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Flooding: South Yorkshire

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 30 January 2020

[Philip Davies in the Chair]

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I beg to move,

That this House has considered flooding in South Yorkshire.

I want to speak about the floods that occurred last November, nearly three months ago, that caused devastating damage to my area of Barnsley and across South Yorkshire. Over a period of 24 hours, heavy rainfall, equal to the amount expected for the entire month of November, caused the Dearne, Don and Dove rivers to burst their banks. Thousands of people were affected and, sadly, one person lost their life. My thoughts are with their family

Areas such as Fishlake village were accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles or boats. Roads, bridges, train lines and stations had to be closed, causing huge travel disruption, and over 1,000 homes and 565 businesses across South Yorkshire were affected. In Barnsley, 89 houses sustained flood damage and 25 roads were closed, but in Doncaster alone nearly 4,000 evacuation notices were issued, with more than 780 properties affected, and the residents of 242 properties were unable to return home for Christmas.

This is not the first time in recent years that South Yorkshire communities have been hit with severe flooding. To give an example from my area, the residents in Low Valley in Wombwell have had to be relocated twice in the past 12 years, during the floods of 2007 and now those of 2019. They need assurances that everyone is doing their utmost to prevent this from happening again.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who is my parliamentary neighbour and Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, for his continued work on our region’s flooding crisis. He has campaigned for more money for flood defences and given a voice to the devastating impact of floods on people, businesses and communities. While people were being forced from their homes, he pressed the Government to recognise the crisis for what it was: a national emergency.

I will focus on what we need in areas such as mine, where we have become all too familiar with the damage that severe flooding causes, so that we can recover and be protected from flooding on this scale again. In the short term, the communities directly affected need financial support from the Government. Households and businesses are facing real hardship now. The people of Yorkshire have a proud history of coming together when times are tough. More than half a million pounds has been donated by members of the public, local authorities and community organisations to South Yorkshire’s community foundation. The generosity of my neighbours and friends from Barnsley and further afield is both unsurprising and commendable.

The Government committed to match any money raised by the foundation to help victims, but I am genuinely dismayed that the Government are insisting on only providing match funding when both the Mayor of Doncaster and the Mayor of the Sheffield City Region have said that £3 million is needed. On the current match funding formula, the Government will only contribute around half a million pounds. Will they reconsider? The Government can and should commit more funds for flood victims, rather than relying on donations from the very people affected by flood damage. Quite simply, that will ensure that the basic needs of all households and businesses can be met. I note the Government have not yet applied to the EU solidarity fund, which is available to respond to major natural disasters. I ask the Minister, has an alternative equivalent capital fund been established for the vital repairs to local roads and infrastructure?

Despite the recovery efforts from the blue light services, the Environment Agency, local authorities, Government agencies and communities—I place on record my thanks to them all—a number of residents still cannot return to their homes. More than 148 properties have been affected in my borough alone, in areas from Wombwell to Hoyland and Darfield to Burton Grange. Of these properties, 29 do not have insurance or sufficient insurance to cover the cost of repairing flood damage.

Communities are still pulling themselves back together while dealing with damaged homes and fighting insurance battles. People from Doncaster and Rotherham, which were among the areas hardest hit by the floods, are now fighting to get the insurance money they are owed.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. As an MP, I went through similar circumstances in 2007, when we had thousands of people out of their homes for weeks, months and, in some cases, years. What thought has my hon. Friend given to the impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and the need for the NHS to provide support? As well as dealing with practical matters, there is an emotional cost to flooding.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she raises a crucial issue. There are families who have lost everything. For example, some are now living in caravans parked on their driveways. They need all the support we can give them. Many depend on recovery grants while they wait in hope of an insurance payout. I know of elderly residents who have had to call off life-changing surgeries because they do not have a place to recuperate. Cancelled insurance plans and unscrupulous insurance companies have left many residents at their wits’ end, unsure about how they are going to get by.

More needs to be done to improve access to insurance plans that can meet the needs of households in South Yorkshire. A comprehensive plan, with investment, needs to be developed to support the people who are still struggling to get by nearly three months after the floods. Across South Yorkshire, rising housing demand has not kept pace with the construction of affordable housing. It is crucial that careful attention is paid to proposed housing locations, particularly those on known floodplains. Housing needs and aspirations should be met, but in secure environments with low flood risk.

In the long term, the South Yorkshire region needs investment to ensure that communities are better prepared and protected against flood damage. In the face of some of the largest cuts in the country to its day-to-day funding, Barnsley Council helped to co-ordinate a multi-service and agency response. Staff worked 24/7 to provide emergency accommodation, clear roads and highways, carry out property recovery assessments and undertake utility safety checks, as well as offering support to vulnerable people. Moreover, it provided an additional £250 per property, on top of the funds committed by the Government, to relief grants to support flood victims.

I thank the firefighters who worked tirelessly to save lives, properties and communities. Despite cuts of £3.3 million, leaving them with nearly half the control operators they had in 2012, the crews on the ground went above and beyond to keep people safe. That included the touching story of two firefighters who used a large pole to hoist an elderly woman’s shopping bag through her window. If South Yorkshire fire brigade funding continues to spiral downwards, that will further limit response times and capacity to help clean up flood damage. The Government must commit to review the funding formula, to ensure the South Yorkshire fire brigade has the resources required to respond to the needs of our region.

Can the Minister reassure my constituents that action is going to be taken across the board to protect South Yorkshire communities? People from our area deserve to feel secure in the knowledge that their homes and businesses, which they have worked for their entire lives, are protected from future extreme weather events. There is more than twice as much flood investment in London and the south-east compared with the north. Quite frankly, that is a disgrace and must be acted upon immediately.

Councils across the region, such as Barnsley Council, have had their budgets slashed, restricting their ability to manage potential flood risks. Despite contributing more than £2 million over the last decade to flood protections, the lack of resources afforded to the council has left it struggling to carry out maintenance work. I welcome the council’s decision to invest an additional £1 million for the cleaning of gullies and other essential works, but it is clear that we need a fully funded, long-term investment plan that will support the communities directly affected and improve the region’s resilience to future flood events.

Without a fully integrated approach to flood defence management, reinforced by major investment and support from the Government, the homes and livelihoods of the people of South Yorkshire are at risk. A long-term catchment-wide approach will be crucial in the coming years. That will include natural flood management measures across catchment areas to slow water discharge, from trees and habitat flooding to peat bog renewal. The Mayor of Sheffield City Region and the four South Yorkshire local authorities are working in conjunction with the Environment Agency to produce a consolidated South Yorkshire-wide investment programme in our flood defences. The programme is likely to cost in excess of £200 million. We need sustained funding in flood defence infrastructure to improve the resilience of regions such as ours to climate change and escalating flooding risk.

We cannot escape the fact that climate change is directly linked to severe flood events happening more often and more severely. More needs to be done to tackle climate change and its impact. People from my area feel let down by the Government’s reaction to the crisis. It is time the Government took flood risk more seriously.

Does the hon. Lady agree that a major cause of flooding is inappropriate development on floodplains? Will she work with the cross-party group to work with local councils in Rotherham, Barnsley and Sheffield to ensure that we do not build on our floodplain?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point—one that I referred to earlier in my speech.

On the Government’s response to the crisis, the Prime Minister might have visited during the election, but he is yet to hold the flood summit that he committed to, so I ask that he make good on his promise.

I have numerous questions for the Government on helping flood victims in Barnsley and across South Yorkshire. First, will the Government commit to additional funding to support flood-damaged communities? Hundreds of households and businesses are struggling to make ends meet, and local roads and infrastructure need immediate attention. In the short term, capital funding is urgently required, from the £3 million requested by the Doncaster and Sheffield City Region Mayors to the potential resources from the EU solidarity fund or alternative Government funds, so that the ongoing effects of the floods can be dealt with. Will the Government reconsider the match funding of the South Yorkshire community fund?

Secondly, will the Government invest significantly in the coming months and years to prevent flood events such as November’s, which caused such great devastation? It means acting now to mitigate flood risk, rather than employing a sticking-plaster approach that barely deals with the damage that floods cause. Sustained investment in flood protection over the long term should be made available so that councils have the resources they need to undertake flood prevention works. It will require serious investment.

Thirdly and finally, will the Prime Minister honour his commitment to hold a flood summit that brings together regional partners and stakeholders, as well as the relevant Secretary of State, mayors and local MPs? We need to reflect on the lessons learned from the past few months and come up with a multi-agency strategy with aligned investment to plan for the future. The cameras might have stopped rolling, but to the people of Barnsley and South Yorkshire, the effects of the floods continue to be a daily reality.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, particularly as your mother resides in my constituency, so this debate has particular relevance to your family. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) on securing this important debate, and it is good to see the Minister in her place. I know she takes the issues around climate change and the climate emergency very seriously and is a sympathetic listener, as I hope she will be today.

My constituents will scrutinise the debate today very closely, because the lives of so many of them have been turned upside down as a result of the flooding that occurred in November last year. As my hon. Friend said, the whole village of Fishlake was underwater, with hundreds of families affected. A sizeable part of the village of Bentley was flooded, with people driven from their homes. Homes in Scawthorpe were similarly affected, and other parts of Doncaster, too. Nobody can really understand the effects of flooding—the fear, disruption, misery, pain—until it actually happens to them or they see it with their own eyes. Doncaster Council estimates that 1,500 people have been affected, either driven from their homes or flooded. That is 1,500 stories of pain and loss. Then there are the businesses whose livelihoods have been damaged: 141 in Doncaster alone. As my hon. Friend said, what makes it even worse for some in my constituency, in Bentley and in Scawthorpe, is that this is the second time it has happened to them. It happened in 2007 as well. They thought, and they believed they had been told, that it would never happen again.

I want to put on the record my thanks to the emergency services and all public sector workers for the extraordinary job that they did: the firefighters from all parts of the country, the police, ambulance staff, the Environment Agency, local councillors and council staff who worked all day and all night; the Salvation Army, who offered temporary accommodation; railway workers who cleared lines; the Army and the RAF, who were eventually called in to help with the crisis. The private sector also stepped up with food, clothing and cleaning supplies. Indeed, people across the country provided donations.

Above all, it is right on this occasion to single out the heroism of the communities in Doncaster for the solidarity that they showed. The people of Fishlake kept the place going, even while it was underwater, including the local pub, the Hare and Hounds. The people of Bentley Town End rallied round each other with a makeshift hub of a local business, Custom Windows and Doors. The people of Stainforth and Moorends in my constituency—villages largely unaffected by the floods—worked day and night to get supplies into nearby Fishlake when it was cut off. Indeed, people across Doncaster helped. The people of Doncaster have set the benchmark for what solidarity looks like. The task now is for us in the House, the Government, insurers and others to do the same.

I want to raise questions similar to my hon. Friend’s. I have five sets of issues that I want to put to the Minister. First, I want to ask about Government help for people who were flooded, including for the uninsured and those with insurance excesses, which can be as high as £7,500 in one case that I know about; and for people who find that they have small print in their insurance policy, which means they have not been covered. The Prime Minister rang me on 12 November, a few days after the flooding began, to ask what were the big issues, and I emphasised insurance in my response. I said that although some people would say it is a moral hazard to help out people who did not have insurance, that ignored the fact that many people could not even get affordable insurance because they had been flooded before. They were offered exorbitant premiums to get themselves insured after the flooding of 2007. He assured me that he would override any objections and would make sure people were properly helped.

On the Flood Re scheme that was introduced to try to deal with the problem of people who could not access insurance because they had previously been flooded, is it not time now to have a proper review of how the scheme is working, because several groups are not covered by it? It has not helped some of my hon. Friend’s constituents at all.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I was going to mention the Flood Re scheme, of which awareness is very low. I think I am right in saying it does not cover businesses; it covers residential properties. There is a real problem. People find they cannot get insurance with a private company, but they do not even get told about Flood Re and are not aware of it.

The Prime Minister went on to say publicly:

“I know there will be people who are worrying about the damage to their homes, who will be worried about the insurance situation, worried about the losses they face. All I want to say to those people is that there are schemes to cover those losses.”

That is the context in which we should see the up to £1 million that the Government are offering the South Yorkshire community foundation. Any money is of course welcome, but all the evidence is that that money is not enough. According to Doncaster Council, the cost of helping the 188 uninsured or underinsured properties is estimated at an average of £31,000 per property, or nearly £6 million. That is the figure for Doncaster alone. Will the Minister explain how the Government intend to keep to the Prime Minister’s promise and his public statement that there are schemes to cover the losses? If she cannot explain, can she signal today that she is willing to look again at the amount required with the relevant local authorities?

Even worse than the amount of money being given is that the Government have said that they will pay out the £1 million only if match funds are found. I do not believe it was the Minister’s decision, but that really is an insult. More than £500,000 has been raised from local businesses and people. Are the Government really saying that unless the amount raised gets to £1 million, they will not pay out the promised money? In other words, the less money is raised from other sources, the less money the Government will provide to help the victims. It makes no sense. Let us imagine a disaster happening overseas in a developing country. If the Government said they would contribute only if the host country found matching funds, there would rightly be outrage. We are not talking about large sums here. I simply ask the Minister to make sure that the Prime Minister’s promises are kept, and that more money is provided.

Secondly, I want to raise some specific questions about the targeted payments for families, where the Government again need to look at what they are doing. There are council tax rebates for people who have lost half their home and are living upstairs, and that is welcome, but there is a limit on those payments of three months. The council tax rebate scheme ends on 7 February—a wholly arbitrary cut-off date, because there are still people living upstairs because the work has not been done, through no fault of their own.

There is also the issue of the flood resilience grant of £5,000 to prevent future flooding. I have constituents who live in areas that were flooded and who may have narrowly avoided being flooded themselves, and they are being told they are not eligible for the grant, but the measure is preventive and they are clearly in areas of risk, because the areas were not just flooded in 2019, but in 2007 as well. I ask the Minister to consider taking a common-sense approach, so that those in flood-hit areas are eligible.

Thirdly, I want to raise significant issues about the performance of insurance companies. I acknowledge that some insurers have acted speedily, including drying out homes and rehousing residents, but there have been many other bad experiences, which the Minister should be aware of—slow pace of response, drying out of properties not being properly carried out, and attempts to claim that people are underinsured so they are entitled not to the full amount, but only a large fraction of it. I want also to draw attention to particular problems that have been reported to me, about RSA Insurance aggressively driving down people’s claims—something about which I have written to the company. I want the Minister’s assurance that she stands ready to engage on those questions with insurers that are failing in their duties and with the Association of British Insurers. I also want her to engage with the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) raised about Flood Re, of which there is very low awareness.

Fourthly, I echo the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East made about the large costs over and above the Bellwin scheme that councils face. Doncaster Council estimates those costs to be in the region of £4.5 million to £5 million: £4 million relates to damage to paths and highways. In that context I should like the Minister to explain—this is perhaps the week to do it—the position on the EU solidarity fund. When the 2007 floods happened, the Labour Government applied successfully and received funds to the net benefit of £31 million. When flooding hit in 2015, the Conservative Government successfully applied for £15 million-worth of funding. The recent flooding, for the avoidance of doubt, happened while we were in the European Union, and the Government have 12 weeks to apply for the funding. The deadline appears to be this Friday, coincidentally. My understanding is that all that the Government need to do is to signal an intent to apply by this Friday. I urge the Minister in the strongest terms to do that—or at least to explain why the Government will not do it, and how the money will be made up.

Fifthly and finally, I want to raise the issue of future flood defences, which my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East rightly raised. My constituents want answers. Why did what happened in 2007 happen again? How can we minimise the chances of its happening again? Will the Government put their money where their mouth is and fund what is necessary? The Environment Agency has estimated that we should be spending an average of at least £1 billion a year on flooding and coastal change infrastructure. I believe that in the last financial year £815 million was spent. My constituents deserve to be better protected, and they deserve to know that the Government will deliver. The South Yorkshire Mayor has estimated that a programme in excess of £200 million will be necessary. What does the Minister have to say about that?

Nothing can make up for the trauma that my constituents have gone through, but the Government can show that they have learned from what was, frankly, too slow a response and an inadequate response by properly resourcing the needs of our constituents at the moment, and by fulfilling the promises that have been made. I hope very much that the Minister will take heed of this debate and come back with answers for my constituents.

There is a double pleasure for me in being here this afternoon, Mr Davies—first in serving under your chairmanship and secondly in speaking for the first time from the Front Bench as the new shadow Minister for fisheries, water, coastal communities and flooding.

There may not have been many speakers in this debate, but I am sure you will agree, Mr Davies, that the calibre of the debate has been extremely high. We heard clearly and eloquently from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) about the impact in her constituency and across South Yorkshire of the floods that took place three months ago. Most of us in this place spent November 2019 knocking on doors in the coldest, most miserable general election in recent memory. However, my hon. Friend and her constituency neighbours knew it as a time of heartache, pain and loss for many in that part of the world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), whose knowledge and expertise in the area of environment and climate change is unparalleled, made a wide-ranging and comprehensive contribution to today’s debate. I trust that the Minister will take on board his points of concern.

We heard today about the more than 1,000 homes and 565 businesses affected by the floods, and the fact that many roads, bridges, train lines and stations were closed. Like my colleagues, I want to take the opportunity to extend my best wishes to all those who have been affected, and my warmest thanks to the emergency services and all the local authority staff across South Yorkshire who stepped up and provided much-needed support and assistance to those in need. They saved lives, property and communities, and they deserve the appreciation and thanks of Members from across the House.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who is no longer in her place, for the important point she made about the emotional and mental stress that affects victims following flooding incidents. I agree wholeheartedly with the point that she made. There is an emotional impact to flooding, and the NHS must have the resources to provide the support that people may need.

The biggest obstacle to providing a proper flood strategy for South Yorkshire and the UK more generally is the fact that the Government just do not seem to take flooding and its consequences seriously. To restore trust for the people of South Yorkshire a joined-up approach is required, across regional water authorities, local government and regulators, to provide a single flood plan for an area to manage flood risk and better co-ordinate the response to flooding. There is a climate emergency in this country and across our planet. We see it every day and we hear from our constituents about it every day. Our planet is getting warmer and the chance and frequency of extreme and deadly weather events and patterns increases day by day. Her Majesty’s Opposition will continue to make the case for Britain to be more prepared, as we can be through habitat restoration and by returning floodplain to a more natural state. That would help to prevent the risk of flooding and allow floodplain to absorb more water. That point was made by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) earlier in the debate.

Does the hon. Lady agree that if we had restored, as we should, more of the floodplain to natural habitat, areas such as Whiston in Rother Valley would not have been so badly affected? I am happy to work with any Members of the House to make sure that Rother Valley and places across South Yorkshire are not hit by floods again.

I agree. The hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of the local area is obviously much more detailed than mine, but I am happy to work with anybody to ensure that the floodplains do their job and absorb water more clearly and effectively. The Government cannot necessarily change or stop the global impact of climate change, but actions can be taken here by the Minister and in this Parliament to mitigate the impact of flooding on the people who live in South Yorkshire, and others across the United Kingdom.

There is an important point to be made about resources. After the floods of 2015 the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said the immortal words, “Money is no object”. If only the actions of his and the current Government matched those words. Austerity has had a devastating impact on our environment. There have been unprecedented cuts to the budgets of local authorities across the country, including South Yorkshire. There have also been cuts to organisations such as Natural England and the Environment Agency. Staffing levels at the Environment Agency have fallen by around 20% since the Tories came to power in 2010. Natural England has had its budget slashed by more than half, from £242 million in the last year of the Labour Government to just £100 million in 2017-18, resulting in the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. All of that has seriously undermined the ability of the United Kingdom to tackle the environmental crisis facing our country and to deal with the impact of climate change more generally. I say to the Minister that we have no time to waste, because flooding is not going to go away, so we need a comprehensive plan for every community at risk of flooding.

I should like the Minister to address several specific points. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North asked, what funding will the Minister make available to local councils to deal with flooding incidents? Secondly, does the Minister agree that there needs to be a multi-organisational approach to responding to floods? Thirdly, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor ahead of the Budget on 11 March about increased funding for the Environment Agency? Finally, I welcome the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East about the idea of a flood summit that will bring key stakeholders together. I support those calls wholeheartedly.

Lessons must be learned, and the people affected must be listened to. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East gave voice to the people in her area and across South Yorkshire today. The Minister, I hope, will give them and my hon. Friend the respect they all deserve by acting now.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Davies.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) on securing this debate on flooding in South Yorkshire. She has spoken up passionately for her local constituents about this. I am well aware of the terrible impact that flooding can have not only on communities, homes and businesses, but on individuals—on people and their wellbeing. I have experienced that myself, coming as I do from Somerset and having been very involved in the flooding that happened in 2012-13.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) talked about how the people in his constituency rose to the occasion and set the bar in rallying together. That is also what the people of Somerset did, so I thank all those people for their involvement. That brings me on to say early in my speech that I know the whole House will join me in thanking all those people who have been involved in the emergency services and helping people in those situations: the police, the fire brigade, the Environment Agency and all those who respond at such times. We are very grateful to them.

As the hon. Member for Barnsley East said, heavy rain fell and flooding took place across parts of south Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire from a weather front that was sitting over Yorkshire on 7 and 8 November last year. More than 2,500 properties were flooded, including 850 in Doncaster alone. The autumn of 2019 was the wettest on record in the Don catchment, so it truly was an unusual weather incident.

By the start of November the ground was already saturated, standing water was widespread and river and reservoir levels were extremely high. Further persistent rain fell over the Don catchment area in south Yorkshire, exceeding 150% of the average November rainfall in the area. That rain shed rapidly off the already saturated land and river levels rose in response.

The Environment Agency swung into action, issuing seven severe flood warnings along the River Don, indicating a risk to life. The agency has an exceedingly well-functioning system for such warnings. Rotherham and Doncaster experienced the highest river flows on record, which had a devastating impact on communities, as defences were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of water overtopping on to the surrounding land. As we have heard, emergency responders evacuated 1,200 properties, or around 1,600 people, in Bentley and Fishlake.

I know that this will be of little comfort to those who were flooded, but around 22,275 properties nationwide were protected by flood defences in November, including nearly 7,000 properties in Yorkshire alone. To put that into context, in the previously mentioned 2007 floods in South Yorkshire, which were of a similar magnitude, around 6,750 properties and 1,300 businesses were flooded. That demonstrates that defence work carried out after the 2007 incident made a difference, with fewer people affected and fewer properties flooded. That is not to take lightly at all what happened this time around, but it is to put it in a bit of context, lest people think no action has been taken.

Needless to say, while it was all devastating, I understand that 90% of those people have been safely returned to their homes, although they still face months of disruption. Sadly, I must report the death of one woman in Matlock, who was caught in flood waters in the early hours of 8 November. That demonstrates how flooding is a real threat to life—a threat that we should never ignore.

The Government responded very quickly to activate support for the local areas affected, so I take issue with accusations being levelled against the Government that action was not quite taken quickly enough. I believe it was taken extremely fast and a whole raft of measures were set into place. I will outline them all, because I have time.

The Bellwin scheme was activated to help local authorities with the immediate costs of mitigating the impacts of flooding, including urgent things such as rest centres, temporary accommodation and staff overtime. That particular Bellwin scheme is for just those emergency things, and it was activated here. There were three Cobra meetings, three at official and two at ministerial level, to assess impacts and oversee the Government’s flood recovery role. The flood recovery network was triggered and six grants were made available.

I will outline what the flood recovery network is, because I am not sure that hon. Friends and hon. Members know quite enough about it. It was developed following lessons learned from the 2015-16 floods, which were also severe. The network contains a range of funding measures to enable the Government to be ready to respond to major flooding incidents. I have been asked a number of times about the EU fund, but we are leaving the EU, and we have our own framework for putting into operation a whole raft of measures, which I will touch on in a minute.

The Government activated this framework for the first time in on 12 November, as a result of the incidents that we have heard about today, through collaborative agreement across Departments—it was not just the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—and announced a series of measures to support the recovery of communities and businesses. The November floods triggered the framework by meeting the agreed criteria: the impact must be widespread over multiple locations, with 25 or more houses severely affected in each district. It is worth noting that weather incidents with localised impacts will not usually trigger this very broad recovery support package.

The flood recovery package includes six grants. The first is the community recovery grant, under which those severely flooded are eligible for £500 per household. Secondly, the Government will reimburse local authorities for the cost of a 100% council tax discount for a minimum of three months, or longer if floodwater entered their home or their home was otherwise considered unliveable for any period of time, and for the cost of a 100% council tax discount on temporary accommodation for anyone unable to return to their home.

Thirdly, the Government will reimburse local authorities for the cost of providing 100% relief from business rates for a minimum of three months, or longer if the business is unable to resume trading from the property. Fourthly, the business recovery grant offers financial support of £2,500 per eligible business for recovering local small and medium-sized enterprises. Fifthly, DEFRA triggered the farming recovery fund and announced it would make up to £2 million available to hard-hit farmers in south Yorkshire. That fund had already been applied to parts of north Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

Sixthly, the DEFRA property flood resilience scheme provides up to £5,000 to help people to make their properties more resilient in future. Eligible local authorities—that is, authorities with more than 25 houses affected—are in the process of working with communities to enable them to make adaptations to their homes and businesses as part of the repairs to protect against possible future flooding. In addition to those funds, the Government are also committed to matching the funds raised by the South Yorkshire Flood Disaster Relief appeal fund up to the value of £1 million, as referred to by the hon. Member for Barnsley East.

I do not want to pre-empt the Minister, because she might be going on to mention this, but the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and I made was about the matched funding. We simply do not believe that it is fair. Can she commit today not to match funding, but to give the money that is required? Is our understanding correct that, if our local residents raise what currently stands at half a million pounds, the Government will match just that, or does the fund have to reach £1 million before the Government pay out? Can she not just scrap the matched funding and give us the money we need?

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I have listed a very large range of packages that were swung into action. Perhaps her councils are still discussing and talking to our officials about those, and I recommend that they continue to do so. I commend her local people for raising the money, and she can write to me about that afterwards, but I think that at the moment that matched funding stands, as it says, up to the value of £1 million.

I will carry on, because I want to talk about Flood Re, which was raised earlier and is an important issue. Flood Re was launched in 2016 to improve the availability and affordability of household insurance for people who live in high flood risk areas, and it has made an enormous difference. Flood Re was set up as a result of learning from what had happened in previous flooding situations, when people reported that they could not get the right insurance. Indeed, many people from my own area of Somerset fed into the setting up and the working of Flood Re.

In the 2018-19 financial year, Flood Re reinsured more than 164,000 household policies, and 250,000 properties have benefited since its launch. Before its introduction, only 9% of householders who had made prior flood claims could get quotes from two or more insurers, as was commonly highlighted, and none were able to get quotes from five or more. However, since October 2017, after the setting up of Flood Re, the availability has improved so that 100% of households could get quotes from two or more insurers, while 93% could get quotes from five or more. By May 2019, 95% of those with flood claims could choose from at least 10 insurers, with 99% receiving quotes from five or more, which shows that the system is working.

The right hon. Member for Doncaster North mentioned some people reporting that they are unable to get insurance, and there are anecdotal reports that there was no flood insurance in Fishlake, Bentley and Doncaster. The Secretary of State announced a review into what happened there, why it was not available and all those things, and I look forward to its findings. We want Flood Re to function effectively, so I am happy to meet colleagues to go over issues about how it is working and how to make it work better.

I welcome what the Minister says about Flood Re, but I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East. I know that the Minister cannot commit to making this money available today, but I ask her to go with us a little bit on the logic of this. If only half a million pounds is raised from local people and businesses, less money will be available for flood victims. It makes no sense, when up to £1 million has been allocated, for the Government to then say that they are only going to give half a million pounds. As I said earlier, that would not be acceptable if we were helping a developing country, and it should not be acceptable here at home. I know the money was originally from Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government resources, so will she go and talk to her MHCLG colleagues about this and about actually getting the money out of the door? South Yorkshire’s Community Foundation has not yet received even the half a million pounds to get the scheme going.

I recommend that hon. Members go to MHCLG themselves to raise this issue. I have put my case for the amount of finance coming through in the flood recovery package. I will leave that there, but I am listening to what hon. Members say, and I commend the people raising the money.

The Government have absolutely committed to investing in flood risk, to the tune of £2.6 billion, and continue to play a key role in protecting the people affected. Talking about MHCLG, the right hon. Gentleman raised new houses on flood plains and the increase in flooding risk, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford). Planning authorities are responsible for giving the go-ahead for new housing, and they always seek Environment Agency advice on all these things, but planning also comes under MHCLG.

On insurance, the Minister knows that Whiston, in Rother Valley, was affected by flooding in November. Can she guarantee that, under Flood Re, those people affected by flooding will be able to get insurance in the future?

I hear what my hon. Friend says about his constituency. I urge all those constituents to go to insurers themselves. A huge number of insurers now offer flood cover. That is why Flood Re was set up. There is a bona fide system, and I urge those constituents to go through it.

While the Government are committing money, partnerships will also form a key part of delivering our flood resilience. Partnership funding is expected to attract more than £600 million of additional investment, as well as funding more than 1,000 flood defence schemes to better protect 300,000 homes. Lots of these partnerships are already demonstrating that they are working well across the country.

Of course, it is not just about urban areas. The Government’s investment will also better protect 700,000 acres of agricultural land, which is really important, too. That will help to avoid more than £1.5 billion of direct economic damage to agriculture, which will then benefit surrounding rural communities.

Lest not spending enough on flood schemes in South Yorkshire is levelled at the Government, of that £2.6 billion, £36 million has been allocated to flood schemes in South Yorkshire to better protect 6,480 homes. To name a few of the schemes, the Environment Agency is investing—over a six-year investment period between 2015 and 2021—£12.5 million in the Sheffield Lower Don valley flood scheme, to protect businesses in South Yorkshire, and £9.7 million in the Bentley pumping station refurbishment, which is currently well advanced. I believe that the right hon. Member for Doncaster North visited it, so he can report back that it is progressing well and is due to complete the summer of 2020, reducing the risk to potentially 1,669 residential properties, which is not insignificant. In addition, £8 million is being spent refurbishing existing defences, with nine locations already completed, reducing the risk to a further 3,772 properties.

The Minister mentioned £36 million, but it is estimated that a long-term strategy across the four boroughs in South Yorkshire will cost in excess of £200 million, so £36 million is clearly not enough money. What can she do to reassure us that that extra money will come forward?

The hon. Lady leads me neatly on to my next point. I am confident that the Environment Agency, working together—it is constantly working with the councils and all the different bodies—with the South Yorkshire lead flood authorities and Sheffield city region, which are, I am pleased to say, using a very wide catchment approach, will find the additional funding needed to secure a strong plan. Several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley, referred to the need for that, which pleased me. I know that everyone is keen that we have joined-up thinking on this, and I suggest that affected MPs from South Yorkshire meet me to talk about this and see what the overall picture is.

In the meantime, the Government are of course looking at funding arrangements and needs beyond 2021, when this funding window ends. We will continue to work with the Environment Agency and others to consider future investment needs and the role of Government in supporting resilient communities. In addition to what I call conventional flood defence mechanisms, a wide range of other mechanisms are being used, and will increasingly be used, to reduce flooding, using a catchment approach, and particularly nature-based approaches. The right hon. Member for Doncaster North is vociferous on climate change—absolutely rightly; we have done much work together on that front. This is all interlinked with that agenda and will help towards the whole climate change issue.

On funding, we recognise where deprivation is highest through higher payments when flood money is handed out. That is obviously important in urban and rural areas. Obviously, climate change, which will give us more extreme weather events and impacts on the environment, is a crucial national priority, and also a really important international priority. The UK is already demonstrating that we are leading the fight on this, and we are delivering our world-leading target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, adapting to the inevitable changes brought about by climate change is vital. We are taking robust action to improve the resilience of our people, our economy and our environment through investment, not least through the commitment of £2.6 billion over six years to better protect communities from flooding and erosion.

This has been an insightful and useful debate, and I thank all the contributors. Thank you, Mr Davies, for overseeing our proceedings. I end by again thanking all the services that swing into action when there is flooding to help to protect us all.

I thank the Minister for her response to the debate and I thank all the hon. Members who took part, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), on the Front Bench, and especially my good and right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). As he closed his speech by saying, nothing can make up for the experiences of the people of Barnsley and South Yorkshire. It is incumbent on us in this place to do what we can to ensure that they do not have to go through that again.

A number of important issues were raised about the support that can be given to our constituents, about insurance premiums and people who are not covered, and about the support for some businesses and groups not being enough. One example in my constituency is a local community football club. It suffered damage to fencing, to the pitch and to facilities, and it is crowdfunding because it just has not been able to receive the support that it needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) mentioned that mental health support in the NHS is also crucial.

We have therefore talked about many different and important issues. I appreciate and acknowledge the various schemes that the Minister mentioned. That support is of course welcome, but I am still concerned about the issue of match funding and I hope that the Minister will respond to a letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North and me. The issue about match funding is important, because it is in the context of both local, regional Mayors saying that £3 million is required, which means that the match funding would not be enough even if it were to reach £1 million.

I welcome what the Minister said about long-term investment. The money that she outlined added up to about £36 million. However, it is clear that a lot more of that is needed, and I hope that the four authorities, along with the Environment Agency, can ensure we have a plan that is well funded.

I really welcome the Minister’s offer to meet us, but I would like to pick up on the issue of a flood summit. The Prime Minister spoke, during the general election campaign, to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and assured him that he would hold a flood summit. That was nearly three months ago, but the Prime Minister has not convened that group, so I hope that the Minister will relay to the Prime Minister that he made that commitment to bring together all the stakeholders. I hope that he will show that his Government are serious about that, and that the flood summit will be held in the near future.

I thank everyone for taking part in the debate. I hope that we can move forward and ensure that people in Barnsley and in South Yorkshire get the support that they really need.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered flooding in South Yorkshire.

Sitting adjourned.