Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to set national minimum requirements for flood mitigation and protection measures in new build public and private properties enforced by local planning authorities; to place reporting requirements on local and national government in relation to flood prevention measures; to establish a certification scheme for improvements to domestic and commercial properties for flood prevention and mitigation purposes and an accreditation scheme for installers of such improvements; to require insurers to take account of such improvements and any existing flood prevention and mitigation measures that were planning permission requirements when determining premiums; to extend eligibility to the Flood Reinsurance scheme under section 64 of the Water Act 2014 to small and medium-sized enterprises and homes built after 2009; and for connected purposes.
Last Sunday in Glasgow, we saw potentially the most consequential gathering in world history—I refer, of course, to COP26. The Prime Minister opened that conference by acknowledging that, unless we act soon, we would see savage changes in our climate that could have destructive effects on life as we know it. An inevitable consequence of climate change is a change in weather patterns. In 2020, the UN’s environment programme highlighted that increased flooding is likely to be one of the early visible signs of climate change. In Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire—indeed in Yorkshire, the midlands, the south-west and the south-east—we understand that because it is already happening. We remember Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis. In Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire, we remember the devastation of the 2007 floods to homes, schools and businesses. We also remember the tidal surge of 2013 and the city being cut off from the M62 by a flooded A63 in 2019.
There have been some positive advancements in our response to the increasing problems of flooding over the last 15 years, with the Flood Re scheme one good example, but there is still more to do. My recent survey of residents in Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle highlighted their continuing concerns about flood protection and readiness. My Bill seeks to address some of those concerns and to put all future building developments on a sustainable footing.
The long title of the Bill, which I have just read out, sets out five requirements that can be summarised under three areas. First, to set out binding planning requirements for properties, enforced by local authorities. Secondly, to create a scheme, binding on the insurance industry, to recognise flood resilience measures in their premiums. And thirdly, to extend the Flood Re scheme further.
Provided that they are within the scope of current planning law, the property flood resilience measures required in new build properties are currently set by local planning authorities in pre-commencement conditions. That results in adjacent local authorities having different requirements in flood zones with the same rating, which is not only inconsistent but hampers collaboration by allowing local authorities to export their flood-related problems to other areas.
My Bill would create a level playing field by setting minimum standards nationwide. I hope these minimum standards would be along the lines of the highly successful measures put in place by Hull City Council and those supported by the Association of British Insurers, which is calling for the Government to enact schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and align planning policy related to sustainable drainage systems, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee. This common-sense move is supported by both the insurance industry and Flood Re in its most recent review, and it can be supported by Members on both sides of the House. It is about prevention not cure, and it is about building homes that are fit for a changing future.
At present there is no mandatory requirement for insurers to lower premiums for homes where flood risk is mitigated by flood resilience or protection measures. That is largely due to lack of evidence, both at a landscape scale and at the level of individual properties. The only information that insurers currently use in setting premiums with regard to flood risk is commercially available mapping data. As data from national and local government bodies on flood mitigation infrastructure such as lagoons, barriers and sustainable drainage systems is not readily available, it is not used. There is no requirement on the industry to request information at the level of individual properties. That situation must change.
On landscape and infrastructure, the relevant Government agencies must make readily available the information on all flood prevention and mitigation measures in place regionally and locally. The information already exists; it is a matter of collation and access. Once the information is available, insurers must make use of it and incorporate it into their premium calculations. At the individual property level, discounted insurance premiums should be offered for properties with flood resistance measures installed. Indeed, that was a recommendation of Flood Re in its recent five-yearly review.
The ABI’s position is that insurers lack reliable data on the relative effectiveness of measures and lack confidence in their correct installation. Some measures, such as the raising of electrical cabling and plug points above ground level, seem self-evidently beneficial and I have heard conflicting accounts of whether sufficient data on the effectiveness of such measures already exists. However, it would be helpful to everyone concerned to have agreement and clarity on the range of effective measures on which insurers will offer discounts. As well as confidence in the competency of installers, consumers need assurance that putting these protection measures in their home will not only increase resilience to flooding but lower premiums, which is why my Bill proposes a statutory certification scheme. There would need to be funding available to set the standards, and I believe it would be a good idea to make funding available to our universities and industry for the creation and production of new technologies that would lower the risk further.
Let me be clear: Flood Re is a good scheme and is one that I support—I also support many of the recommendations in the latest five-yearly review—but it has two major flaws. First, it does not cover homes built after 2009. I can see the logic, as this discourages building in flood zones, and it was imagined that such homes would be built to be flood resilient, but the truth is that in too many cases this has simply not happened. As a result people find themselves, through no fault of their own, living in flood-prone areas with no flood resilience measures and without cover by the scheme.
I hope my Bill would make it impossible to build a house without adequate flood protections, but in the meantime we need to move Flood Re eligibility forward to a suitable date so that people who are not covered as a result of the current planning system are not left without cover or facing very high premiums.
Secondly, Flood Re needs to cover small and medium-sized enterprises. I appreciate that commercial insurance is different from residential insurance, and I appreciate that commercial insurance effectively has two aspects: the aspect covering a business’s building and the aspect covering its stock and other business needs. I also appreciate that Flood Re may not be suitable to cover stock and business needs, but why can it not be extended to cover the building aspect? Is covering the structural aspect of a residential building not the same as covering the structural aspect of a commercial building? My Bill would extend Flood Re to offer that very protection. It would allow businesses affected by flooding to be in a position to be back on their feet and trading more quickly.
This is not a party political issue, nor should it be a subject of party political point scoring. It is an issue that affects people and businesses in constituencies right across the nation, represented by Members from all parties. It is an issue that will continue to affect those people and businesses and, as the effects of climate change become more acute, it will become deeper and wider.
Many of the proposals in this Bill have the support of the insurance industry and of Flood Re. A survey carried out in my constituency over the summer shows the proposals are supported by many members of the public, too. In many ways, it is common sense to pass this Bill. When it comes to supporting these measures today, we should remember that the tide is rising, both literally and metaphorically, and the time to act is now.
I thank Members on both sides of the House. Unfortunately I was able to choose only 11 Members of Parliament to present the Bill, but I have had a huge wealth of support from Members right across the House, which shows the amount of concern about flooding and flood prevention.
Question put and agreed to.
That Emma Hardy, Debbie Abrahams, Hilary Benn, Tracey Crouch, Philip Davies, Dan Jarvis, Dame Diana Johnson, Rachael Maskell, Jim Shannon, Karl Turner and Valerie Vaz present the Bill.
Emma Hardy accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 14 January 2022, and to be printed (Bill 191).
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE (Today)
That, at this day’s sitting, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg relating to the Committee on Standards not later than one hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; proceedings may continue, though opposed, until any hour, and may be entered upon after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg.)