With permission, I will make a statement to the House on the recent flooding caused by Storm Dennis, which followed Storm Ciara and affected many parts of the country.
I would like to begin by extending my condolences to the families and friends of the five individuals who sadly lost their lives as a result of these storms. I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with those grieving families today. Our thoughts are also with those who have suffered damage to their properties as a result of the storms. To have one’s home flooded is an incredibly traumatic experience, and I am conscious that some have flooded repeatedly over recent years.
Storm Dennis cleared the UK during the course of Monday 17 February. However, this remains a live incident, and I would urge people in at-risk areas to remain vigilant. We are monitoring the situation closely, and most areas are moving into recovery phase. However, rainfall over the past few days is still leading to higher water levels, so we will continue to see effects this week.
Communities have been affected across our Union. We have had an incredibly wet winter. Some areas have already received almost double their average rainfall for February, with others experiencing a month’s worth of rain in just 24 hours. Records have been broken. Eighteen river gauges across 15 rivers recorded their highest levels on record during or triggered by Storms Ciara and Dennis, including the Colne, the Ribble, the Calder, the Aire, the Trent, the Severn, the Wye, the Lugg and the Derwent. Storm Ciara flooded over 1,340 properties, and the latest number of properties affected by Storm Dennis stands at over 1,400. Wales has also seen significant impacts, and we are in close contact with the Welsh Government.
In anticipation of the storm, we stood up the national flood response centre on Friday 14 February. The scale of the response has been huge, from setting up temporary defences to knocking on doors and issuing residents with warnings. The Environment Agency issued 343 flood warnings for Storm Ciara and 514 for Storm Dennis. On 17 February, we saw a record concurrent total of 632 flood warnings and alerts issued in a single day. Two severe flood warnings, 107 flood warnings and 207 flood alerts remain in place in England. There are also an additional 13 flood warnings and 39 flood alerts that remain in place in Wales, and one flood warning in Scotland.
We have been sharing information with the public so that people can prepare for flooding wherever they live. We have deployed over 3 miles of temporary flood barriers and 90 mobile pumps, and we have been keeping structures and rivers clear of debris. Over 1,000 Environment Agency staff per day have been deployed, with the assistance of about 80 military personnel. In Yorkshire, the military helped to deploy temporary defences in Ilkley and kept the road open between Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge in Calderdale. I would like to record my thanks to all the response teams, including the Environment Agency, local authorities, our emergency services and the military. They are all still working hard, with over 20 Government bodies, local authorities and volunteers at work across the country.
The Government acted swiftly to activate the Bellwin scheme to help local authorities cope with the cost of response in the immediate aftermath. On Tuesday 18 February, we also triggered the flood recovery framework to help communities get back on their feet. I am working alongside the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to help households and businesses recover. This includes making available hardship payments and council tax and business rate relief. Households and businesses will also be able to access grants of up to £5,000 to help to make them more resilient to future flooding, and a ministerial recovery group is co-ordinating efforts across Government. Storms Ciara and Dennis affected thousands of acres of farmland, so we will consider the need to extend the farming recovery fund once we have all the necessary data.
Investments made in recent years have significantly improved our resilience, but there is much more to do. We are investing £2.6 billion in flood defences, with over 1,000 flood defence schemes to better protect 300,000 homes by 2021. To put this into context, in the floods of 2007, 55,000 properties were flooded, but with similar volumes of water in place this year, thankfully far fewer properties have been flooded, and flood defence schemes have protected over 90,000 properties in England this winter. Our manifesto commits us to a further £4 billion in new funding for flood defences over the next five years.
Since the incidents of 2015, we have strengthened and improved our system of flood warnings, and in 2016 we introduced the Flood Re scheme, so that insurance cover for floods is accessible for at-risk properties. An independent review of the data on insurance cover will help us to ensure that it is working as effectively as possible.
Of course, we recognise that none of these steps will take away the anguish of those who have suffered flooding in the most recent storms. Climate change is making the UK warmer and wetter, with more frequent extreme weather events. We need to make nature’s power part of our solution, alongside traditional engineered defences. We are already investing £10 million to restore our peatland habitats, planting enough trees to cover an area the size of East Anglia, with a new £640 million nature for climate fund, and supporting farmers to be part of our plans to prevent flooding through the new environmental land management scheme, to reduce and delay peak flows in our landscapes.
Later this year, we will set out our policies to tackle flooding in the long term, and the Environment Agency will publish the updated flood and coasts strategy. This country will also lead global ambitions on climate change as the host of COP26 later this year, urging the world to achieve net zero in a way that helps nature recover, reduces global warming and addresses the causes of these extreme weather events. I commend this statement to the House.
I would like to thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement and welcome him to his role. I have a lot of time for my fellow west country MP. I regard him as decent and competent, and I look forward to working with him. To be fair, this is a much better statement than the one the Government made only a few weeks ago about Storm Ciara, but not enough is being done. Simply explaining what has happened does not stop it happening again.
On behalf of the Opposition, I want to send my condolences to the families who have seen loved ones die as a result of Storms Ciara and Dennis. I would also like to thank the emergency services, the Environment Agency, local councils, volunteers and those who have worked tirelessly to protect homes and businesses, rescue people and animals from rising waters and fallen trees and reinforce flood defences.
It is because I have so much time for the Secretary of State that I am disappointed by the slow and pedestrian approach we have seen from Ministers since the flooding hit. Where was the Prime Minister? Where was he? Why was a Cobra meeting not convened? Why was there no national leadership from this Government? Why have the Welsh Government and communities in Wales not received the same extra support as those in England?
During the general election, the Prime Minister reluctantly visited flood-hit communities to win votes—he was out with his mop, pushing water around shops. But now that he has his majority, he is nowhere to be seen; he is missing in action. He was taking a break in a mansion in Kent instead of giving our nation the leadership that those communities under water genuinely deserve.
We know that the climate crisis means that we will see more extreme weather more often, and the consequences will be felt most by the communities that are most vulnerable. Since Parliament has declared a climate emergency, it is clear that the Government need to do things differently, but they are not yet, and I say to the Environment Secretary that that needs to change. I want the Government to wake up to the reality that more extreme weather will happen more often. It is not a one-off incident—these are not freak accidents. This is the world in which we live, and we need to have a proper plan for flooding that will address the causes and help the communities that are under water.
That plan needs to match the scale of the crisis, with proper funding, reversing austerity cuts and ensuring that funding is available to those areas that suffer the most—a new plan not bound by match funding rules that discriminate against poorer areas compared with more affluent ones. It must look at catchment management; upstream solutions, to ensure that we hold more water upstream; tree planting and hitting tree planting targets; a new role for our farmers and water companies; and banning burning on peatlands. It must resource our emergency services fairly, and importantly, the councils that carry the highest flood risk should be adequately recognised in the local government spending review. In short, we need a plan that recognises the climate crisis, and we must act before it is too late.
We need to move away from building homes on floodplains. Banning building on floodplains makes sense, but it depends on our definition of a floodplain. Most of London is in a floodplain, so let us be clear about the immediate need to ban building on vulnerable floodplains, where rising waters are a genuine risk. Will the Government continue to allow house building on vulnerable floodplains, against the advice of experts? What extra steps will the Government take to listen to the communities that have been devastated by two successive storms? Will the Government allow homes built after 2009—especially those on floodplains—to be covered under the Flood Re reinsurance scheme, since they are not at the moment? We cannot build flood defences with austerity or Government press releases, so by what date will the Government have reversed the austerity cuts to flood defence schemes that Conservative Members so enthusiastically voted for in the past?
I wish the Environment Secretary a very long and prosperous stay in his new job, but I offer him this one piece of advice. Every time homes flood, every time the Prime Minister is missing in action and every time Government press releases outweigh Government action, I will ask him to act. Today, therefore, I ask the Environment Secretary for a new plan for flooding, a new approach to reverse austerity cuts to flood defence schemes, and a proper investigation into these floods, which carries the confidence of communities currently under water, so that lessons can be learned and homes protected from the inevitable flooding that will happen again.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his kind words and for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box. There is much he said that I can agree with, and indeed that was contained in my statement, but there are obviously some things that I cannot agree with.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, in a Government, we have a Cabinet with Cabinet Ministers who lead on particular issues. When the Prime Minister appointed me a week ago last Thursday, the first thing we discussed was the upcoming Storm Dennis. We discussed how we would approach it, and he made it clear then that he wanted me to lead on this. That is entirely right, and it is entirely right as well that a statement such as this one on these issues should be led by me as the Secretary of State.
The hon. Gentleman asked why we did not stand up Cobra. The reason is that we stood up the national flood response centre, which is also hosted by the Cabinet Office. It is a similar mechanism to Cobra, but dedicated to flood response, engaging all the relevant authorities necessary to address a flood incident.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the devolved Administrations, including Wales. Flood response is a devolved matter, but I can tell him that on the day the flood events took place, DEFRA and the Environment Agency were immediately offering mutual aid to the Welsh Government, should they need it. We offered what help they would need in order to respond.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about the fact that extreme weather events are becoming more common. Indeed they are, and that is why we are committing an additional £4 billion over the next five years. I also agree with him that we need to be looking at nature-based solutions—natural dams and floodplains, and tree planting upland to try to hold water upland so that it does not get into our urban areas.
On the issue of building on floodplains, the Environment Agency is already a statutory consultee, and in the overwhelming majority of cases local government follows the recommendations of the Environment Agency. Sometimes that will involve not building in areas where there are floodplains, but an outright ban on building on all floodplains would prevent the expansion of the majority of our lowland towns and cities. In some cases, the advice of the Environment Agency will be that it is okay to build on them, provided it is an appropriate development and designed in a way that manages flood risk.
In Scotland, we do not build housing or allow developments on floodplains. Flooding has become an all too familiar story in this place, and listening to the stories about individuals, businesses and communities devastated by the effect of flooding is indeed heartbreaking. I have listened to everything that has gone on, and when I was chair of the all-party group on flood prevention in this place, we heard story after story about the devastation caused to local communities. I, too, praise the courage, knowledge and professionalism of the rescue services. Dealing with the impact of flooding seems to be a never-ending story for them in this country.
As the former chair of the all-party group, I heard this narrative and I visited places affected. I visited the constituency of the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), and saw how a local medical centre could not afford insurance. The insurance premium went up to something like £400,000, and it could not move. These things were all too common, and people were left bewildered, not knowing who to turn to. In Scotland, we know who to turn to if we have an immediate need. The problem in England is that it is still following the same path as it was before.
I resigned from the all-party group on flood prevention; my friend the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) has now taken over that role, and I wish her all the best. But to listen to businesses and communities that have been devastated by flooding is a never-ending, heartbreaking story. That group carried out a lot of good work; we saw Flood Re introduced and new products that are supposed to prevent or control water ingress into houses, but nothing much seems to have changed since all that happened.
Where is the Prime Minister? He is reportedly avoiding the flooded areas so as not to detract from communities’ situations—or the Secretary of State’s situation, as we heard earlier—but, as has been said, that did not stop him turning up and holding emergency briefings in the run-up to the election. So where is he?
That is in contrast to our First Minister in Scotland. She has visited hard-hit communities; she is not feart to have difficult conversations with anyone. The SNP Government will continue to work with and support our local authorities. We have committed about £42 million each year through the local government capital grant, helping our communities invest in flood protection measures. This Prime Minister said recently he would rather die in a ditch. That flooded ditch is now a castle moat he is hiding behind—not so our First Minister.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for updating us on the steps that the Scottish Government have taken. Scotland has been less severely affected than other parts of the country by the recent floods, but there have been some effects—there have been some flooding incidents.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about insurance. As I said, we have introduced the Flood Re insurance scheme to ensure that people with properties who were unable to get access to insurance because of a flood risk are now able to.
Order. I remind the House that, as we said in the last statement, statements are followed by questions, not speeches. We must have short questions; it will not harm the Minister or the Chair if we have long questions and speeches, but it will harm the people who do not get a chance to be called, so I ask for some courtesy and brevity.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his new post; it is well deserved.
Flooding is going on and it comes very suddenly, so we will have to manage it in the future. Some rivers need to be slowed down, and for some we need to increase the flow as they get to the sea.
With Flood Re, there is a cut-off date of 2008. Many people who bought houses after 2008 cannot necessarily get insurance. It is time that we looked at that again, because Flood Re has worked but many people cannot actually get access to it.
I am conscious of the point that my hon. Friend makes, and indeed that was made to me by residents when I visited York with the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) at the weekend. For houses built in recent years, we have known about potential flood risk, and that should have been factored in in the planning system. So it would be rather extraordinary for there to be modern-built houses where the risk is so high that they cannot get insurance.
A quarter of all the families who were affected across the whole of the United Kingdom were in one local authority in Wales, Rhondda Cynon Taf, including my own patch. Many of those people, in very poor communities, have no insurance because they have to choose between putting food on the table and paying the insurance bill, so they have lost literally every single thing that they had. We have a massive bill for the local authority of more than £30 million just to put the culverts right, to dredge the rivers and to sort out the bridges that have fallen into the rivers. That is twice the capital funding allocation for the whole council for a year. We need money from the Government. We do not want talk of mutual aid; we need money and we need it now.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that flooding and response to floods is a devolved matter and therefore in the first instance is a matter for the Welsh Government, but I am aware that he and others have raised some concerns about funding, and of course if the Welsh Government were to approach my colleagues in the Wales Office that is something that could be considered.
After the 2015 floods, we battled to get a wider catchment plan for the Calder Valley put in place, including grip blocking, reservoirs being reduced, leaky dams being addressed and tree planting. Some of those measures have been put in place, but that has been done by hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, and it is not enough. With climate change, we really are just toying with this. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and some volunteers to see the benefits of a more robust investment plan for the Calder Valley from Government in some of those measures?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, and I am of course more than willing to meet him, other residents and local authority leaders in Calder Valley. I have also undertaken to hold a summit in Yorkshire to discuss flood concerns more generally. There are a number of important projects in the Calder Valley, including at Hebden Bridge and Brighouse. Some of them have concluded, while others have not yet been completed, for reasons that I know he is aware of.
Cobra met twice on Boxing day in 2015 and again on 27 December. It was instrumental in unlocking the funding and resources we needed to recover in the Calder Valley. Whatever was stepped up this time was absolutely not comparable in providing the practical help we needed very quickly in Calderdale on this occasion. Can the Secretary of State tell me when the guidance on grants for resilience will be made available to local authorities? Will he confirm that those grants will be available for those who flooded in 2015 and claimed then, but have since flooded again?
We will, during the course of this week, be issuing local authorities with more detailed guidance on the flood resilience fund. Our view at the moment is not to give it to people who have already claimed it, since they have already invested to make their homes more resilient.
Herefordshire was very hard hit. I want my local authority to focus on making good some of the terrible damage we have suffered, rather than getting its Bellwin application in by 15 March. Will the Secretary of State do all he can to ensure that local authorities are doing what they are meant to be doing, rather than claiming the money? Will he make sure that Herefordshire does not miss out on the farming recovery fund, like it did last time?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but a lot of local authorities will say that they need access to that money, or at least to know that they will be able to reclaim some of their new burden costs, in order to make precisely the response he talks of.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the horrendous and unprecedented flooding that hit my constituency of Pontypridd last week. Our area has never before been hit with the flooding and landslides we have seen. My community and local authority simply could not have prepared for this amount of rainfall and devastation. Does he agree that we urgently need better protections? Will he fund an urgent review of all former coalmining sites in the south Wales area and bring forward the necessary funding to ensure the safety of all our communities?
No, it’s not!
Flood response and dealing with the result of floods is a devolved matter, but we have arrangements across the UK to support one another when one area is particularly affected. If the hon. Lady would like to write to me with her suggestions, I will be more than happy to discuss them with colleagues in the Welsh Government.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and pay tribute to the emergency services, who have worked across our country to bring relief in these very difficult times. Parts of my constituency are subject to a groundwater flood alert issued by the Environment Agency. Groundwater flooding is a hidden threat. Can he confirm that the Environment Agency will continue to regularly monitor boreholes in areas subject to groundwater flooding, so that residents can have confidence that they will receive proper and timely alerts?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Environment Agency is monitoring groundwater levels very closely. It has been an extraordinarily wet winter, with land waterlogged and the water table already very high, so there will be parts of the country where groundwater flooding remains a risk.
I thank the staff at City of York Council, the Environment Agency and the BBC, who have been a lifeline to my constituents. Will the Secretary of State now review the contracts the Environment Agency has with the people providing the flood resilience schemes? It is four years since the Boxing day floods and businesses as well as properties have again been flooded. We need to have those contracts reviewed.
I was pleased to be able to visit the hon. Lady’s constituency on Sunday, when this was one of the matters we discussed. There has been some frustration that the flood resilience programme has not been delivered as quickly as possible there, but she will be aware that we have been reviewing the performance of some contractors. The worst of all worlds is for us to spend money on putting in place measures that then prove to be ineffective due to cowboy contractors.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in recording my gratitude to the teams from the Environment Agency, the emergency services, local councils and the amazing volunteer groups, such as the Appleby emergency response group in my constituency, who have been working around the clock to protect people and their properties from flooding?
I am more than happy to join my hon. Friend in commending the Environment Agency staff, local authority staff and our emergency services, including the fire brigade and the police, all of whom have been working incredibly hard to protect people in their homes and, if necessary, to assist them in evacuation.
My constituents have been battered by gale-force winds and rain for the last three weekends, resulting in localised flooding of the River Eden. This is not normal; it is the result of inaction on a climate emergency that is only going to get worse. Urgent action beyond that outlined in the Minister’s statement is required, so will the Government look to moving forward the net zero target to help to prevent the climate change disaster that is blighting our communities?
We have made more progress than any other OECD country in decarbonising our economy to date. We are the first major economy to commit to net zero by 2050 and, later this year, we will, of course, be hosting COP26. This is a Government who take climate change very seriously, and it is the case that extreme weather events such as we have seen are linked to climate change.
I thank my right hon. Friend very much for his statement. I congratulate him on his new post and on the measured manner in which he has made public statements, and thank his colleagues for triggering the Bellwin scheme. Would he agree with—and hopefully take the advice of—my constituent, Mr Bryan Edwards, who has been chairman of the Melverley drainage board, on the confluence of the Rivers Vyrnwy and the Severn, which has flooded every winter for decades? He said that we should slow it up at the top—by that, he means holding water in the hills, with more reservoirs, more planting, more trees and more adaptation to soil—and speed it up at the bottom, which means taking the example of what we did in Somerset and instructing all the hard-working people in the Environment Agency to dredge the rivers, as well as giving extensive powers to the internal drainage boards to keep ditches, waterways and smaller rivers clear.
My right hon. Friend and I were involved together in the 2014 floods—I remember that well and the incidents we had in Somerset. It is the case that we absolutely want to hold water upstream using nature-based solutions. When it comes to speeding up water downstream, it can sometimes be complicated. Sometimes, it is the right thing to do but, sometimes, if it is a very tidal area, racing water at high speed when there is an incoming tide can cause concerns, and indeed, that was one of the concerns that we had in Gloucester and Tewkesbury last week.
I should declare that I had responsibility for flood risk management in Wales up to 2010. In England, the Environment Agency requires a 8:1 return on investment in flood defences, which discriminates against the protection of low-value property. In the case of Rhondda Cynon Taf, which is particularly susceptible to flash flooding accentuated by climate change, this means a disproportionately low amount of money through the Barnett consequential is given to Wales, and we need extra money because of our topography. Will the Minister give an assurance that the extra money given to Wales is based on hardship, risk and topography, not on population and not on property values?
There is not a specific 1:8 requirement for flooding schemes—it is just that, overall, that is the average return on flood schemes. When we assess where we are going to direct capital, it is predominantly based on the flood risk of a given area and the number of homes that a particular scheme will protect.
My constituency is largely on land recovered by Dutch engineers and is therefore probably the most flood-prone constituency in the country. We have seen flooding this time on the other side of the border in Selby, due to the Aire washlands overtopping. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) is helping residents there but obviously cannot speak today from the Back Benches. I urge the Secretary of State, given the particular risk that we have in my area, to look very closely at the proposal for a national flood resilience centre in Scunthorpe. The council has done its part in providing the land. The University of Hull and the Humberside fire service are providing funding. We need the Government to step up and provide funding so that we have a proper national centre.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) asked about the Government’s responsibility for coal tips. The Coal Industry Act 1994 says the UK Government are responsible for the management of all former coal sites. Will the Secretary of State agree to investigate these sites—there have been slips in recent days—and ensure that, if funding is needed, the sites remain safe? We do not want repeats of recent history in Wales.
We are all conscious of the terrible history related to this issue. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales met the First Minister this morning and that this was one of the issues discussed. We reiterated our offer of help and there will be a joint approach to the issue of flood risk in coal areas.
The devastation in Shrewsbury, our town in Shropshire, is appalling. I hope the Secretary of State will take time out of his busy diary to see the extent of the misery my town is facing. I wrote to him today asking him to visit Shropshire to meet local Environment Agency staff and Shropshire Council, as they have a long-term solution for managing the River Severn, which runs through 18 constituencies. Rather than piecemeal flood defences, which just push the problem further downstream, we need a holistic approach to managing the whole river, including through wet washland schemes.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Severn has been the most affected water catchment in this most recent event. The demountable barriers at many places along the Severn have proved crucial in preventing more properties from being flooded, but of course I am more than happy to visit Shrewsbury and his constituency to meet the local Environment Agency staff.
When the Fields estate flooded, the Llanhilleth Miners Institute sprang into action. It was a critical respite place for local people who needed help, but it also incurred high emergency costs as a result. What support will the Government provide across the UK to third sector trustees and volunteers who acted as a bridge to their community in this difficult time?
The Secretary of State has really been thrown in at the deep end. I congratulate him on his appointment. I can testify to how hard he and the local flood resilience teams have been working on this issue. The Rivers Severn, Avon and Teign always flood. We are more resilient than we were 10 years ago, but he knows that we still need some new schemes, so will he meet me as soon as possible to discuss the schemes that the Environment Agency has drafted for Tenbury Wells and Severn Stoke?
My hon. Friend’s constituency was the first hit, and one of the hardest hit, in this most recent bout of events, and I am of course willing to meet her. I am aware there is a proposed scheme for Tenbury Wells that is awaiting additional partnership finance, but I will obviously talk to her about how we can progress that.
More than four years on from the Boxing day floods in 2015, the flood defence scheme for Kirkstall in my constituency is still £23 million short of Government funding. Small businesses cannot take advantage of the Flood Re scheme and as a result many are struggling to get insurance or are paying impossibly high excesses or premiums. Will the Government look again at whether Flood Re can also apply to small businesses?
My right hon. Friend has made an important point. Under the planning system, the Environment Agency is a statutory consultee for a very good reason, and local authorities should follow its advice unless they have a very good reason not to. As I said earlier, in the overwhelming majority of cases—more than 97%—the advice of the Environment Agency is followed.
Parts of South Yorkshire were devastated by the November flooding, so I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State reiterate his commitment to a flood summit in Yorkshire. I have been asking for such a summit since November. When is it going to happen?
As we have already heard this afternoon, Shropshire has been badly hit by Storm Dennis. About half the houses affected are in my constituency, on both the River Severn and the River Teme. Upstream from Tenbury Wells, Ludlow has had floods. What we need there are flood defences similar to those that are available elsewhere on the River Severn. As we speak, householders in Bridgnorth, Clun and Shrewsbury are expecting water levels higher than those of Monday last week. That is an immediate challenge. In the aftermath of the floods, will my right hon. Friend, as he considers the next phase of flood defences, also consider towns such as Bridgnorth, Ludlow and Clun in my constituency?
Demountable defences, which can be temporarily placed alongside key rivers such as the Severn, have played an important role, but, as my right hon. Friend says, we are not out of the woods yet. Water levels will continue to rise, and some towns, including those that he mentioned, continue to be at risk.
While I understand the argument about devolved competences, extreme flooding—and it was extreme in south Wales last week—goes beyond constitutional considerations. Does the Secretary of State not agree that the allocation of resources on the basis of an outdated Barnett formula is clearly unsuitable in such extreme cases, and will he return to the House later in the week with a written statement outlining the collaboration that he has undertaken with the Welsh Government?
As I said earlier, the Secretary of State for Wales met the First Minister this morning to discuss some of these issues. As the hon. Gentleman will know, when it comes to funding matters and the Barnett formula in particular, other Departments will also have an interest.
It is, of course, wrong to build in flood risk areas, yet just this morning I took photographs—which I will send to my right hon. Friend later—of an industrial digger actually in water, preparing the land for house building. Permission had been given not by the local authority, but by a previous Secretary of State on the advice of the inspector. This is madness. Will my right hon. Friend have discussions with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to stop this from happening?
Over the last three weekends, Otley, in my constituency, has seen the worst flooding since Boxing day 2015. A £2 million alleviation scheme is due to be completed this year, but the relevant permissions from the Environment Agency have not yet been sorted out, and planning permission and advice on the national policy framework are still needed. Leeds City Council is ready to deliver the scheme. Will the Secretary of State meet me, and the relevant agencies, to ensure that it goes ahead?
I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss those issues. During my visit to York, I realised how complicated the position relating to such schemes can be. Some people are asking “Why are things not already happening?”, while others are nervous about impacts on access to the river, for instance, or about noise. Getting the schemes right means consulting communities, and going through a planning process that can take some time.
The Arun River valley in my constituency has experienced severe flooding from Storm Dennis and, before that, Storm Ciara. The Environment Agency has done a magnificent job in responding in inclement conditions and at antisocial times, but it has recently announced plans to cease flood risk management activities in many parts of the river. Will the Secretary of State join me in calling on the agency to delay, in the light of recent floods?
I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss his concerns further. Last week many flood alerts were in place, including severe flood alerts. The standard approach is that when a flood risk goes down such alerts are dropped, but if my hon. Friend writes to me expressing his specific concerns, I will look into them.
As the Minister will be well aware, Hull is at permanent risk of flooding, which is one of the reasons why local businesses have got together to develop a project called Lagoon Hull. A lagoon would protect against the rising Humber. Will the Minister please meet a delegation to talk about how we can develop these ideas to protect our city, not just for now but for the future?
There are a number of examples of projects that use lagoons to manage surplus water during times of flooding, including one at Salford. Either I or another ministerial colleague will be more than happy to meet the promoters of the scheme that the hon. Member has mentioned.
May I urge the Secretary of State not to forget the devastating impact of recent storms on coastal communities such as Pakefield on the Suffolk coast? A few months ago there was no worry about the homes there, but now their very existence is at risk.
My hon. Friend, who represents a coastal community, highlights an important issue. It is important to recognise that it is not just fluvial flooding that is a threat, and that coastal flooding and coastal surges are also a major threat to our coastal communities.
In his statement, and in his interview on “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, the Secretary of State rightly acknowledged the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. Does he agree with his predecessor about the merits of having a statutory duty to prepare and plan for flooding and extreme weather events, and of putting that duty on fire and rescue authorities? Will he meet a delegation, including myself and members of the Fire Brigades Union, to consider the merits of that course of action, which already applies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?
Because of the increased frequency of such flood events, there have been a number of reviews of our approach to flooding, including the Pitt review under the last Labour Government and others since then. We have significantly improved our ability to forecast weather events and flood events and to respond to them through organisations such as the local resilience forums, on which fire brigades are fully represented.
I have just been hosting a Woodland Trust reception, where we have been highlighting the importance of our native woods and trees in tackling our nature and climate emergencies. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s policy to provide 75,000 acres of extra tree cover per year up until the next Parliament is important not only for tackling climate change but for flood management?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Some of these nature-based solutions not only help with biodiversity and with tackling climate change; they can also improve our resilience to flooding by increasing the permeability of the soil to prevent run-off into our watercourses.
Businesses on the Lansil industrial estate in Lancaster are flooding again and they tell me that they cannot take much more of this, so what support can the Government offer to small family businesses that are often major local employers and that are repeatedly at risk of flooding?
In my constituency we have had two severe flood warnings in the last week, and as I speak the River Severn is rising and Ironbridge looks set to experience difficulties with the flood barriers overtopping. I thank the Minister for the amazing work of his team and of the Environment Agency. Will he ensure that my constituents in the affected areas will continue to receive this level of support during this very difficult time?
My hon. Friend makes the important point that we are not yet out of the woods with this particular incident. Rainfall over the past 48 hours is still working its way through the Severn in particular, and towns such as Ironbridge are still at risk. We are monitoring the situation closely.
Storm Dennis caused huge damage across Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Our communities and local people showed amazing resilience, and our local authorities, despite years of Tory austerity, were at the forefront of delivering support. The Welsh Government have offered a fund, yet despite the unprecedented nature of these floods, the United Kingdom Government have offered no additional financial support to Welsh communities. Why not?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend has stood under a roof to see the sheer volume of rainwater that falls off. The more we build in our towns and cities, the more water falls onto increasingly concrete areas. Surely the planning system should sort something out, so that the developers must ensure when such agreements are made that water can escape to an appropriate place.
When the storms came to Wellingborough, the flood plains flooded, as they were supposed to, but 50 horses were unfortunately illegally settled on the floodplain. Four of those horses have died, and the emergency evacuation of 43 horses is continuing at this very moment. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss a problem that continues to affect not only my constituency, but others across the country?
My hon. Friend raises a rather tragic case. My officials have already spoken to the RSPCA, which is investigating the circumstances of this particular case and, as he pointed out, removing the remaining horses. We have also asked Animal and Plant Health Agency officials to look at the disposal of the dead horses.
As my right hon. Friend has already said, we have had a lot of rain throughout the autumn and winter, and many areas of the country are waterlogged. Some fields in Lincolnshire are flooded or have been flooded and remain waterlogged, meaning that farmers have not been able to plant crops. What is my right hon. Friend doing to support farmers? In particular, will he consider removing the three-crop rule for this year, because farmers are simply struggling to get the seeds planted?
We do have a farming flood recovery fund, but we have not activated it yet because it generally supports the recovery of lost grassland or damaged hedgerows and walls in the aftermath of an event. However, we are looking closely at whether we could put in place derogations to assist farmers should they be unable to get their crops in the ground.
Climate change is leading to more frequent extreme weather. The weather last summer led to the evacuation of Whaley Bridge following structural failures of the Toddbrook reservoir dam. Disappointingly, the inquiry into the incident is yet to report. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the report will be published as soon as possible, so that we can learn the lessons? The people of Whaley Bridge deserve answers.
My constituents are persecuted by ongoing flood warnings and flood alerts. Thankfully, although we have had some flooding, we have not seen a repeat of 2014. Does the Secretary of State agree that we urgently need to build the River Thames scheme to protect homes and communities?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Every part of our country suffers some degree of flood risk, and we have approaches that prioritise capital spending in the areas that are most at risk and where we will protect the greatest number of homes. The Environment Agency will shortly publish an updated strategy.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have seen examples in my constituency of local residents warning of flood risk outside of recognised flood plains, but development happened anyway and, sure enough, flooding follows. What more can we do to ensure the planning system listens to local knowledge about local flood risks that the Environment Agency may not typically recognise?
In any planning system, it is obviously open to people to contribute during the consultation phase. As a general rule, local Environment Agency staff, who understand the topography and hydrology of different rivers in a given catchment, are best placed to make such judgments.