My Lords, the Government are firmly committed to supporting local areas impacted by recent severe weather. Following the floods in November and storms Ciara and Dennis, we rapidly activated both the Bellwin scheme and the flood recovery framework, offering support to flooded households and businesses through community and business recovery grants, council tax and business rates relief schemes. The Government continue to stand ready to support areas affected by such devastating impacts.
My Lords, we have a Statement coming up so I will stick to this specific point. The letter sent recently to MPs by George Eustice, the Minister, says:
“We have triggered the Flood Recovery Framework”,
which the Minister referred to,
“ensuring that families and businesses will receive funding from the local councils and can get back on their feet, whereby: Flood-hit households can apply for up to £500 and 100% council tax relief”
while flooded businesses can apply for up to £2,500. Obviously this short-term money is welcome, but the Statement put out by the Government on 18 February read:
“Measures announced today apply to those affected in district or unitary authorities that have 25 or more flooded households as a result of Storms Ciara and Dennis.”
Does the Minister agree that people in a village where perhaps 10 or 15 houses are flooded are not eligible for this, because there are not more than 25 flooded properties locally, and that this is not fair?
I will try not to steal the thunder from my noble friend who is following on behind me. On the noble Lord’s specific question about why the support from the flood recovery framework is available only to district or unitary authorities with over 25 flooded properties, the framework is premised on the principle that recovery is led at a local level, and that it is reasonable for local authorities to plan for and cover emergency costs up to this level.
My Lords, communities across Wales have been terribly affected by these recent floods. Per head of population, the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf has been harder hit than anywhere else within the UK. The council needs £30 million, at least, to cover necessary repairs and resilience work. As these exceptional events remain exceptional but are becoming more frequent, does the Minister think that while funding is devolved, the UK Government still have responsibility to help those flooded areas? Will they make additional funding available to local authorities in Wales?
I thank the noble Baroness for raising a cause that is also dear to my own heart. She is right about the terrible effects in Rhondda Cynon Taf. The glib answer, of course, is that flood defences are a devolved matter but 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 whatever help they would need to respond. The Secretary of State for Wales has already met the First Minister, but the Welsh Government have not yet specified what support, if any, they require. The First Minister of Wales announced today £500 for every household affected by flooding and an additional £500 for those without insurance, to be paid within the next 24 hours. I am sure that the UK Government will also offer similar help.
My Lords, Worcestershire has been as badly affected as anywhere in England by the recent floods and the river level is still rising in Worcester. At the same time, I have to observe that a great deal of work has been done since 2007, which has meant the damage has been much less than would otherwise have been the case. I support the call for swift and full compensation. At the same time, I pay tribute to the emergency services, which have been superb during these floods. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to them?
Of course I pay tribute to the extraordinary response from the national response centre. It was stood up on February 14 and the scale of its response was truly extraordinary: we have installed three miles of temporary flood barriers and 90 mobile pumps. However, that is not to say there are no grave risks involved in the rising tides, particularly on the River Severn. I know that the peak time will be between midnight tonight and 5 o’clock tomorrow. We are severely worried that the flood defences in place will be tested by the amount of time they have been under pressure; there is some risk of overflow.
My Lords, will my noble friend also thank the council officials and those from the Environment Agency who have been on duty for weeks during the present floods? Does she not agree that it is morally indefensible to continue to build and sell in flood plains houses for which no insurance cover can be bought?
I agree with my noble friend, but it might be helpful to set out that “building on flood plains” is a catch-all expression. There are two different forms of flood plains; indeed, London is on one of them—I am not sure whether she is suggesting that we stop building here. However, high-risk flood zones, known as flood zone 3a, were developed as permitted, subject to Environment Agency concerns being satisfied. National planning policy is clear: inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding from all sources should be avoided by directing development areas to lower risk. Where development is in a high-risk area and is absolutely necessary, sufficient measures should be taken to make sure homes are safe, resilient and protected from flooding. New housebuilding and most other forms of development should not be permitted in functional flood plains where flood water has to flow or be stored in times of flood. These flood plains are known as flood zone 3b.