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Flooding: Defence

Volume 726: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with communities affected by flooding about their proposed flood defence allocations.

My Lords, the Environment Agency involves local communities and partner organisations from the earliest stages of a flood defence scheme’s life. The agency works with regional flood defence committees to agree the overall investment programme. Committees include local authority members and other local experts. Particular attention has been paid to working closely with communities to let them know spending decisions affecting 2011-12 and options for the future.

I thank the Minister for that reply but, as he knows, flood defence schemes in Leeds, York and Morpeth have been put on hold by the Government, as have other schemes. We have seen huge public concern in all these areas as a result. Are the Government prepared to look to reinstate these schemes and, if not, how do they propose to reassure the residents of those areas, who are worried both about being flooded and about not getting insurance cover for their homes in future?

My Lords, I remind the noble Baroness that no schemes whatever have been cancelled. Some have been deferred, because obviously we have to make very difficult decisions about the money available. As I made clear in my original Answer, we will involve local communities in discussions, which is why we have consulted—and we are reviewing the consultation—about how we can see the money going further by allowing communities themselves to have an involvement in these schemes, and for communities themselves or for private money to come in to assist the public money that comes from Defra.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Government relate the flood defences to many other applications, such as agriculture and wind energy. As you cross the channel, you can see that all the major dykes in Holland have windmills on them. Do the Government agree that we need to move in that direction?

My Lords, it is an interesting thought whether we should put windmills on all the dykes that we have to build for flood defences. I shall certainly take that on board and consider that matter, although there would obviously be planning considerations as well as to whether you would want windmills along all the dykes to which the noble Lord refers.

My Lords, the joint working of churches together in Cumbria along with local Rotary and other volunteer organisations in the devastating floods of 2009 will be remembered for many generations. The Regional Resilience Forum is to be disbanded. I understand that it will be relocated with Leeds and other northern areas and focused on Leeds. I wonder whether the Minister shares the concerns of very many people that vital local knowledge and co-operation will be lost.

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his comments, particularly for his comments about the devastating floods in Cockermouth. As I told the House the last time we discussed these matters, I visited Cockermouth a year after those floods. I am very satisfied that the local knowledge is still there and that the resilience that that community had in Cockermouth is still there, and that local people are preparing to deal with floods in the appropriate manner, should they get them again. We want to ensure, as I made clear in my original Answer, that we have the appropriate local knowledge. That is why we want to involve local communities, and that is why we have consulted on ways of giving communities a bigger say in the decisions that affect them.

Does the Minister recognise that a deferment that does not lead to speedy action will be seen by local communities as a cancellation?

No, my Lords, I do not accept that. There is a very big distinction between a cancelation and a deferment, and there have been no cancelations whatever. Each scheme that we look at, we will look at on its merits. That will involve the cost of the scheme and how many properties—just to give one example—that scheme will protect. There is no point in spending excessive amounts of money if one could deal with the problem in another way. There are also ways of looking at spending the money and consulting the local communities to get money in other than the money that comes centrally from Defra. That is what we are intending to do.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the funding promised to help these local communities with their community flood plans and provide community flood wardens will be forthcoming so that they will be protected?

My Lords we are making some very small reductions to the annual expenditure on flood protection but I am satisfied that those reductions are very small and necessary in dealing with the deficit. We will continue to spend whatever money is appropriate. However much money was available, we would never be able to satisfy all the demands for all the schemes that are on offer.

What advice will the Government give to those who are having difficulties getting home insurance in the light of the deferment?

My Lords, obviously insurance is a very difficult matter and we are discussing it with the Association of British Insurers. However, the Government should be wary of trying to interfere in the market because there are those who take a sensible attitude and insure themselves. There is no point in the Government offering guarantees to those who do not insure themselves. We will discuss these matters with the ABI and others as appropriate, but I do not think we should start interfering in the market itself.

Will the Government review the Pitt report on flooding and update it? Can the Minister report on the town of Tewkesbury, where I know many people were not rehoused for some 12 months after the terrible flooding that afflicted them?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to refer to Tewkesbury. I cannot comment on what happened under the previous Government following those floods. However, following the Pitt review, I can say that we are committed to a working-up of the findings of that review and we will do so in due course.