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Flood Defences

Volume 617: debated on Thursday 24 November 2016

1. What estimate her Department has made of the number of properties that will be better protected by the Government’s investment in flood defences up to 2021. (907453)

Mr Speaker, with your permission, may I take this opportunity to thank the emergency services, the Environment Agency and all who helped with the recent flooding? Our thoughts are with those who have been affected. Our £2.5 billion six-year capital floods programme to improve flood defences will provide better protection for at least 300,000 homes in the six-year period from 2015 to 2021.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the investment on the Medway provides an extremely good and important opportunity for the Government to protect homes around the Tonbridge, Edenbridge and East Peckham area?

As an ex-Tonbridge Grammar School girl, I know the area well. The Environment Agency is progressing business cases to increase the capacity of the live flood storage area on the River Medway, alongside new schemes at Hildenborough and East Peckham. The agency has estimated that these schemes qualify for a £15.5 million Government grant in aid. If approved, this will better protect more than 1,900 properties in the Medway catchment.

The Secretary of State rightly has a responsibility to protect buildings. In my constituency, in the lower Don valley, there is a lot of ex-industrial brownfield land that, with remedial work and protection from flooding from the Don, could provide homes for thousands of people and stop the building on greenfield sites. Does she accept that, as well as protecting existing buildings, the Government should be interested in protecting sites where buildings could be built?

Absolutely. Of course, it is important that we take into account the protection of new homes being built—that is what the Environment Agency does, as a key stakeholder in all planning decisions—and it is absolutely our intention to make sure that new developments are better protected.

Given that more than 5 million homes are at flood risk in Britain, is it not important that the Department continues its excellent work, not just in building flood defences with concrete, steel and earthworks, but in looking at how nature and land managers can be incentivised to create greater protection for households?

Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right. There are concrete barriers, which are very important, and we have had 130 new schemes since January, better protecting 55,000 homes. However, natural flood management—slowing the flow, and looking at ways to work with the contours of our environment to improve protection—is also vital. I can announce that we have been given £15 million to invest in further projects to do just that.

Through the Secretary of State, may I thank the Environment Agency in the west midlands? Its regional director told me last week that 34 more homes will be protected in the Blythe valley in my constituency. Will she confirm that the agency is constantly updating its modelling in response to rainfall records constantly being broken?

My right hon. Friend knows a great deal about this subject, and she will be aware that the resilience review, which we undertook across Government, contained an enormous amount of remodelling of the likely impacts of increasingly extreme weather events. Of course, the Environment Agency is always looking not just at what schemes can protect people better, but at where the best types of flood protection can be developed, whether through concrete barriers or natural flood protection.

I have just returned from being with my family in Devon, so I have personally experienced the floods caused by Storm Angus, and I would like to join the Secretary of State in thanking the emergency services and everybody who helped so quickly with the clean-up and with supporting people.

Yesterday’s autumn statement gave little hope to the residents of the 5 million properties at risk of flooding. In the March Budget, an additional £700 million of capital expenditure for flood defences and prevention was announced, but just how many schemes have seen a spade in the ground?

As I have already mentioned, this Government have in fact committed £2.5 billion to new flood defences in the six years to 2021. Just this year, since January 2016, we have had 130 new flood schemes completed, protecting a further 55,000 homes. We have also enormously increased our temporary flood defences and all our infrastructure capabilities. including incident control vehicles, light towers, pumps, sandbags and so on, to try to deal with the unpredictable nature of these extreme weather events, but we are committed to doing more.