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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): As the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said, areas where flooding is predictable already receive much attention from the Environment Agency. Other areas, however, which had not had problems with flooding for many years, including Duffield in my constituency, have suffered from severe and sudden problems during the past few days. How will the Minister encourage the Environment Agency to prioritise work in those areas, and what steps will the agency take to protect areas that had not previously had problems with flooding?
Mr. Morley: The Environment Agency will, because of the current situation, prioritise work on river systems. In the evaluation of the floods, the needs of areas that were affected on this occasion but which had not been affected by previous floods will be taken into account. However, some areas were flooded because of blockages in or the backing up of drains, which are also the responsibility of local authorities. All those points will be taken into consideration.
Mr. John Grogan (Selby): Will my hon. Friend, who visited the Selby area on Saturday, ensure that the relevant authorities seriously consider a detailed plan from the parish council at Barlby, where 200 homes were flooded over the weekend, to strengthen and repair the flood bank there? He will also receive a report from the Selby area about the failure of the electricity supply during the weekend to more than 10,000 homes. That might have implications for the siting of supply stations and their protection from flooding. As the flood crisis spreads throughout rural Yorkshire, will he ensure that the relevant authorities liaise closely with parish councils, which are often the best sources of local information, community support and volunteers?
The same point also applies to electricity substations. I understand that the problem in Selby was that the substation was flooded. We need to consider the siting of such stations in flood risk areas and whether they need to be defended. The hard work of the Environment Agency prevented an important substation in Leeds city centre from flooding. If it had flooded--it was very close to being inundated--that would have caused absolute havoc in the city. We will have to take such matters into account when we plan for what might be more frequent extreme weather conditions and the need to protect vital infrastructure, such as substations.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I point out to the Minister that it was not just the Ouse but most rivers in Yorkshire that were flooding. The River Nidd overflowed in Knaresborough, and caused extensive flooding from the riverside through to two caravan car parks. Most of the area had to be evacuated. Thanks to the emergency services, the borough council and, in particular, King James school in Knaresborough, evacuees could be accommodated. Does the Minister share my concern about the fact that many people, especially those on Abbey road in Knaresborough, did not receive a flood warning until the flood was 4 ft high in their dwellings? There was no awareness exercise in that area, partly because--the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) made this point--it was not an area of traditional flooding. Will the Minister give me an assurance that the way in which the Environment Agency issues awareness warnings will be reviewed? People should receive that information in good time to save at least some of their property and belongings.
Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I have emphasised that no Government can guarantee that floods will not happen. We must reduce the risks and ensure that people have adequate warning. In response to the Northampton disaster and the lessons that we learned from the Bye report, we have put many extra resources into a national flood warning system which, by and large, has worked better. However, that is not to say that there have been no gaps in the system--the hon. Gentleman referred to one. I give him an assurance that in the evaluation that will take place following the floods, we shall examine the area that he mentioned. When we identify failures, we shall take steps to ensure that the situation is improved.
Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): My hon. Friend will be aware that parts of the midlands--especially in Worcestershire and Shropshire--have been badly affected during the past week. Although, by comparison, my own area in Birmingham has not been particularly affected this time, people in parts of my constituency have suffered four times during the past two years an event that they had been told would occur only once every 50 years. The latest occasion was in July.
The second point is on insurance companies. Our experience in Birmingham is that, as a result of those four events, some properties are uninsurable or the premiums are unsustainable. Urgent approaches must be made to the insurance companies in order to stop them cherry picking.
Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend makes a good point about frequency. Generally, flood defences are engineered to certain standards--for example, one flood in 150 years, or 100 years or 200 years. Although there is much that we do not know about global warming, there is certainly no dispute that the planet is warming nor that we are seeing changes in weather patterns. We may have to re-evaluate current standards of defences that are set at one flood in 150 years, perhaps reducing that time because of changing weather patterns. Of course, there are cost implications in that for the Government. We accept those implications; that is one reason why we are significantly increasing the available budget.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for visiting Tewkesbury last Friday to look at the flood damage. His visit was greatly appreciated. He will recall that I stressed the additional problem experienced in the small village of Sandhurst in my constituency where there was an explosion at a chemical factory--a couple of days before the floods, thankfully. If it had occurred during the flooding, the emergency services would not have been able to reach the area.
Will the Minister carry out a full investigation into that explosion, including the reason why a chemical factory was allowed to be sited on an obvious flood plain? As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) pointed out, to build houses on or near flood plains causes many problems. One reason why councils do so is the pressure to accommodate the number of houses that they are asked to provide.
Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is right about the risk of pollution during floods. Any company dealing with hazardous products, such as chemicals, must follow certain standards. I understand that the Health and Safety Executive is currently investigating the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers and I am sure that it will be dealt with.
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): The Minister will agree that there has been much debate about who is responsible for approving new developments on flood plains. However, there is a further question: about approval for the development of new estates, where the
Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is right. Increased run-off must be taken into account in flood plain development. I understand that PPG25 will address the issue of run-off as part of the guidance to local authorities. That new guidance will not be merely a code of practice as it was in the past; it will have much stronger force to ensure that planning authorities take note of it.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I too thank the Deputy Prime Minister for visiting Malton on Friday. The Minister went to Malton last year; this year, the floods are worse. The beleaguered community wants to know whether his announcement and his change of policy today mean that flood defence systems, currently at the design stage, will be built more speedily. Is it likely that they will be progressed and constructed as quickly as possible?
Will the Minister ask his recovery plan teams to pay attention to the problems of alternative accommodation? Currently, the homes of about 1,500 families in North Yorkshire are flooded and are likely to remain so for several days. Those families will be out of their homes for nine months or longer. We need desperately to find them accommodation for that period--especially during the run-up to Christmas.