volume of rainfall across the UK. The Environment Agency responded by mobilising its people and assets, moving temporary defences and pumps to north-west England. On Saturday morning, it became clearer which counties would be affected and that we would see very high levels of rainfall that evening.
The Government mobilised a full national emergency response. At midday on Saturday, I held a cross-departmental meeting to assess the projected impacts, which was shortly followed by the mobilisation of 200 military personnel and supporting assets, including making available a Chinook helicopter.
Local commanders were able to call on more than 50 high-volume pumps as well as specialist tactical advisers and rescue boats from around the UK, adding to more than 200 emergency responders already on the ground. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), travelled to Cumbria on Saturday to ensure that the emergency responders on the ground got all they needed. He has remained in the north-west throughout.
On Saturday night, we saw an unprecedented amount of rainfall. More than a month’s rain fell in one day. During Saturday night, main rivers all across Cumbria exceeded the highest levels ever recorded. There is a mark on the bridge in Carlisle showing the flood level in 1853. The 2005 flood was half a metre higher than that of 1853, which was the highest on record until then. This flood was half a metre higher again. It was 0.6 metres higher than previous records in Kendal, 0.7 metres higher in Keswick and 0.3 metres higher in Appleby.
Although more than 8,000 properties were protected by our flood defences, by Sunday morning, more than 3,500 properties had flooded across the country, the majority of which were in Cumbria. In Carlisle, more than 1,300 properties flooded. More than 600 properties flooded in both Kendal and Keswick, with more than 200 in Appleby. Flooding was also seen in Northumberland, with more than 60 properties flooded at Hexham. Some 55,000 properties lost power in Lancaster following the flooding of the electricity substation. Transport was severely disrupted, with roads closed across the north-west and bridges damaged. The west coast main line was suspended.
Tragically, I also confirm that there were a number of weather-related fatalities, with a number of incidents caused or exacerbated by flooding or poor weather. I am sure that the House will want to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to their families and friends. It is a tragic reminder of how dangerous these conditions can be.
On Sunday morning, I chaired a cross-Government Cabinet Office briefing room meeting to ensure that the emergency responders on the ground had all the resources that they needed and to address immediate issues, including the threat to the power supply in Lancaster and Carlisle. I spoke with gold commanders in the worst affected areas during the day to ensure they had sufficient national resources to deliver their emergency plans.
The Prime Minister chaired a further Cobra meeting this morning and is visiting the affected areas today. I am pleased to confirm to the House that progress is being made on recovering from some of the impacts. The number of homes affected by power outages has been reduced to fewer than 5,000 following the restoration of power at Lancaster substation. Electricity companies are working round the clock to restore power as soon as possible.
Transport remains disrupted across much of the area. Many roads remain closed and will need to be repaired. The west coast main line remains suspended to Scotland and service is unlikely to be restored until Wednesday at the earliest. The Government will continue to ensure that all resources are made available to support recovery from this flooding. Cobra will continue to meet daily to oversee recovery efforts and I will be travelling to Cumbria and Lancashire after this statement to continue to ensure that we are doing all we can to help those affected.
I know that local communities will want to know what action Government will be taking to support the recovery phase. I am pleased to confirm to the House that my colleague the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will shortly be opening the Bellwin scheme for local authorities affected by floods, and that 100% of eligible costs will be met by the Government. We will announce further support schemes over the coming days.
Since 2009 we have invested £45 million in new defences in Cumbria, but we will need to reflect on lessons that we can learn from this extreme weather event. In the last Parliament there was a real-terms increase in the investment in flood defences and in this Parliament there will be another real-terms increase in spending. We are investing £2.3 billion in 1,500 schemes throughout the country that will better protect 300,000 homes. The spending review has also confirmed that we are protecting flood maintenance spending throughout this Parliament as well as capital spending.
I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our sincere sympathy to those who have been affected by this weekend’s extreme weather conditions. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to do everything we can to support those affected and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. I have spoken this morning to my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Sue Hayman), for Copeland (Mr Reed) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) for an update on what is happening in their constituencies. Understandably, they cannot be here this afternoon as they are with their constituents, and I appreciate that the floods Minister is, rightly, in his constituency too.
Our thoughts are with all the communities in Cumbria and Lancashire that have once again been devastated by flooding. Tragically, it now seems that a number of people have lost their lives; their friends and family have our deepest sympathy and condolences. I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the emergency services and the Army, who have once again responded superbly.
The immediate priority of course has to be help for all those who have been forced to evacuate their homes and businesses, and making sure that everyone is safe, warm and well. Communities such as those in Cumbria are getting used to rallying round and helping those who need shelter, food and clothing while they contemplate the state of their homes, and they have been magnificent this time, too. They are desperately worried that further rain is predicted for tomorrow, and I hope that the emergency response of which the Secretary of State spoke is geared up to respond to further bad weather.
With the last major floods of 2013-14, the Prime Minister declared that
“money is no object in this relief effort”,
yet it was months before residents, business owners and farmers received support from the Government, and much longer before they could return home. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say today that we must
“make sure everything is done to help in this vital phase of dealing with the floods”,
but it is not enough for the Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary to pledge to deal with the devastation and damage caused. We need a commitment from them to do all they can to try to prevent this from happening again.
It was just six years ago that Cumbria was hit by “unprecedented” flooding, described then as a once in a lifetime or a once in a century event, but it has already happened again. This time, as the Environment Secretary said, it is even worse. Her predecessor was, as we know, not someone who was prepared to acknowledge the risks posed by climate change. Does this Secretary of State agree that extreme weather events are unfortunately increasingly a feature of British weather and that Government policy has to adapt accordingly? World leaders in Paris are negotiating what, we hope, is an historic agreement on climate change right now, yet domestically the Government have repeatedly abandoned measures to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions, and climate adaptation appears to be a worryingly low priority for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. When the Secretary of State travels to the north-west later today I hope that she will see that that cannot continue.
Until the 2013-14 winter floods in the south-west, DEFRA had downgraded flood defence as a priority, despite the fact that the Committee on Climate Change warned that flooding represented the greatest climate change risk to the UK. Flood defence maintenance was cut by 20% in 2010. In one year alone, the coalition slashed flood spending by more than £100 million. Does the Secretary of State accept that that left the UK unprepared for extreme weather events? I know that capital expenditure has been announced and is protected, but DEFRA has said that it cannot tell us about the resource funding for flood defence maintenance from 2016-17 to 2019-20 until next summer. I should be grateful if she elaborated on that and gave us a bit more information.
Will the Secretary of State heed the warnings from experts that we need year-on- year investment in flood defences to meet the increased threat of flooding? Given that this year’s flood defence budget is £115 million lower than last year, and lower than flood defence expenditure in 2009-10, can she honestly reassure the communities affected by flooding that the Government are doing enough?
After the last floods in Cumbria, insurance pay-outs took months and, in some cases, years. Flood Re is not due to become operational until next year, so will the Secretary of State update us on her discussions with the insurance companies since the weekend? Has she managed to secure assurances that householders and businesses will be paid promptly and in full? Local people are finding it impossible to meet the cost of insurance premiums. What reassurance can she offer to people who fear that their premiums will increase even more?
The Secretary of State spoke, rightly, about the need for a cross-departmental approach, with issues such as road and school closures, and the role of hospitals. The point has been made by my colleagues in Copeland and Workington that it would be absolute folly to downgrade the West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven, given that power shortages and the sheer distance that people had to travel meant that the hospital in Carlisle was not geared up to deal with the floods this time round. I am more than happy to confirm that we want a cross-party approach to the problem, working with communities and Government Departments to try to ensure that people in Cumbria and Lancashire are, wherever possible, back home, safe and well with a roof over their head, and as dry as possible before Christmas strikes. I offer the Secretary of State my support in that.
I can assure the hon. Lady that we have an absolute focus on making sure that gold commanders on the ground have every support they need to make sure that people are safe and homes are protected, and to aid the recovery effort. We have seen that in efforts to restore the power supply and to report issues on road and transport systems. We are vigilant about the weather outlook. Cobra will meet daily to make sure that we have all those forecasts, that they are taken into account and that we put our resources where they are needed. We remain vigilant on that at all times. We began the recovery and response effort on Friday by making sure that those resources were in place in Cumbria. We can do all we can by mobilising resources such as the Army to ensure that support is on the ground where it is needed.
We have seen an unprecedented weather event. The hon. Lady referred to previous flooding in Cumbria, but this flooding was more extreme—levels were exceeded by half a metre in some key towns and cities in Cumbria. Of course, it was absolutely devastating for people previously affected by flooding who believed that things would be better but who have been affected by flooding again. My huge sympathy goes to those business owners and local residents, and I hope to meet them later today and tomorrow.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the extreme weather patterns that we are seeing. As we say, that is consistent with climate change trends. Climate change is factored into all the modelling work that the Environmental Agency does, but in the light of this extreme weather we must look at that modelling and ensure that it is fit for purpose for future decisions. We constantly review investment in flood defences. It is important that we remain fair to people across the country, and that the people of Cumbria understand why decisions have been made and get the proper protection they deserve.
On flood defence spending, over the last Parliament we spent £1.7 billion in capital spending—a real-terms increase on the £1.5 billion spent between 2005 and 2010. Our next six-year programme is £2.3 billion, which again represents a real-terms increase. It is the first time a Government have laid out a six-year programme so that we do not have lumpy bits of flood spending, but commit to a long-term programme that helps to protect the country better. Including the impact of climate change, that is forecast to reduce flood risk by 5% over the next six years.
The hon. Lady asked about the maintenance budget. We spent £171 million last year on flood maintenance. In the autumn statement the Chancellor confirmed that that will be protected in real terms for the duration of this Parliament.
The hon. Lady also asked about the help that people will get from insurance and support schemes. My right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary and I are keen to see support schemes that are flexible and simple to operate, so we will work on that in the coming days. My right hon. Friend will host a discussion with the insurance companies to make sure that that support is provided.
These issues are all very important, but the immediate priority must be the rescue and response effort to make sure that we protect lives and families. It is such a terrible time of year, just before Christmas, for people to be out of their homes. Our absolute priority as a Government is making sure that we restore power supplies to homes, restore transport systems and protect lives.
Parts of my constituency have been affected by the floods that have wrought so much damage throughout the north-west. May I reinforce the point about insurance claims? They should be met speedily, not in six or nine months’ time. People’s needs are now, not in six or nine months. Will my right hon. Friend also make it clear to insurance companies that they will be looked at very carefully if they start to withdraw cover from people who have been affected by these floods? Withdrawing cover blights people’s homes, following the devastation that they have just suffered.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement this afternoon and, with my colleagues on the Scottish National party Benches, send our condolences to families that have been affected over the weekend. Normally my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) would speak on behalf of the SNP, but he is in his constituency assisting with the work there.
We feel for the devastation across the north of England and for the clear-up that is under way across the borders in Scotland as well, after some of the worst flooding that the region has seen. At its height about 700 people were evacuated from their homes. Hundreds of houses and business premises have been flood-damaged. There was extensive flood damage across other parts of Scotland, including the most significant flooding on the River Tay in 12 years. Today flood alerts have been issued for Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish borders again.
I note that David Shukman, the respected BBC science editor, wrote:
“Scientists always shy away from blaming any particular weather event on climate change. But they also point to a basic physical property of the atmosphere: that warmer air can hold more moisture. That means that rising temperatures are likely to lead to storms that may drop more rain—and in more intense bursts.”
In 2009 the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed world-leading climate change legislation. Using 1990 as a baseline, it committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 42% by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050. In Scotland, we are doing what we can to foster renewable energy. It is a pity that this Government are removing support for onshore wind. Will the Secretary of State liaise with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to revisit this? We need to do more to protect our environment.
There is potential for extreme weather systems to continue to plague the UK. We are lucky in the UK that we have the resources to help as much as we can in preparing for them and helping communities in the aftermath, and I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s comments on that. However, across the world, smaller and poorer countries are going to be far worse hit by the effects of climate change. Today the Scottish Government announced that they will double their climate justice fund by pledging a further £12 million for developing countries to lessen the impact of climate change. What are the UK Government doing to help in poorer countries?
I express my sympathy for the people affected in Scotland. We are working very closely with the Scottish Government on our response.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is currently in Paris working to secure a good international deal so that we can deal with climate change on an international level. Of course, we have a very clear carbon budget system in place in the UK.
I pay tribute to my local Environment Agency team in Lancashire and Cumbria, who worked all weekend keeping me up to date. My residents in Banks and Rufford are very concerned that in less than two years the flooding pumps at Alt Crossens are going to move away from the Environment Agency to another, as yet unnamed, body. Most of this water gives on to farmland. What is the Department doing to protect farmland?
I agree with my hon. Friend’s tribute to the fantastic emergency service and Environment Agency staff who have been working round the clock to support people in the area. Our six-year programme will mean that an additional 420,000 acres of farmland will be protected. In the specific case of the flooding in the north over the weekend, we will look at what more can be done to help farmers.
Over the weekend and this morning I have been in contact with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), who remains in her constituency, and she has given me some thoughts on the situation in that part of Cumbria. She is extremely grateful, as are her constituents, for the response of the emergency services. There is concern that an unintended consequence of reductions in front-line services, as well as cuts to local authorities and the Environment Agency, is that those emergency responses may not be possible in future. Will the Government give some thought to whether cutting local authority and Environment Agency budgets might damage the ability to respond to these events in future?
The response efforts over the weekend and the preparations put in place by the Environment Agency, the emergency services and Army personnel have been fantastic. They have been working their socks off on the ground to protect people, and we are all very grateful for what they have done. My role is to make sure that we are co-ordinating those efforts and giving the local teams all the support they need. On Saturday and Sunday I spoke to the gold command to ask whether they needed any additional support and resources, and whether all those resources have been made available. Of course, we will continue to monitor the situation to make sure that the resources are available on the ground.
May I put on record my thanks to the emergency services and to officials at DEFRA and the Department of Transport for the work they have put in over the weekend? Will the Secretary of State assure me that she will continue to work with farmers in my constituency to ensure that the devastation that some of them have suffered over recent days will be looked at with sympathy?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As well as making sure that farmland is protected as part of our six-year flood defence programme, we will look at the specific impacts on farmers. The farming Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), will do more work on that.
This morning I met businesses in York who are over 4 metres under water. This is the second flooding they have had within a month. Will the Secretary of State ensure that basics like sandbags and pumps are available free for businesses, because they pay a heavy price when flooding occurs?
My North Yorkshire constituency has also been affected this weekend, so I welcome my right hon. Friend’s earlier comments and pay tribute to those working hard in my area. My thoughts are with those affected elsewhere. I recently visited the village of Brompton, where the community has come together to create a set of natural flood defences, including a leaky dam and a series of holding ponds. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such schemes have a role to play in preventing floods, and will she urge the drainage boards and the Environment Agency to support them where appropriate?
I have great sympathy for those constituents of my hon. Friend who have been affected. I completely agree that natural defence schemes can play a very strong part in flood prevention. Indeed, I recently visited the Slow the Flow project in Pickering in Yorkshire, which is doing just that. Not only does it help to reduce flooding; it also contributes to the natural environment and biodiversity.
It is at times like these that we begin to worry about the cuts that local government and the fire service have suffered for the last five years. Is there any opportunity for the Secretary of State to say from the Dispatch Box today that she will ensure that the fire service will have those cuts reversed and that it will be able to carry on without losing men and machinery from this day forward?
We have seen fantastic support from the fire service and other emergency services, and the co-ordination on the ground has been superb. We have kept in regular touch with the gold command in those local areas. On flood protection, I have confirmed today that we are seeing an increase in real terms in capital spending over this Parliament, and we are also seeing a protection in real terms of our flood maintenance budget. That is really important in preventing and reducing the impact of flooding.
In the light of the floods in Cumbria and elsewhere, I am pleased to say that flood defences provided security and protection, as they were supposed to, in north Northumberland. Will the Secretary of State consider, as a matter of urgency, increasing the number of trees we plan to plant during this Parliament from 11 million, which equates to only one tree for every five people, to some 200 million, which equates to five trees for every person? They would cover some 50,000 hectares, much of which could be in the upland areas of river basins, to help nature to hold water and to reduce the risk of flooding in the long term.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point about the number of houses that were protected. Although my thoughts are with those who were flooded, 8,000 houses in the north of England were protected by our flood defences. I completely agree with her about looking at the environment on a catchment level and making sure that we put in place tree-planting programmes that can both reduce flood risk and improve the environment at the same time.
May I put on the record my heartfelt sympathies for the people of Cumbria and elsewhere, and for the friends and families of all those who died as a result of the weekend’s events? My constituency was badly flooded in 2007, and one has to live through such an event to be able to understand the devastation it visits on communities and families alike. The Secretary of State has made a great deal of play of the real terms increase in flood maintenance spending, but can she reassure the House that the flood maintenance budget has adequate funding to start with and that the Environment Agency is adequately funded to discharge its role in relation to flood prevention and flood response?
I know the hon. Lady has a lot of experience in this area. I have had such a discussion with the Environment Agency, and the budget is effective for the level of our plans at the moment. As I have mentioned, we saw an extreme weather event with the incidents in Cumbria, so although the flood defences in Cumbria delayed the impact, giving the emergency services an opportunity to operate and to evacuate people, and also reduced the impact, we clearly need to look at that area.
With uncanny timeliness, a publication entitled “Responding to Major Floods” arrived in my postbox today from the Association of British Insurers. It is a useful guide to help those affected by flooding. Will my right hon. Friend speak to the ABI and ensure that copies of the booklet are distributed to everyone affected by this weekend’s flooding?
Like everybody in the House, I pay tribute to all our emergency services for the magnificent work they have done and continue to do. At present, however, there is no formal expectation that fire and rescue services will actually attend floods in England and Wales. Does the Secretary of State agree that, to ensure an effective, safe and robust response to flooding, we should follow the example of Scotland and Northern Ireland and make it a statutory duty for firefighters in England and Wales to respond to flooding?
My view is that our procedures are working, with the gathering of Departments on Saturday to make sure that we had the right preparations in place for the emergency services, the Environment Agency and the Army. The Cobra system that we have to co-ordinate them when we have an emergency, as we have had for the past few days, has worked very effectively, and we have been able to mobilise people on the ground. I am interested in what works, in what is effective and in how we protect the maximum number of people and the maximum number of homes from this extreme event.
I, too, pay tribute to the emergency services. As an officer of the all-party groups on mountain rescue and on mountaineering, I pay particular tribute to the mountain rescue workers who have put in a huge amount of work to support the communities affected.
Given that tourism is such a vital part of the local economy, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that every effort will be made to support local businesses and communities in the run-up to Christmas and during the Christmas season in these very difficult circumstances?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Mountain Rescue has been a fantastic support, particularly in some of the remoter villagers across the north of England, especially in Cumbria. I pay tribute to it for its round-the-clock work. It has been absolutely fantastic.
I agree with my hon. Friend about rural tourism, which is already worth £10 billion to the economy. It is really important to get things up and running again, which is why I am working with my colleagues the Transport Secretary and the Energy Secretary to make sure we get transport and power up and running, not only so that residents can enjoy the area, but so that people can visit it.
I echo both the condolences expressed by the Secretary of State and her commendations of the emergency services and the volunteers for the invaluable work they are doing. Thousands of people across the north of England and Wales have been affected, including the leader of my party, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). He has suffered the relatively minor inconvenience, compared with what other people have experienced, of having his car written off as a result of the floods. He cannot be in the Chamber today.
The Secretary of State is clearly focusing on the emergency. After the emergency, however, does she intend to apply to the EU solidarity fund to help rebuild the communities devastated by floods once the immediate emergency has been dealt with?
My understanding is that there is quite a high threshold to obtain that funding, but we will of course look at all potential sources of funding. As I have mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary will open the Bellwin fund, and we are also looking at specific schemes.
Floods, as we have seen, can have a devastating impact on businesses, homes and individuals. Our thoughts are with those who have been affected. My right hon. Friend’s Department has had a clear commitment to date to investing in flood prevention schemes. Will she reaffirm her continued commitment to investing in such schemes and to continuing the vital work that she has begun, which has spared many people from the plight of flooding—although, sadly, by no means all—and which has the potential to protect many more?
It is an absolute priority for my Department to improve our flood defences as much as possible, to reduce the flood risk and to make sure that we are constantly prepared for these extreme situations. That is why we acted early on Saturday by bringing the Departments together to prepare the response and why we held a Cobra meeting on Sunday to make sure that the Army was deployed to deal with the situation and protect as many lives and homes as possible.
Much of my immediate family, including my parents, live in the Carlisle area. Thankfully, they are safe, but my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been affected by this dreadful situation. Obviously, I thank the emergency services and the community volunteers.
Just six years after unprecedented flooding, Cumbria has once again been hit by unprecedented rainfall. Does the Secretary of State agree that, unfortunately, such extreme weather events are increasingly a feature of the British weather and that Government policy has to adapt accordingly?
I am pleased to hear that the hon. Lady’s family are safe and well. The events in Carlisle were not just extreme weather events, but were significantly worse than those on the previous occasion. There was an additional half metre of water, which has had a huge impact on local communities. Of course, as with all major incidents, we will look at this one and see what lessons can be learned for the future.
May I pass on my sympathy to all those who have been affected and my commendation to all those in the emergency services who, as always, have done a fantastic job? Given the pressure on housing, will my right hon. Friend ensure that she and the Government note the new levels of water that are arising around the country and ensure that no new housing is built in those locations?
Like other hon. Members, my prayers and thoughts are with all those who have been impacted by these appalling scenes. The word “unprecedented” has been used time and again today, and we seem to be coming back to the House again and again to discuss these issues. Is it not time that we sat down as a nation and looked at all the infrastructure, at where the substations, roads and bridges are, and at the drainage systems—looked at everything—and involved the public in a national consultation, so that we can have a proper plan for how these so-called unprecedented events, which I am sure will become more and more frequent, can be dealt with once and for all?
We do have very clear national resilience plans to ensure that our key assets are protected. Of course, after every major incident, we review them to see what could be improved. We constantly review the modelling on our flood defences to make sure that it is as good as possible. Each time something different happens, we need to be able to adjust it. Our models are open and transparent. The public can look at the methodology the Environment Agency uses. We use sophisticated data from the Met Office. Of course, we will look at this issue and see what more can be done.
I send my sympathies to everybody who has been affected by the flooding. Cumbria is in the recovery phase. Will the Secretary of State review the flood defence modelling for the lower Thames region, in which many of my residents have no confidence? In particular, will she consider Thames barrier 2, which civil engineers were calling for even before the high floods in 2013-14?
I would be very happy to discuss that issue with my hon. Friend and to meet the people who are working on the proposed scheme. It is helpful to have an open and transparent discussion about why decisions on flood investment are made. I would be happy to share the data and the modelling with her.
The people of Hull, who know only too well the devastation flooding causes, extend their sympathies to all those affected by flooding this weekend. We pay tribute to the emergency services and to local BBC radio, which has an important role to play when we face such situations. Has the Secretary of State given any consideration to increasing support to the National Flood Forum, which does so much, through practical support and good advice, to help families and households affected by flooding? Additional resources would really help at this time.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the National Flood Forum and local radio: we were able to ensure that people were evacuated from their homes and given adequate warning to keep them safe. It is also worth mentioning that the Environment Agency website has been a very useful resource. It has gone from having 400 hits on an average day to 650,000 hits on one day alone, so the public are able to access information. We have also been communicating on social media, enabling early evacuation to keep people safe.
According to the Association of British Insurers, my constituency is the most likely to flood in the entirety of the UK. The tidal surge of 2013 flooded hundreds of homes and my constituents are still living with the consequences. Will the Secretary of State go back and double-check that the coming Boston barrier is not only up to the job but will provide the much needed economic benefits of flood defences after devastating floods, such as those that we are seeing in Cumbria and saw in Boston?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Boston barrier is an extremely important scheme not just for local businesses in Boston but for farmers in the surrounding area. I met a group of local internal drainage boards to discuss what more can be done in Lincolnshire. I am very happy to update him on the modelling we have done and the forecasts we have made.
I join the Secretary of State and hon. Members in sending condolences to the families affected and in paying tribute to the extraordinary response of the emergency services. What message are the Government sending to the fire and rescue service personnel who are giving their all right now, and to the people so badly affected right now, when 40 firefighters face job losses and five stations face closure in Cumbria alone under the latest round of emergency service cuts? How will this affect the Government’s ability to respond to future extreme weather conditions that the Secretary of State said we must expect?
Apart from the national interest in ensuring that Cumbria receives the support it needs, my researcher Nicholas Altham lives at Yanwath near Penrith and raised with me the collapse of nearby Pooley bridge. Will the Secretary of State look at having a commitment not just to rapid repair but to the provision of transport infrastructure in this area in future?
The Secretary of State talked about assisting local authorities through the recovery phase with 100% of eligible costs. Will she outline to the House what she considers to be the recovery stage? Is it just the clean-up and recovery, or is it the future-proofing of the reconstruction and investment in new infrastructure? What does she consider to be an eligible cost for local authorities?
On behalf of the people of Somerset, who know what flooding is like, may I extend my condolences and sympathies to all those affected in the north-west and say how pleased I am to hear that expertise from Somerset is being used up there?
In Somerset, local authorities and national Government have come together with residents to fund the Somerset Rivers Authority to ensure adequate and ongoing funding and oversight for flood defences. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is very welcome and that its decision to dredge this year is correct, despite the opposition of South Somerset’s local Liberal Democrats?
It is fantastic that volunteers from Somerset are helping out in Cumbria, and I am delighted we have been able to establish the Somerset Rivers Authority to give local people control over local decisions such as on dredging. It is absolutely right that people who know the ground and understand the area are making those crucial decisions.
I speak for many in west Kent—I see the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), on the Front Bench—when I ask the Secretary of State, when she looks at the floods in Cumbria, to remember that we in west Kent not only feel huge sympathy for our compatriots in Cumbria but are keen to ensure that the defences required on the Medway and the Beult are put in place. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), who is not here, would be urging me and others to say on her behalf that towns such as Yalding, Wateringbury, Tonbridge and Edenbridge absolutely need the defences planned only a few years ago when we suffered ourselves. I urge the Secretary of State not to forget the rest of the country.
Over this Parliament, we will be investing an additional £2.3 billion of capital expenditure on flood defences in real terms. I am committed to ensuring that this money is distributed and spent in a clear and transparent way so that people fully understand how it is being used.