My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I would like to inform the House that today I have introduced to Parliament a revised Flood and Water Management Bill, laid regulations under the European Communities Act to implement the EU Floods Directive and published a command paper setting out the Government’s response to pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation on the draft Bill.
The floods in 2007 claimed 13 lives and cost our economy £3 billion.
Sir Michael Pitt undertook a comprehensive review of the lessons to be learnt from the floods. He called for urgent and fundamental changes in the way the country is adapting to the increased risk of flooding. To ensure that the 5 million people living in flood risk areas around the country are better protected we are also investing more than ever in maintaining traditional flood defences—£2.15 billion in the current spending round.
Since the 2007 floods the Environment Agency has completed and maintained 102 flood defence schemes, protecting over 63,000 additional homes in England. Operating authorities are currently on course to exceed delivery targets and provide better protection to 160,000 homes over the three years to March 2011.
In this time, government have also, among other measures, provided £15 million funding to local authorities to help them manage local flood risk, and set up a Flood Forecasting Centre which will improve the way we predict potential flooding and the exchange of information between emergency services.
We also promised legislation as a central part of this programme of action.
In April of this year, the UK Government and Welsh Assembly Government published the draft Flood and Water Management Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation.
The public consultation on the draft Bill in England and Wales generated over 650 responses. A summary of the responses is also being published today on the Defra website at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/flooding/policy/fwmb/.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee published its report on its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill on 23 September. The department is grateful to the committee, and to those who gave evidence, for their vigour and commitment in developing the report. The Government have considered it very carefully.
We believe the consultation responses indicate broad support for our overarching proposals. Both they and the EFRA Select Committee’s report gave valuable and useful feedback which has informed the way forward, which is now set out in the command paper published today. That command paper sets out the department’s response to each of the recommendations made by the Select Committee.
In line with one of the committee’s recommendations, I have also today arranged for copies of a statement from Ofwat to be placed in the House Library. This statement sets out Ofwat’s assessment of the risks to water industry investors of the Bill’s proposed changes to the regulatory regime.
Some have argued that it is preferable to wait until it is possible to bring forward a single Bill which makes all the necessary changes to both flood and water legislation and brings them together with the current statute book. However, the Government are clear that they should legislate as soon as possible for the new clear roles and powers necessary to improve the protection of people from the risk of floods.
The Bill also meets our commitment to safeguard community groups, such as churches and scouts, from the unaffordable increases in surface water drainage charges they face now.
Furthermore, the EU Floods Directive is due to be transposed this month. This has led us to lay regulations now, to avoid unreasonable delays and the increased risks of infraction.
Climate projections suggest that extreme weather will happen more frequently in future. Members will be aware of the many flood warnings issued this week and the work being carried out at this moment by the Environment Agency, local authorities, emergency services and the voluntary sector to help protect homes, businesses and people against the risk of flooding. Our thanks go to those many people and organisations on the front-line, tackling flooding, and our thoughts are with those directly affected.
Serious flooding can happen any time. This Bill is central to reducing that risk.