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Storm Henk

Volume 743: debated on Monday 8 January 2024

The heavy rainfall following Storm Henk has affected communities across the UK, with the worst impacts being seen in widespread areas across the midlands, including in Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire; in parts of the west country, including Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire; and in other areas. Parts of the country had a month’s worth of rain in the first four days of January, and that rain fell on already saturated ground. Several of our biggest river systems—the Trent, Thames, Severn and Avon—saw record levels, or close to record levels, as they drained huge volumes of rain from across their catchments.

In the past few days, I have seen at first hand the devastating impacts that flooding can have on local communities. This morning, I returned from Alney island in Gloucester, which saw the third highest water levels in the last 100 years. Last week, I visited Nottinghamshire, where I met residents in Colwick with my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) and spoke to residents in Radcliffe-on-Trent with my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), where unfortunately residents had to be evacuated to keep them safe. My thoughts are with all those who have been impacted.

Over the weekend, the Secretary of State visited flooded communities in Newark-on-Trent and Leicestershire. Together, we met farmers in Lincolnshire to see at first hand the impacts of flooding in their area. We discussed what more could be done to support agricultural businesses to prevent flooding and minimise the impacts of flooding in the future. I met Henry Ward at Short Ferry, whose farm has been completely submerged under water, and we discussed just how devastating the financial impact can be.

I also visited a primary school in Heighington, just south of Lincoln, that had been completely flooded. The headteacher, the Environment Agency, Councillor Carrington, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) and I discussed next steps to get the school reopened and the children back into their classrooms.

The Prime Minister was in Oxford yesterday, talking to those affected and thanking the first responders for the fantastic job they have done over the past week to keep communities safe. I echo those thanks to the Environment Agency, emergency responders, local authorities, internal drainage boards and all volunteers for their tireless efforts to keep our communities safe right across the country.

This was a severe weather incident. Storm Henk caused high winds and large amounts of rain across England last Wednesday—Met Office amber and yellow warnings were in place across the country—and this was followed by heavy rainfall on already saturated ground, after a wetter than average autumn. There is now an improving picture across the country but, as we enter a dry spell, flood warnings remain in place. We will continue to monitor the situation very closely.

Since 2010, the Government have invested over £6 billion to better protect over 600,000 properties from flooding and coastal erosion. Over recent days, more than 75,000 properties have been protected as a result of the Government’s investment in flood defences. To date, unfortunately, 2,000 properties across the country are recorded as having been flooded.

In the east midlands, a major incident was declared in Colwick when the Trent peaked at over 5 metres. In Leicestershire, 350 properties were flooded, including in Loughborough. In Lincolnshire, river levels exceeded 2000’s record on the Trent at Torksey lock. In Staffordshire, we saw the highest recorded water levels in Burton-on-Trent, where the flood defences completed in June 2022 protected hundreds of properties.

The Government began planning for the elevated flood risk as soon as the Met Office forecast indicated an unsettled period of weather over Christmas and the new year. The Environment Agency started planning and preparing in the week before Christmas. River channels and trash screens were cleared to prepare watercourses for flooding, and there was continued work to repair assets following the damage caused by Storm Babet. The Environment Agency’s incident teams were double rostered, with the national duty manager leading regular planning and preparedness calls with all areas. The Environment Agency wrote to all Members of Parliament in England to provide local contacts and information for use in the event of a flood.

Over the last week, the Environment Agency issued 300 flood warnings to communities. It deployed more than 1,000 staff to affected communities, set up 125 pumps and put in place over 12 km of temporary and semi-permanent defences to protect communities. It worked closely with local resilience forums to manage the impacts on the ground. My Department has been holding daily cross-Government meetings to ensure that we are doing everything we can to minimise the impacts on our communities.

Over the weekend, the Government took swift action by activating the flood recovery framework earlier than usual to reassure people that we will step in. This support will provide immediate relief to householders, businesses and farmers affected by flooding.

Officials in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities wrote to the chief executives of the eight county councils that will be eligible, based on the data on the impacts so far: Leicestershire, Gloucestershire, West Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Worcestershire. Others may well qualify, and we are monitoring the situation closely. Flooded households in eligible affected areas can apply for up to £500, giving them quick access to help with immediate costs. Affected households and businesses will also be eligible for 100% council tax and business rate relief for at least three months. Through the property flood resilience repair grant scheme, eligible flood-hit property owners can apply for up to £5,000 to help make their homes and businesses more resilient to future flooding.

My Department has switched on the farming recovery fund so that farmers who have suffered uninsurable damage to their land can apply for grants of up to £25,000, recognising the exceptional rainfall that has taken place. Small and medium-sized businesses, including farmers, can also apply for up to £2,500 of support from the business recovery grant to help them return to business as usual.

The Government’s UK-wide Flood Re scheme will continue to provide reinsurance for those UK households at high flood risk. Last year, that cover supported 265,000 household policies, and more than 500,000 properties have benefited since the scheme’s launch.

Outside the immediate response, the Government continue to take action to protect communities from flooding. Since 2010, we have invested more than £6 billion to better protect 600,000 properties from flooding and coastal erosion. We are on track to spend a record £5.2 billion on new flood defence schemes in the current six-year period. That is double the spend in the previous six years. It includes £100 million to support communities that have experienced repeated flooding, and last April the first 53 projects set to benefit were announced. We have made £25 million available for innovative projects that use the power of nature to improve flood protection, including actions by farmers and land managers. I will announce the successful projects shortly.

We are investing more in maintaining existing flood defences to help ensure that they are kept in good working order. The Government increased funding by £22 million a year at the last spending review, meaning that funding reached £201 million last year and £221 million this year.

The Government strengthened planning guidance on flood risk and coastal change in 2022. This asks local authorities to apply stricter criteria to new developments at risk of flooding before they are approved. In the year following that change, 99% of proposed developments complied with Environment Agency advice on flood risk.

In conclusion, working with local partners, we have acted swiftly to respond to the recent flooding and to provide funding support for the most affected. We will continue to lead the emergency response to flood incidents as they occur. At the same time, we will invest for the long term to create a nation better protected against our changing climate. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement.

Storm Henk has wreaked havoc across the country: thousands of homes are severely damaged, businesses have been devastated, and farms and crops have been destroyed. My heart goes out to all those affected. I join the Minister in thanking the emergency services, the Environment Agency, local authorities and volunteers for their response, working around the clock to keep people safe.

About 2,000 properties have been flooded to date and much of the country remains under water, yet the Prime Minister does not think it is serious enough to call a Cobra meeting. The Government’s failure to act effectively against the risk of floods has cost the economy billions of pounds since 2010. The Government estimate losses to be at £1.3 billion a year on average. With one in six homes now at risk of flooding, homeowners must be horrified that the Government have done little more than stare out of the window and watch the rain come down, with the previous Secretary of State blaming the fact that it came down from the wrong direction.

While we cannot stop the rain falling, we can and should do more to protect communities, businesses and farms from the devastation of flooding. Last October, the Environment Agency found that more than 4,000 English flood defences were rated “poor” or “very poor”, while the same agency was found to have underspent the budget that had been allocated to it by £310 million. That money should have been used to protect against flood damage.

I visited Retford in Nottinghamshire and met heartbroken families who had lost everything. That town was allocated £11.7 million for flood defences two years ago, but shockingly, less than half of 1% of that money has actually been spent. The Government have clearly failed to put in place the robust co-ordination between central Government and agencies on the ground to ensure that people are kept safe in these circumstances, and devastatingly, working families are left to pick up the pieces.

Labour has proposed a Cobra-style flood resilience taskforce to make sure that communities are protected. It would meet every winter ahead of the peak season for flooding to co-ordinate flood preparation between central Government and agencies and local authorities on the ground, identifying areas most at risk and making sure that allocated funding is used to build flood defences, dig out drainage systems, dredge rivers and put in place natural flood management schemes, such as planting more trees upstream to help the land hold more water.

Enough of this Government’s sticking-plaster politics: we need to get ahead of the problem, not just clean up afterwards. Communities deserve the reassurance that if the worst happens, there is a plan in place to keep people, their homes and their businesses safe, so will the Minister explain why the Government have still not fully mapped out which communities around the UK are most at risk from flooding, so that appropriate support can be put in place? Will he confirm how much of the funding allocated for flood defences remains unspent? When do the Government intend to upgrade flood defences that are found to be in poor and very poor condition? Will the Minister update the House on what conversations are taking place with insurers so that people whose homes are at risk from flooding remain able to insure them fully? Will the Government convene a Cobra meeting to ensure that Ministers are working across all Government Departments to keep people safe?

Let me pick up on the shadow spokesperson’s points about Cobra. I am absolutely right in saying that the Government held a Cobra unit Cabinet Office meeting last Tuesday to promote cross-sector preparedness action, way in advance of Storm Henk taking place, and cross-Government meetings, chaired by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as the lead Government Department for flooding, were held on many occasions last week and throughout the weekend. There has been daily contact between DEFRA and resilience partners across the Government, including the Cabinet Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and local resilience forums also had preparedness meetings and were prepared to convene strategic co-ordination groups to manage the local response. I know from my own visits last week and over the weekend just how quickly and efficiently the support has been rolling out.

I confirm to the House that since 2010 we have invested £6 billion to better protect 600,000 properties against flooding and coastal erosion. We are on track to spend £5.2 billion on flood defence schemes in the next six-year period—that is double the £2.6 billion previously allocated and it is better protecting more homes. Over the period of Storm Henk, 75,000 homes were better protected as a result of this Government’s infrastructure and the investment that we have put in place.

The Opposition refer to planting trees, but this Government go further. We recognise that planting trees is one part—a single part—of the solution, but we are going much further by doubling the amount of investment from £2.6 billion to £5.2 billion over the next spending review period. That includes £100 million to support communities that have experienced repeated flooding. The first 53 projects that are set to benefit were announced last April. Over the period of Storm Henk, we have seen the benefits of the work we did in 2022 to better protect Burton upon Trent, which had the highest water levels with the River Trent peaking. That is where our investment is working.

We are also taking swift action by rolling out the flood recovery fund, which will better protect households, businesses and farmers. That was announced this weekend and the eight chief executives of the local authorities it will benefit have already been written to.

I congratulate the Minister and his colleagues on their prompt action and the very responsive way in which they have handled inquiries from MPs throughout the House whose constituencies have been affected.

The Minister did not mention Shropshire when he referred to those counties that have been eligible for the flood recovery framework. I assure him that the banks of the River Severn, which I know he visited in Shrewsbury around Christmas, flooded between Shrewsbury and Bewdley. Only on Friday I visited a household near Highley station in my constituency that had water up to the door handles across the ground floor. A significant number of properties are affected and I hope the Minister will consider the representations from Shropshire Council when they come through.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Before Christmas, I visited Shrewsbury to see for myself the positive impacts that flood defences are having and to speak to Environment Agency representatives. I am well aware of and look forward meeting the caucus of 38 MPs who represent constituencies right across the River Severn channel. I reassure my right hon. Friend that I, my officials and the whole Department are in close contact with the Environment Agency. We are monitoring the situation closely. If we get to a situation where we need to expand the flood recovery fund even further, we will not hesitate to do so.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. The thoughts of SNP Members are very much with all who have been affected by these events. I offer my thanks to the emergency services, resilience partners and everyone who has assisted in the days following Storm Henk.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, there is a lot more to this than simply announcing sums of money that will come through: it is also about delivering schemes to minimise the risk of future flooding events. Will he commit to funding and delivering flood prevention and defence measures that not only keep pace with inflation but allow communities to stand a fighting chance of getting ahead of not just the increasing risk but the increasing frequency of such storm events?

Of course, my thoughts go out to all those north of the border in Scotland who were impacted by the severe weather events over the Christmas period. Indeed, I was up in Angus and Fife over Christmas, and I saw for myself the challenge of getting back down on flooded roads.

The Government continue to work with devolved Administrations to ensure that a level of interaction and communication is happening. I only wish that the Scottish Government would be as proactive as we have been in getting the levels of financial support to the families, households, businesses and farmers impacted by the flooding events we have experienced south of the border.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his statement. I apologise for bombarding not him but his predecessor with text messages over the weekend about the importance of getting support to businesses in Worcester.

I am very pleased to hear what my hon. Friend said about the flooding framework. May I commend to him the work being done for frequently flooded communities in particular? Just before Christmas, I was able to wield a spade and get work under way on flood defences for Toronto Close. My constituents in Diglis Avenue, who have been flooded yet again for the fourth time in about six years, will be very keen to see some funding from that pot. I urge my hon. Friend to work with the Environment Agency on any solutions that could be provided to that particular frequently flooded community.

There is nothing more harrowing for people than their property being repeatedly flooded. That is why I, working with colleagues in the Environment Agency, am keen to ensure that frequent-flooding funding best helps households that have been impacted. I am more than happy to continue the conversations that I have been having with my hon. Friend and neighbouring colleagues, because I know how important this matter is.

The Minister says that his thoughts and sympathies are with all those affected but, frankly, his words ring hollow. Not only are the Government are failing to protect existing properties—an estimated 4,000 flood defences were in poor or very poor condition in 2022—but worse, Ministers are actively planning to pursue energy policies that will make extreme weather events worse. We are about to debate the obscene Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which would create yet more new oil and gas licences. Where on earth is the joined-up thinking? When will the Minister stop the excuses and introduce the ambitious climate policies that might just protect future flood victims, instead of just mopping things up at the end of the day?

Back in 2010, 40% of all energy in this country was produced from coal; now, we are at 1%. The Government are taking the reduction of emissions incredibly seriously. We were the first major economy to set a net zero target in law, and we cut our emissions by 48% between 1990 and 2021. Coupled with that, we are taking more proactive measures, including by doubling the amount of funding for improving our flood-resilience programmes from £2.6 billion to £5.2 billion, to better protect more frequently flooded communities, businesses and homeowners.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his statement and efforts, and I thank the Secretary of State, DEFRA and people across Government for all their work in these challenging times. I pay tribute to the Environment Agency, the emergency services, local authorities and volunteer workers for all that they do to keep people safe at this time.

My hon. Friend will know from our work together on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that our “Rural Mental Health” report addressed the impact of extreme weather events on people’s mental health, in terms both of the anxiety about being flooded and the trauma afterwards. Can he reassure people and communities across the country that they will be supported when the blue lights leave and the waters subside?

I absolutely can. When I was a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend, I and others on the Committee did a lot of work to produce that worthwhile report. It is vital that the Government not only pay close attention to the immediate impacts caused by flooding but provide reassurance to homeowners, businesses and those in the farming community who have been affected. We must also pay attention to negative implications, such as the effect on health and wellbeing. I am keen to ensure that we deliver on the recommendations of that report.

My heart goes out to all those affected by Storm Henk. Of course, over the Christmas recess we also had Storm Gerrit, which included a tornado that caused significant damage through Dukinfield and Stalybridge in Tameside. These days, these are less freak weather incidents: Tameside as a borough has been affected by wildfires on the moors, floods from the River Tame and now by a tornado. What extra capacity is the Minister, along with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, putting into bolstering civil contingency and resilience in communities so that local government can better tackle these not-so-freak weather events?

It was harrowing to see that tornado in Tameside over the winter, and many of us were shocked as to the impact and stark devastation that it caused. It is important that the Government are working with devolved Administrations and local authorities. I will do exactly that across Government as well, working with my colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ensure that we are delivering for those one-off events rather than just for frequent occurrences such as flooding.

I thank the Minister for visiting Short Ferry in my constituency, which has flooded several times. In conversations that I have had with farmers there in recent years, they have constantly said the same thing. They are fed up with the Environment Agency in recent decades not doing its job in clearing out the dykes so that the water can escape; it seems to be prioritising the preservation of wildlife and habitat rather than getting the dykes cleared. That is what they say, and they want proper compensation for flood plains as well. There is a National Farmers Union report on that, and I am confident that the Minister will work with the NFU to get it done right.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and for contacting me over the Christmas period to raise his concerns, not only about the farm at Short Ferry. It was good to meet his constituent Henry Ward at the weekend to see the EA asset and the implications of the water flooding his farm. I also saw on that visit how the vegetation in the River Witham and the delphs, which sit alongside it, needs attention. As my right hon. Friend will know, I am minded to look at options including dredging and removing vegetation in EA assets to ensure that we deliver a system that moves water further down the system more efficiently, which better protects our farming community. I have seen the report from the NFU and look forward to working with my right hon. Friend, his Lincolnshire colleagues and the NFU to try to get to some conclusion on that.

In Cumbria, we sadly know only too well the devastating impact of extreme weather events and flooding, so I and all of us in Cumbria stand in solidarity with those reeling from the impact of Storm Henk.

I want to say something positive about the Minister’s statement and what he has said in replies about farming. The worry that I have, which I think many of us have, is that farmers are still systematically at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to tackling flood risk. Can he tell us—he can do it later if he finds that easier —how many farms have received support for managing flood risk through countryside stewardship schemes? In my area, will he agree to direct the agencies of his Department— the Marine Management Organisation, the Environment Agency and Natural England—to act swiftly to support the Lynster Farmers Group to secure action to tackle flooding that threatens farms, livestock welfare, the Grange golf club and other local businesses by allowing the channel of the River Winster to flow as it should?

I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the detail and figures he requires, but I reassure him that the Government are taking our farmers and the impacts on agricultural land incredibly seriously. That is why this weekend we announced that farmers who have suffered uninsurable damage to their land will be able to apply for grants of up to £25,000 through the farming recovery fund. That is a step where we have gone over and above what we have done before, and that is in recognition of the fact that the ground is absolutely saturated on the back of Storm Henk, Storm Babet and the constant rainfall we have had over the winter and autumn period.

I have been out in our villages in Rutland, Leicestershire and nearby Lincolnshire, whether that is Whitwell, Oakham, Greatford or Braceborough. We have had appalling flooding, with people evacuated from their homes, water up our waists—you name it—and boats out getting vehicles, animals and people to safety. My Conservative councillors in Rutland have called for an urgent meeting of the council, but I am concerned that Rutland was not listed in the areas to be considered. Can my hon. Friend confirm whether Rutland County Council has submitted its data to the Environment Agency? If it has not, I am gravely concerned that we are missing out on the urgent support we need. There is no doubt that Rutland should be on the priority list.

I thank my hon. Friend for contacting me over the Christmas period to raise the ongoing concerns in her constituency, not only from Storm Henk, but from the repeated rainfall we have had. I will look at and review all the flooded areas over and above the eight county council areas that have already been announced to make sure that we are reviewing any data. I want to ensure that we are getting data in good time so that no one—businesses, householders and farmers—is missing out on funds because sufficient data is not being provided.

Brayton, Tadcaster and Chapel Haddlesey in my constituency have all faced awful flooding in recent weeks. Residents were left in the lurch as agencies would not take responsibility, and the fire service and local businesses, such as Campeys and UK Sandbags, have had to fill the gaps. Will the Minister consider at least the efficacy of implementing a flood resilience taskforce at some point in the future so that we can deal more pre-emptively with these flood events when they do occur, through such measures as clearing blocked drains, to give my constituents the reassurance they so desperately need?

I want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are already doing that. The Government are working closely with our Environment Agency colleagues, the local authorities and our flood resilience forums to ensure that we are doing exactly what he is asking for. The request is somewhat unnecessary because we are already doing it.

I am sure that the Minister will sympathise with my constituents who have had their homes and businesses flooded not only in the town of Tewkesbury, but down the river at Sandhurst and Longford. It has been a desperate situation, with road closures inconveniencing many people. Given that most of our problems tend to come from the fact that we are at the confluence of two main rivers—the Avon and the Severn—will the Minister have serious discussions with the Environment Agency about the potential benefits of river dredging? It is talked about an awful lot, but it needs looking at closely.

Having been in Gloucestershire this morning, not too far from my hon. Friend’s constituency of Tewkesbury, I am well aware of the challenges that businesses, householders and farmers are facing in his area. I want to be clear to the House that I am open to considering all options, whether that is dredging or removing vegetation from our EA assets, because we must make sure that, in addition to increasing the budget from £2.6 billion to £5.2 billion over the next financial period to improve our flood resilience, we are looking at all options to make sure that our farmers and those who face crop loss are being impacted positively by some different measures.

The Minister will be aware that the River Severn, before it gets to Shrewsbury, flows through North Shropshire. We experience severe flooding every year and have done for the last three or four years, although this year was not quite so bad. I have three questions for the Minister on this topic. First, what discussions has he had with his colleagues in Wales about managing the upper Severn catchment and finalising the scheme to prevent some of that water from coming downstream in the first place? Secondly, the surface water flooding has been appalling over the last few weeks because the council does not have the money to clear the culverts and drains, so what discussions has he had with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about that? Finally, the frequently flooded allowance requires a critical number of homes in a community to be flooded in order for it to be eligible. Why is it not available to every home that is frequently flooded?

Just before Christmas I made a visit to Shrewsbury and I met my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). We discussed specifically with Environment Agency colleagues a wider plan with the 38 Members whose constituencies form the River Seven catchment area for what we can do to better protect land both upstream and further downstream. Those conversations are happening and I am engaging with that. When it comes to frequent flooding, we are always making sure that we are best protecting as many homes and businesses as possible. Again, that is illustrated by the quick action this Government took at the weekend in announcing the flood recovery scheme.

Thanks to a £10 million investment and a pledge to “get Bewdley done”, the eastern bank of the River Severn in the town of Bewdley in my constituency is receiving demountable and permanent flood defences. The problem is that, during the construction, the Environment Agency is unable to put up temporary defences to protect around 30 or so houses. We are grateful in Wyre Forest to be receiving that money, but is there any more that could be done for those residences and properties that are being affected during the construction of much-needed flood defences?

It is incredibly important that we best protect as many properties and businesses as possible. I would welcome a conversation with my hon. Friend, if he knows of particular areas in his constituency that need a bit more focus. Working with him, the Environment Agency, his local authority, and, I am sure, neighbouring colleagues, I would love to look at a solution we can put in place to better reassure his constituents.

Last week, I tried to visit residents of Tamworth villages such as Harlaston, Edingale and Elford, after the flooding of Storm Henk. I could not get to certain places in my constituency to meet them. One family had to stay overnight with family in Nottingham because they were unable to get home. These issues will only get worse each year as we face increasing climate challenges. Will the Government say what budget has been confirmed for improving flood defences in my area and when further defences will be built?

It is of course devastating when any community is impacted by flooding. That is why this Government have doubled the amount of funding that we are putting into flood resilience, from £2.6 billion to £5.2 billion from 2021 to 2027. We are taking action to improve our flood resilience and responding quickly to those communities that have been impacted, through the announcement we made very quickly this weekend on the flood recovery scheme. I am closely monitoring the situation to see where additional councils, if they meet the requirements, can apply for extra funding, and I will continue to do so.

The Minister will know that the Thames valley is also affected by Storm Henk. What discussions has he had or will he have with Thames Water with a view to better protecting our public health infrastructure from rainwater and floodwater and therefore limiting discharges from outflows?

During extremely heavy rainfall, which we have seen from not only Storm Henk, but Storm Babet and during the winter period, water companies have worked tirelessly to minimise the impact on customers and the environment. While the sheer volume of rainfall has meant that some storm overflows have automatically activated, the Government and the Environment Agency continue to monitor the situation closely. I make the point that back in 2010, only 7% of storm overflows were monitored; we are now at 100% storm overflow monitoring, which better enables us to ensure that our resources are targeted where they are most needed. That is the reassurance I want to provide to my hon. Friend and the House.

Somerset is once again experiencing the effects of climate change at first hand, and Storm Henk was the latest catastrophic event to result in flooding across my constituency. Will provisions be introduced to help communities create their own bespoke extreme weather resilience plans in identified catchment areas?

It is important for all communities to work together closely, and during my visits over the last two weekends I saw some great examples of local authorities working closely with their communities. However, the Government are also taking action very quickly. We are working with the Environment Agency and with local authorities that have been affected, and through the flood resilience forums. That is how we are able to communicate as swiftly as possible with the affected communities, and how we have been able to make rapid decisions to ensure that we roll out the necessary support. The flood recovery scheme and fund have also made that possible this weekend.

Happy new year, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The Minister’s welcome statement referred to the flooding of 350 properties in Leicestershire. In my constituency, Blaby, Broughton Astley, Cosby, Croft, Stoney Stanton, Sharnford and Whetstone were flooded. It was one of the worst floods experienced by those communities in South Leicestershire, and my compliments go to Blaby District Council and Councillors Les Phillimore, Maggie Wright, Ben Taylor and Mike Shirley—to name just a few—for the work they have been doing with local communities. Will the Minister write to me, as a matter of urgency, to explain what Government support is available to the villages I have mentioned?

Not only will I write to my hon. Friend, but I am more than happy to meet him to discuss this. It is excellent to note that his local councillors, such as Les Phillimore, are going above and beyond with the work that they are rolling out so swiftly and their interaction with their communities. I look forward to a meeting in the near future to discuss what more we can do.

I thank the Minister for his statement. I always try to be constructive in my comments. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made some provision for some of the worst floods in living memory, but recent heavy rains in Northern Ireland put preventive measures such as the provision of sandbags under immense pressure. The seemingly increasing frequency of large storms calls for a more cross-departmental approach. What discussions has the Minister had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about increasing financial assistance for shops, restaurants, householders and farmers there?

I work closely with my colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and indeed I have regular conversations with the Minister for Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), who is sitting next to me. This is, of course, a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, but, while I am sure that we will continue to have conversations within the UK Government, I am more than happy to share any knowledge or learning with all the devolved Administrations.

Homes, schools and fields throughout my constituency have been flooded. I thank the Secretary of State, the Minister and the chair of the Environment Agency for going there to see the damage for themselves this weekend, and to talk to local farmers. One consistent message has been that the internal drainage board is doing a good and cost-efficient job in clearing the waterways, and I thank it for that, but the other consistent message is that the Environment Agency is not doing the same: it is not clearing the vegetation and debris that have been contributing to the flooding. Will my hon. Friend consider giving funds, and responsibility for the larger waterways, to the IDB, which is doing such a great job, to help protect my constituents?

It was fantastic to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency at the weekend. I want to put on record my thanks to Jane Froggatt, who represents some of the internal drainage boards, and I commend the work that the boards do. In certain circumstances, they go above and beyond. It is clear, and noted at my end, that a different approach needs to be taken to Lincolnshire—which I know very well—and, as I said during my visit, I am more than happy to review what needs to be done in terms of dredging and removing vegetation from Environment Agency assets and the Delph, which we looked at. It is important that we are not only protecting urban environments, but looking after our farming community and ensuring that the land on which they rely to produce the crops that enable us all to eat the food we want to eat is protected as well as possible.

Barely any part of my constituency was unaffected by the floods. It is not just about the sobbing residents; it is also about the chaos caused across the roads. The A34 was shut, the Abingdon Road was shut, and children could not get to Larkmead School in Abingdon. The Environment Agency has been promising a comprehensive plan since we were flooded devastatingly in 2007, and the Oxford flood alleviation scheme is in train but there is nothing for Abingdon. Would the Minister consider meeting me to discuss why the Environment Agency’s own plan for Abingdon has recently been axed?

My Environment Agency colleagues are working incredibly hard across Oxfordshire. The Oxford flood alleviation scheme is in place, but I am more than happy to meet the hon. Member to discuss what further action she would like to be taken. I want to reassure her that we are working around the clock to make sure that all households, businesses and farmers are protected from the implications of Storm Henk.

I commend the flooding Minister for his energetic response to Storm Henk, and all those who have worked so hard during this terrible weather. In West Worcestershire I have worked with his predecessors and the Environment Agency over the years to deliver schemes in Upton-Upon-Severn, Kempsey, Uckinghall, Powick and Pershore. His predecessor was kind enough to allocate money from the frequently flooded communities fund to the project in Severn Stoke and Tenbury Wells. Will he work with me and the Environment Agency to ensure that those two important schemes are delivered during his tenure?

I want to use this opportunity to pay tribute to the previous flooding Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), who did tremendous work in this role. She worked hard to ensure that the frequent flood schemes were put in place as quickly as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) has worked very proactively to ensure that her residents are best protected from the implications of flooding. I am more than happy to meet her to work at speed to make sure that our households and businesses are as well protected as possible.

The various storms over the past three months have caused havoc on the East Anglian coast, not least in Pakefield in my constituency, where time is of the essence to prevent more homes being destroyed. However, this work is at risk of being delayed, as it is deemed urgent rather than an emergency. Will my hon. Friend do all he can to remove such red tape?

I am always up for removing red tape where necessary. I commend my hon. Friend for being a doughty champion for his constituents, because I think this is the fifth time that he has mentioned Pakefield to me, not least in the Westminster Hall debate that he secured just before Christmas to discuss this issue. As he knows, I am more than happy to have a detailed conversation with him and his colleagues along the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline.

The flooding Minister visited Alney Island in Gloucester early this morning. I thank him, the Environment Agency, the city council and all who helped mitigate the situation. Some 80 homes in Gloucester have been flooded—one home is one too many, but that compares with more than 5,000 homes and businesses flooded in 2007 with very similar water levels, 48,000 people without electricity and 135,000 without drinking water for a week. The huge investment into the defences for Mythe waterworks, Walham substation, Horsbere brook and the Westgate drainage scheme, and other aspects of the Conservative Government’s Pitt review, have made a massive difference. Will my hon. Friend commit to looking closely at the Severn partnership’s proposals for a strategic new reservoir to hold back water in Wales in due course?

First, I thank my hon. Friend for inviting me to Gloucester this morning. It was an excellent visit to meet his residents and speak with those who have experienced flooding on Alney Island. It was clear that the investment that this Government put in place and the flood improvement measures put in place in 2006 have worked up until now, but we know the implications when the River Severn catchment is as saturated as it has been. I am willing to meet not only him but the other 38 colleagues who form the caucus, to put a strategic plan in place for the whole River Severn catchment.

I thank the Minister for his very sensible comments on dredging. When does he expect some further movement on that? Can he say where he thinks the priorities should lie between protecting the farm land we need to grow our food and maintaining wildlife habitat?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because I want to make it absolutely clear that no options should be off the table. It is important that we quite rightly have nature-based solutions upstream, but also that where Environment Agency assets need dredging, we review that and consider what more could be done in that area, while ensuring that we are working with our internal drainage boards, which are doing a fantastic job. On my visit to Lincolnshire over the weekend, it was clearly communicated to me that the internal drainage boards are going above and beyond to protect our productive agricultural land. I want to reassure all those in the agricultural community that the Government will do all we can to protect productive agricultural land. It is completely unfair for a farmer to experience crop loss when that crop has been under water for 10 days and then fails. That is a huge financial loss to our farmers, who spend thousands of pounds putting that crop in place. I want to reassure my hon. Friend that we will review all options.

I thank my hon. Friend for his statement and for very promptly triggering the flood recovery network. I note that there are a number of local authorities adjacent to mine in Swindon. I want to take this opportunity to ask him to meet me to discuss whether smaller unitary authorities such as Swindon sometimes miss out. The number of incidents might be smaller, but I can tell him from my own experience as an active constituency MP that the impact is just as great.

Absolutely, and I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. Regardless of the size of a local authority, what matters is that we protect our constituents from flooding. I am more than happy to meet him and his neighbouring colleagues to ensure that, as a Government, we deliver on protecting as many homes and businesses as possible.

I am grateful to the Minister for his visit to various parts of Nottinghamshire this week to see the impact on many of our communities. I reiterate his thanks to the many hundreds of staff, and community flood wardens and other volunteers in our communities, who have been working around the clock in recent days. He will have seen the impact on our infrastructure locally. Part of the recovery and the prevention of future flooding impacts is about reinstating and recovering that infrastructure—not least our roads, which have taken a massive hit in recent days. I see that he is sitting beside the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare). Could they have a conversation about how they might support local councils in reinstating that infrastructure, which will cost many millions of pounds?

It was a very worthwhile visit to Nottinghamshire and Nottingham at the weekend and at the end of last week to meet my hon. Friend’s councillor team, who have been incredibly proactive in delivering for many communities across Nottinghamshire. It was important for me to visit Radcliffe on Trent, where I saw park homes that had been flooded and, unfortunately, residents evacuated from their properties. I am of course willing to work with colleagues—such as the Minister for local government, my hon. Friend in his role as leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, and others—to ensure that we are delivering as best we can for properties impacted by flooding.

The recent flooding has caused significant disruption to parts of the national rail network. Will the Minister ask the Environment Agency to step up its work with Network Rail to better identify the parts of the network that are vulnerable to flooding, and to put in place the necessary prevention and resilience work?

I will absolutely do that. It is incredibly important that people are able to get around as efficiently as they wish to. I am well aware that many of our assets owned and managed by Network Rail have been impacted by not only Storm Henk, but Storm Babet. I will ask the Environment Agency, as will departmental colleagues, to ensure that our assets are best protected. I will also pick that up with colleagues in the Department for Transport.

I welcome the financial support for flood-hit communities. Storm Henk has left its mark on Bournemouth, with local flooding and damage to our roads in the form of potholes. We know that if they are not repaired swiftly, they cause more damage to cars and bikes, and cost more to repair in the long term. The good news is that Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council has received £19 million to fix them, so the money is there, but the potholes are back. Will the Minister join me in encouraging the council to waste no further time in fixing them, and not to direct the money elsewhere?

When money has been provided by central Government, it is vital that all local authorities use it as quickly as possible. I urge my right hon. Friend’s Lib Dem alliance local authority to use that money as swiftly as possible, to ensure that his constituents are not negatively impacted.

I thank the Minister for his statement. I have seen flooding at first hand in the Ribble Valley and know how devastating it is for everybody affected. I ask him to stay for the point of order.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Minister has frequently referred to a caucus of MPs who represent constituents along the River Severn. As the only non-Conservative, I am excluded from those meetings. I wonder whether you can advise me on how I can encourage my colleagues on the Government Benches to work more constructively and ensure that my residents are also represented.