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Line 37, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 46, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 48, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'--[Mr. Touhig.]
the Lords Message [12th July 2000] communicating a Resolution relating to Human Rights (Joint Committee), be now considered;
this House concurs with the Lords in the said Resolution; and
the following Standing Order be made:
Mr. John Grogan (Selby): Four rivers flow through the constituency of Selby. For the most part, they are an asset to be enjoyed for leisure and recreation--places of quiet pleasure. In parts, they are still very much working rivers, but, during October and November 2000, the threat of flooding that they posed at times seemed to reach biblical proportions. The River Derwent rose to the highest level ever recorded. The River Aire rose to levels higher than those of 1946. The River Wharfe outflanked defences at Tadcaster and, at its peak, the level of the River Ouse was higher than recorded in 1625. As defences were over-topped in Selby and Barlby, 300 properties were flooded. In Tadcaster, 30 were flooded.
Local drainage problems caused flooding in a further 60 properties in Selby town and more than 200 other properties were affected in Bishopthorpe, Fulford, Elvington, Brotherton, Ryther, South Milford, Bolton Percy and many other villages besides. More than half the 88 villages in the constituency were directly affected by flooding or loss of electricity. Virtually all were affected by loss of road and rail links.
The night-time images of Chinook helicopters carrying heavy loads of sandbags taking off from a car park in Selby so that soldiers could toil away until dawn to reinforce the banks at Barlby will live not just in the local, but in the national consciousness for a long while. At one stage, the river was 1 ft above the defences at Barlby, but the sandbags held. If they had been breached, 7,500 properties in Barlby and Selby would have been flooded. I do not doubt that many people would have lost their lives. Many businesses would never have re-emerged intact after the deluge.
Many flood victims in the area endured a miserable Christmas, but we still have much to be grateful for: the local council, the Environment Agency, the police, the Army, the drainage boards, as well as all the volunteers who offered shelter and food and filled sandbags. Things could have been so much worse. Their fortitude, endurance, Yorkshire grit and determination not to be beaten by the elements were summed up by the British Waterways staff I met at Selby lock. Fred Firth and Terry Downes, the lock keepers, and their supervisor, Martin Walter, worked 36-hour shifts in a desperate effort to keep the pumps working. Like many heroes and heroines of the Selby floods, they were very self-effacing, but their actions spoke for themselves.
Lessons have already been learned. Together with the agencies involved, I hosted a full day of hearings in Selby town hall in December and representatives of more than 20 communities attended. The need to improve communications between local communities and the central Silver command was often stressed as a priority. In villages such as Cawood, Kelfield and Kellington, massive voluntary efforts to keep the rivers at bay were co-ordinated by the local parish councils. North Yorkshire county council has agreed to examine how its emergency plans and procedures can take greater account of that grassroots element of our democracy.
In the aftermath of the floods, many of the communities most affected became politicised and formed action groups. Ros Amor, John Amor and Sharon Egan have provided outstanding leadership to the Barlby residents action group, which is a model of its kind. The local community is also grateful to major employers such as Hazelwood's and BOCM for sticking with the area. Many businesses such as RJB Mining worked tirelessly and closely with Yorkshire Electricity to restore the area's power, which was lost for some days.
A crisis of any kind brings with it difficult choices. It changes perceptions of what had seemed ordinary problems so that suddenly they seem overwhelming. It is essential at such times to remain calm and measured, but to act decisively. I shall discuss briefly a number of such problems--the funding of flood defences, the bills that floods leave behind them, the impact of mining in Selby, the problems of subsidence, particularly for agriculture, and insurance issues.
This Thursday morning, the Yorkshire regional flood defence committee meets at York racecourse. The proposal before it is to increase the levy on local authorities by 63 per cent. That would mean a local authority contribution of almost £27 million in the next financial year, compared to about £17 million in the current financial year. For North Yorkshire the increase would be from £2.3 million to £3.7 million. That is £1.4 million out of a total budget for North Yorkshire of more than £400 million. Contrary to some local speculation, we are speaking of a 63 per cent. increase in the levy on the councils, not on the council tax itself.
The prize is significant--an enhanced programme of capital works on improved flood defences would follow the completion of a survey of all the major rivers in the county, which will be finished in April this year. Catchment strategy studies are focusing not only on providing flood barriers in towns and villages downstream, such as in Selby and Barlby, but on improving the retention of water in the drainage systems in the hills.
The new capital programme next year would be £23 million under this budget, instead of the originally planned £15 million. Selby and Barlby could look forward to a £1.5 million enhancement of their defences in the next financial year, in addition to the emergency repair works, costing £250,000, which commenced this week.
The prize is so important that it is essential that it not be threatened by a funding dispute between local and central Government. Last Friday, the west midlands flood defence committee put on hold for one year a budget that would have meant a levy increase of about 10 per cent. Many important flood defence schemes in areas such as Shrewsbury, Cheltenham and Melton Mowbray are now in doubt. I very much hope that the Yorkshire regional flood defence committee does not adopt a similar strategy.
The funding of flood defences must be a partnership between local and national Government. The paper to be presented to the regional flood defence committee on Thursday states that the profile of asset condition--that is, the flood defences--in the Yorkshire region is not acceptable. The assets in the region are in much worse condition than anywhere else in the country.
That did not happen and it was a gamble which representatives from other councils played and which did not come off.
I understand that a bid has been submitted to Government by the Environment Agency for additional emergency funding to cover the emergency response and urgent repair works in the wake of the floods. It is essential that the Government respond quickly to that request. That accounts for some of the 63 per cent. increase to be asked of local councils on Thursday in Yorkshire, but at least half the increase is for increased capital expenditure on flood defences. That will be funded at the increased rate of 65 per cent. by central Government.
Moreover, if the local authority levy is increased this year, there is every expectation that it will be matched by an increase in the standard spending assessment for flood defences next year. That is essentially a cash flow problem for local councils. It is essential that, on Thursday, the Yorkshire flood defence committee should accept in full the proposed capital programme. Both local and central Government then have a responsibility to reach a partnership agreement on the funding.
Barlby county primary school is one of four in the county which are part of a private finance initiative bid to build new schools. The final contracts with the developer, Accord, were due to be signed just as the rains started. The school's new site was badly flooded. Showing considerable alacrity, the county council and the developer, Accord, have now submitted a new scheme with Barlby school, set to be rebuilt on its existing site and on an adjacent piece of land. That has changed the financing package somewhat. Later today, I shall meet the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith),
Since the floods, there have been campaigns in two villages to stop the prospect of mining under the villages because of fears of subsidence increasing the flood risk. I have held discussions regarding Naburn village with RJB Mining and I expect an announcement on its precise plans later this month.
As regards Kelfield, it is clear that during the next three years RJB Mining will mine under the village. The local Conservative party, emboldened by a visit from Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of the Conservative party in the European Parliament, has jumped on that bandwagon and shown its support, through Mr. McMillan-Scott, for revoking planning permission for RJB Mining to mine under Kelfield. Quite how it intends to bring that about has not been made clear. But there are dangers in jumping on bandwagons. If RJB Mining does not mine under Kelfield, there will be no further coal to mine from Wistow mine. If Wistow shuts, the whole Selby complex will close within weeks, such are the huge fixed costs of operating Gascoigne Wood, where all the coal comes to the surface. More than 3,000 jobs and many jobs in the Selby area dependent on mining would be lost within weeks.
Moreover, there is no need for the people of Kelfield to panic. The village can be perfectly adequately defended by improved flood defences. One need only consider the nearby villages of Escrick and Stillingfleet, both of which have been extensively mined under in recent years. Without the pumps and flood banks paid for by the National Coal Board, both those villages would have been flooded last November.
RJB Mining has a legal responsibility to pay for flood defences at Kelfield. The Environment Agency needs to adopt a robust attitude with RJB Mining to ensure that it lives up to its responsibilities. The two bodies need to co-ordinate their plans, and I intend to make sure that they do so. In the old days, the National Rivers Authority and the National Coal Board both regarded themselves as public sector bodies, working for the public good. Now, RJB Mining, as a private company, quite properly has responsibilities to its shareholders and an eye for the bottom line. But if anything, that enhances the Environment Agency's role as an agency solely concerned with the public interest.
To give one brief example, many farms and roads in the area were flooded between Deighton and Naburn, which has been extensively mined, with subsidence of about 1 m. The flooding was caused by water backing up in Wood dyke, in the area which had been lowered. Last year, a £750,000 scheme was drawn up by the Environment Agency for an earth embankment and a pump to be placed adjacent to the dyke where it enters the river alongside the B1222. That would have prevented flooding of properties such as Park farm at Deighton, which suffered more than £20,000-worth of damage, and Moreby lodge, near Naburn. For some reason, the scheme was never implemented. There is a suspicion locally that sometimes the Environment Agency can be a bit of a soft touch in dealing with RJB Mining. It needs to show by its actions in the coming months that that is far from true.
Equally, the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991, as it pertains to flooding, may need to be tested in a Lands Tribunal. There is little doubt that the aforementioned Park farm at Deighton, run by Mr. and Mrs. Whitely, would not have flooded prior to mining. Yet whether flood damage caused as a direct result of subsidence falls under the terms of the 1991 Act remains ambiguous.
That brings me finally to the wider problems of farmers and householders who have suffered as a result of the floods. One national newspaper described the flood waters around Selby at one point as being larger than Lake Windermere. Clearly, in such circumstances, Selby's farming community has suffered great losses. In some cases, people have been dealing with uninsurable losses.
The local secretary of the National Farmers Union wrote to me after the floods with details of some of the problems faced by farmers. Jimmy Lund was one of the first local farmers to suffer, and one of the most seriously affected. He had to evacuate all his stock, produce and family from his 100-acre farm, which was under water for nearly a month. Another farmer, Ces Elcock, at one time had only about 10 per cent. of his 300-odd acres that was not flooded. The worst of the losses that he suffered was of some 40 acres of sugar beet.
I know that local farmers appreciate the changes that have been made to arable area payments for flooded land. The derogation that my hon. Friend the Minister has managed to negotiate with Europe is very helpful, and local farmers and the NFU are looking forward to the results of further applications that have been made to Europe for modifications to the scheme.
I think that some local farmers will choose to try and plant crops in the spring, rather than opt for set-aside, for which I understand that they would not receive payments until August 2002. However, anything that can be done to assist farmers, some of whose businesses have been devastated, would be most welcome.
Equally, householders in the Barlby residents action group are carefully monitoring problems of reinsurance. Many people are dreading a possible hike in their premiums when their policies fall due for renewal. Next week, I am to meet the Association of British Insurers with the action group.
Above all, we must create a sense of confidence and renewed hope for the future in the area. The problems of reinsurance will be mitigated considerably if the Yorkshire floods defence committee backs the enhanced capital programme at its meeting on Thursday.
In summary, our response to the great floods of Selby in the year 2000 must retain a sense of balance and proportion. We must balance the responsibilities of local government and central Government, and also the need to extract the rich resource of coal from under our area with the need to protect our farms and villages for future generations. Those people will live their lives when both coal and the floods of 2000 will be a distant memory in Selby.