|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): First, I thank Mr. Speaker for enabling me to raise this subject. I cannot say that I am an enthusiast for the present procedure, which is yet another way of conning the public, rather like early-day motions. It is rather depressing that we suggest that something will happen after such debates. By ensuring that more happens in the House of Commons, while taking less notice of it, the Government are doing great damage to our parliamentary democracy. These debates are another such con, but one must use what one has.
I am making use of the present procedure because my constituency has 74 miles of coastline. I am honoured to represent a large number of people, but my constituency also contains many rivers, such as the Blythe, the Alde, the Orr, the Orwell, the Deben and their numerous tributaries. I have therefore witnessed the problems of coastal erosion, rising sea levels and fluvial flooding. In one way or another, the constituency of Suffolk, Coastal is well named.
My personal interest in this issue does not cloud my mind to the fact that 10 per cent. of the population in England and Wales live in areas that are at risk from flooding. That affects 1.8 million properties.
Why should one be concerned about this issue now? The reason is that there is growing evidence that the threat is increasingly significantly. The distinguished Halcrow report suggests that the problems with our coastal defences are so serious that approximately one third of east coast defences, two thirds of south coast defences and half of west coast defences are expected to fail in a serious flooding incident. When one realises that about £207 billion worth of property and possessionsI am not even talking about the peopleis threatened, one sees the seriousness of the matter.
In case anyone ever listens to what we say in this Chamber or, indeed, in any other, I should remind hon. Members that Hull is one of the key locations at risk. I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister recognises that his city is at risk, along with Blackpool, areas around Great Yarmouth, Bristol and Dungeness power station.
Some 47 densely populated locations face high risk, and about 397 sq km of urban areas are at risk in aggregate. Some 98 km of coastal defences were assessed as being likely to fail in the event of a relatively small incident, and they are mainly in the Anglian, north-west and southern regions. We are therefore in a pretty serious situation.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He is right to raise this important subject, and I want to put his words in context. He will be aware of the 1953 flood that occurred at little way round the coast from his constituency, and 53 people from my constituency perished in it. Is he also aware of the great danger of high sea levels later this year and of the fact that global temperatures for the first three months of this year were the highest ever recorded?
When I had the job now held by the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), I made the first step in recognising the impact of climate change. It caused a good deal of controversy because people did not believe in climate change in those days, and it was extremely lucky that two members of the Government did believe in itI was one; the other was the then Prime Minister. It was a useful combination because, without her, I would not have been able to do anything. I raised the specifications for coastal defences because flooding seemed a probability. That was a useful thing to do, but it is some 10 years since I had any connection with the issue, and I started on that course a good five or six years earlier. However, it was the beginning of a realisation, which is now much more widespread, of the impact of climate change.
That is the first reason why the situation has changed. The Government now accept the importance of climate change, and the science is universally accepted. The only argument is whether, and if so by how much, human beings have contributed to it. I believe that the case has been clearly demonstrated and that no Government have the excuse not to take into account at least the median line of what climate change may do.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): The right hon. Gentleman has a credible and creditable track record on these matters and he is right to raise them. Does he agree that not only do we need protection from possible flooding, but we need to do more to prevent it? One serious problem is that the Environment Agency has no right to object to developments on flood plains, which could disrupt drainage and increase the likelihood of flooding.
The first reason, which I have already mentioned, is climate change. The second reason is the huge change in agricultural practices over the past 10 to 15 years. There is now a great deal more drainage, so that when water rolls off the fields onto the roads it causes a huge build up of water in the drainage pipes. That causes floods in places that never had floods before.
One agricultural change that we have gone in for involves what are called welfare pigs. I have doubts about the principle of welfare pigs because, as I hope everyone knows, pigs do not sweat, and the last thing that we should do is put them out in open fields. Historically, pigs wandered about in oak forests and other woodland areas. That is how they should be kept, but the driving force behind pig welfare comes from people who live in towns and have never seen the animals, so they do not understand what happens. Nevertheless, welfare pigs is the great thing, so out in the
The third reason for needing to move on is our ageing sea defences. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) spoke about the floods in 1953. Much of the work that has been done as a result of those floods is coming to its end, and those sea defences need to be replaced.
The fourth reason that this is the moment to talk seriously about the issue was supplied by the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), in the previous debate, when he was busy promoting the Government line that we should go back on the question of building on greenfield sites. Such references drop into every speech and are designed to change people's attitudes. We all know what the Government are aboutbuilding large numbers of houses out in the countryside. They are building up to it, turning their backs on 20 years of environmental battling and returning to a position that obtained before Iwhen I was a Ministerhad the opportunity of stopping out-of-town shopping centres and the like.
That is what they will try to do, so into the Under-Secretary's little speech was dropped the sentence, "There really are not enough brownfield sites in London." There are enough brownfield sites in London to meet our needs if we spend time and money on preparing them and making them available. That is the fact of the matter.
In opposition, Labour Members said that the Conservative Government were mad to suggest that we needed 4.6 million homes during the next 25 years. We were told that that was all wrong, quite unacceptable and nothing to do with the facts. Now, of course, they have accepted it, but in order to hide that fact, they do not use the figure spread over 25 years, but the equivalent figure over 10 years, pretending that that makes it different.
The Government know very well that a huge number of new homes need to be built. If 40 per cent. of them are to be built on greenfield sites, as they have already accepted and which is far too high a proportion, that will cause even greater pressure to build on the flood plain and in areas threatened by floods, as the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said.
We know that flood-generating rainfall events, as they are called, are increasing. The nature of rainfall is changing. Scattered showers through the summer have been increasingly replaced not just by more rain, but by more continuous and driving rain, which is much closer to tropical rain. We know that that will increase and that its results will be very serious, as will those of river canalisation, which has created other problems in order to defeat particular ones in certain areas.
We know that it will happen, so we should examine what the Government have done about it. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who will reply to the debate, is one of the
I will say one unkind thing about him, however: his position on hunting is wholly unacceptable and has damaged what would otherwise be a real power in the countryside. He is one of the few Ministers with some credibility in the countryside and I am sorry that he has adopted a ridiculous and totally urban view of hunting. Apart from that, I am pleased to be able to debate with him.
The first difficulty is the incredible complexity of the way that we in England and Wales handle the matter. The Scots are much more sensible, and I will come to that later. The hon. Member for Gordon will be pleased to know that I am to make my first recorded statement in favour of devolved Government. It may be a moment worth waiting for. Let me tell the Committee what the steering group said. As we know, the steering group was a collection of middle-ranking apparatchiks from the DepartmentsGod knows how many Departments there arewho are interested in flooding. Paragraph 20a serious paragraph from the steering group's background paper for the consultationstated:
That is the policy of Her Majesty's Government, and how it will be carried out. You may understand what that means for management, Mr. Deputy SpeakerI know that you are a remarkable manbut no one else does.
Can we imagine any business announcing to its shareholders that this is how it will deal with its most pressing risk? This "management of risk" is endangering property worth £207 billion, let alone human beings. We will have something that is backed up by ongoing
A system that is integrated, strategic and streamlined, but has some clear connection with local issues, is a sensible concept. That is totally different from what we have and what the steering group suggested that the evidence indicated was still sensible. It is also interesting that the Under-Secretary does not believe that either. When he appeared to be trying to explain why the Environment Agency had not been quick off the mark in dealing with the floods in Northampton and Kidlington, he said:
In case the Under-Secretary thinks that I have been unfair about complacency, I will give him an example. On 18 March 1999, I asked the Under-Secretary, who was still in his place thenhe is a man of considerable continuitywhen would he publish the flood and coastal defence project appraisal guidance notes. The relationship between local government, the other agencies and the Government is crucial and what holds all this nonsense together. He told me that there would be six instead of one, which I suppose is some help. The six would be published separately, and altogether would be completed within 18 months. It is now three and a half years later and we still have not seen the last one. In all that time, and doubtless for some time to come, nobody has had the guidance notes. It is not that we do not have an integrated system; we do not even have the guidance note to run an unintegrated system. This is nonsense; it is not sensible.
One has to assess the complexity. The Government believe that if the money goes upI am glad that marginally it willeverything is fine, but it is funny that the amount is exactly what the insurance companies demanded under threat of withdrawal.
Mr. Gummer : With great respect, that is wrong. The more does not come until later. I have worked out that it is £12 million less; the more does not arrive until three years from now. I have also taken into account the lowest feasible rate of inflation.
Mr. Morley : The right hon. Gentleman knows from his experience in government and with the Environment Agency that this substantial increase in flood and coastal defence funding cannot be delivered in one year. It will take three years to put the planning, the schemes and the rest of it in place: £150 million of additional money is a considerable amount. The right hon. Gentleman is right that it finally falls into place by the third year, but there has to be some ramping up, as it cannot be spent in one year.
Mr. Gummer : I do not disagree, but the ramping up has to be to the level agreed in the first place; one cannot ramp up to a lower figure, which is what it will be by the time that inflation has cut into it. It is one of the fundamental rules of accounting that one should ramp up to £162 million if one wants to meet the figures provided by the Association of British Insurers. The Government decided on this figure for the simple reason that the insurers said that they would otherwise not continue to insure. It is straightforward blackmail. I do not blame them because we had turned insurance into assurance: it is virtually certain that many areas of the country will be flooded, so it becomes closer to life assurance. The Government know perfectly well that had they not acceded, they would have been in a severe mess.
The Government believe that by bellyaching about how difficult it all is and then providing some money, they have solved the problembut the problem is much more complex than they allow. A throwaway line in the consultation paper says that
We have to face increases in cost, but the money has to be spent differently. Is the Minister going to spend this money more sensibly? The Oxera report points to the distortion between expenditure on capital projects and operational expenditure to reduce flood risk. That will be worsened by some of the Government's plans, so what is the Minister going to do about it? What about the necessary reallocation of flood management expenditure to ensure more sustainable flood management, or are we merely going to rush after saving flood protection places that have already been undermined?
Cost seems to be the Government's single response, so how can we ensure that the money goes where it should? The system of getting it to local authorities, where it becomes their responsibility, is at best flawed and at worst totally arbitrary. People find themselves saddled with a level of support that is unconnected to their needs and seems to change at the whim of the Government. Insurance is important, and the Government, as I have suggested, have given the money because they want to buy off the insurance. However, there is so much to do because severe weather and floods in 2001 led to insurance claims of £1 billion, and insurance claims during the past five years have run at about £400 million a year.
The Under-Secretary should come down with me to Aldeburgh and see the difficulties in the areas by the Rivers Alde and Ore and the complexity of the relationships between English Nature and the Environment Agency for England and Wales. What are the Government doing about the constant inability to get anyone to take responsibility? I had to bring representatives of the Environment Agency, English Nature, the local council and the protection body together on the foreshore of Aldeburgh to get them to talk to each other and tell each other what they intend to do. That shows our current lack of integration.
There are several things that we can do. We should stop building on flood plains and introduce a system in which part of the house building costs or house rates refers to the cost that the developers will impose on the public. Therefore, if we are going to have any building on flood plains or areas liable to flooding, the developer should meet the costs, if that is possible. If it is not, I would much prefer it if such developments were not built at all.
We must take that step, but the Government's recent planning document does not mention the issue. It talks about a lot of other nonsense, but does not address the planning biggest issue or explain what they will do. The Department of the Environment as was has been split up, and as I understand it the planning document was produced by Lord Falconer without any discussion with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The only meeting that took place was with the Minister for the Environment after it had been written to have a nice chat about how good it was. DEFRA had no say in it, and nor did people concerned with flooding, which is the problem with joined-up government.
We should also do proper research to understand the real problem, and a great deal of work is still to be done. Two points from Scotland are important. First, why do bodies in Scotland have a duty to protect people from flooding? In England, they have the power to protect people, but not a duty to do so.
Mr. Gummer : Well, that was his answer last time. The point is that the bigger the problem, the more one should want to solve it. It should be the other way round, and I do not understand it. It is no good saying that we will not solve the problem in England because it is so big, but they can solve it in Scotland because it is just small. That does not seem a sensible answer.
It cannot be right that those responsible for flood prevention do not have a duty to prevent floods and protect property and people. It cannot be right that they merely have permissive powers. It cannot be right that the policy system in Scotland means that all local authority chief executives are directed to take climate change into account in all their policies. No one has said that in England, Wales or, as far as I know, Northern Ireland. Why are we not telling people that they have to do it? They should have the responsibility, not just permissive powers.
The second point about Scotland is that the Scottish Executive try to protect because it is dangerous, not because they have the cost-effective figures right. They say that one of their duties is to protect Scotland from flooding, so they will do it. In England, they say that one duty of the English authorities is to see whether, in an entirely cost-effective way, we can find a mechanism to allow people to spend such money as is available to protect people from flooding where there is enough noise and trouble. Those are two different approaches andit hurts me to say thisI prefer the Scottish approach.
The Government stand in the dock for complacency, for failing to understand the complexity of those issues failing to do for England and Wales what Scotland does, and for not being prepared to admit that climate change has a cost that must be borne in protecting our people from flooding inland and by the sea. The Government stand condemned on those issues. I would understand if this were merely a rural issueI say "merely" because that is how the Government think about rural areasbut it also affects many urban areas.
I exclude the Minister from those criticisms. I am sure that he is doing his best, but the Government believe that they have only to throw money at the problem. In fact, they have thrown very little money at it, and what they have offered is pretty small. However, that will not work in any case unless we stop building where we should not be building; we do the research that we need; we make permissive powers compulsory duties; and we take a large leaf out of the Scottish book and recognise that on this issue, unlike on many others, we are behind our neighbours north of the border and others in the European Union, who have a great deal to teach us.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook): Order. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that it is common practice in such a debate to commence the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before its conclusion. In other words, we must hand over to the first Front-Bench speaker at 12 noon. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to be clear, to make pertinent points and to bear that time constraint in mind when making their contributions and accepting and making interventions.
Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester): I welcome the opportunity to debate flooding. October is an important month in the cycle of flood events, because as far as Worcester is concerned, it is the first month of winter, when flooding is likely to occur. I also welcome the spending review announcement of £150 million to be spent on flood defences by the end of the three-year period. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary give more details about how the money will be broken down over that period? What will be the breakdown between major capital projects for flood defence, and revenue expenditure, for example to improve flood-warning systems throughout the country?
As a result of the good will shown by the Government in the extra investment plans, I shall take this opportunity to put some pressure on the Association of British Insurerswhich was mentioned in the previous contributionto extend for at least a further three years the moratorium that is due to end in December. For those who live on flood plains, who have properties that would probably be unsellable without insurance and who would face huge bills year on year, the prospect of no insurance is too much to bear. I hope that the Minister will put pressure on the ABI to come up with the goods and continue with household insurance cover.
In Worcester, we have three main types of flooding. As the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said, it is a complicated issue. The most obvious cause of flooding is the River Severn, which flows through the city centre and usually floods because of rain falling in the Welsh hills and mountains. That affects properties on Hylton road, Waterworks road, Diglis avenue, the cricket ground and the racecourse.
We have a minor river course, Barbourne brook, that is prone to flooding and flooded in April 1998. The householders of Beechwood Park estate awoke one morning to find that things were not quite as they would have expected. Sewerage flooding has also become an increasing problem in the city. Sewerage systems that were built in Victorian timescombined surface water sewerssimply cannot cope with the volume of water that now goes through them.
I believe that major flood defences are needed along the banks of the River Severn, similar to the ones that have been pencilled in for Bewdley and Shrewsbury further upstream. I am worried about the number of separate zones that have been identified when assessments have been made of whether flood defences are viable. I have some experience of how the cost benefit system works. I was lucky to pick up in my in-tray in May 1997the world was not all rosy before that datean outstanding issue along the Diglis avenue area. A project had been identified, but under the cost benefit rules it was not viable.
I am pleased to say that the project has now been completed. Concrete was poured into the floors of Victorian houses to raise them by 18 in. It makes the bay windows look a bit odd from the inside looking out, but it stops the more regular flooding that takes place along the Severn. I worked with those residents to see how the system works. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows, I am a great critic of the current cost benefit rules. I was pleased to hear him say on the programme "On the Record" that from April onwards
I am also keen to bring in a number of temporary defences in the city for isolated properties. The Severn View hotel stands alone on the banks of the Severn. It is surrounded by roads and car parks. There are no other properties nearby, yet it is in need of some form of flood defence. I understand that some temporary measure was being considered over the winter. Luckily we did not have to use those schemes, but again I urge that money from the spending review be used to provide temporary defences. Let us find out whether they work.
Worcester city council provides the duck boards, the breeze blocks and the sandbags for properties that flood. The sandbag culture is a difficult one to understand. Sandbags do not solve the flooding problems, although they offer residents some reassurance. The council provides sandbags for properties on major roads such as Hylton road, where the biggest problem is caused by lorries ignoring the flood warning signs and going down the road, creating bow waves that then spill into properties. Sandbags can help to prevent such flooding. What advice or guidance will my hon. Friend's Department give to residents in places like Upton-on-Severn? It is not in my constituency, but the Environment Agency has concluded that the geography of the land does not allow permanent flood defences to be installed.
The problem of minor river systems has been far more difficult for people to understand. The Beechwood Park estate is in the centre of Worcester and is about 30 years old. It is two miles from the Severn and yet in Easter 1998 it flooded to incredible depths. There was heavy local rain and the culvert that runs underneath the estate could not cope with the volume of water that was flowing through it. Residents had to be rescued from their first floor windows by an inshore lifeboat. I pay tribute to the Environment Agency for the work that it has done since then. It has improved upstream holding capacity through a penstock valve, which, by increasing the height of the dam by a couple of inches, can hold back a tremendous amount of water to manage the flow through the culvert. It also cleared out the culvert and was surprised to find a concrete blockage, which restricted the flow by 70 per cent. It was no wonder that those houses were at risk. Since that blockage has been cleared, touch wood, there has been no flooding on the Beechwood Park estate. I ask the Minister to do what he can to put pressure on those responsible for maintaining watercourses like that to take the issues seriously, because that block of concrete was not put there over night. It had been there for a while and was restricting the use of that culvert.
Sewerage flooding was one of the worst flooding experiences in the city of Worcester. In the autumn and winter of 2000, Waverley street and Cavendish street, which are miles from the river although they are in a low-lying area, were flooded. The combined Victorian sewer was unable to cope with local rain and the river at high levels and water, and sewage backed up along the system until it came out at the nearest exit point, which
The River Severn at high level floods the pumping station near the river that deals with the sewage. After a strong campaign, led by a local resident, Mary Dhonau, the Severn Trent water authority put in place plans to improve the pumping station and work is ongoing to enable more sewage and flood water to be pumped under the River Severn to the sewerage works.
In the light of my experience of dealing with sewer flooding, I want to know what the Minister thinks about non-return valves, which can be used in sewerage systems that developers could install in new properties. They might be inconvenient to householders, who may not be allowed to flush their toilets during a period of flooding, but that is a darn sight better than the alternative.
I want to raise a couple more matters, one of which is similar to that mentioned by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal. First, how will PPG 25 be enforced? Building on flood plains is a cause for concern. Many residents of Beechwood Park estate, where the houses are 30 years old, probably did not know that they were living on a flood plain until they woke up to find several feet of water in their front rooms.
In Worcester, we want to develop the city further along the riverside and in the Diglis docks area, which is alongside the River Severn and the canal, which is just above the flood plain, but there is anxiety about how to do so. I fear that with climate change and the increased frequency and severity of flooding, there may be difficulties.
My last point is about insurance. Insurance companies are doing a great deal, digitally mapping flood plain areas to find out which individual properties are affected by flooding rather than using the post-code system. Does the Minister share my anxiety that the insurance companies may use that information not to help households but as a tool for withdrawing cover from properties that are most prone to flooding from sewers and from major and minor rivers? I should like to hear the Minister's thoughts on that matter, especially on how properties shown on digital maps to be in high-risk areas will keep insurance cover to enable residents to maintain their standard of living?
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) on securing the debate and on the manner in which he opened it.
The debate refers to the potential for flooding in October 2002 and from my point of view it is important that we remember that fact. In October 2001, south Cambridgeshire was subject to some of the worst flooding for generations and more than 400 homes in my constituency were flooded. Although there may be a small probability of a repeat of that event, many people in the constituency will live in fear of what may happen in October 2002 unless and until measures are taken that substantially reduce the risk. They will ask what has
I shall not detain hon. Members at length on what we have done locally but I hope that the Minister and hon. Members will acknowledge the achievements of the local authority, with the Environment Agency, parishes, the county council and Anglian Water, particularly in terms of sewer flooding; I hope that in due course OFWAT, when it does an interim price determination, will allow additional funds to help Anglian Water do more in respect of sewer flooding in my area. Many such initiatives have been taken on a district-wide and individual parish level so that we do all that we can to minimise risk.
Many actions, however, are beyond the scope of individual local authorities or constituents. I shall focus on some of those. When I had my own debate on the subject on 20 November last year, the first of the 10 points that I made related to the availability of additional funding for investment. It has taken eight months, but the Minister has today said that there is to be additional investment, broadly in line with what the Association of British Insurers recommended last year. As the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) said, that takes the issue on to whether we can have greater assurance about the availability of insurance. I hope that, in responding to the debate, the Minister will make clear the Government's targets. The ABI was not asking for £145 million of investment but for a Government commitment to provision, over a reasonable time scale, of flood defences against a probability of flooding of up to 0.5 per cent. for any significant number of properties and, as an interim measure, for a short-term Government commitment to meeting the 1 per cent. probability in densely populated urban areas and 1.3 per cent. probability in less densely populated urban areas. The first question is: are we now at the point where the ABI and the Government can be brought together so that there is a long-term Government commitment to the 0.5 per cent. standard of defence which gives the insurance industry the degree of comfort it needs to continue to offer insurance? If that cannot be met for a substantial period, will the Government talk to insurers about trying to offer short-term support for the insurance industry, as contemplated in the Government's consultation on the flood defence review, so that insurance continues to be available for householders who have taken all reasonable steps to protect themselves but who would not for the time being be protected against such flood risk?
I hope that other initiatives will be in place before October. The Government have published several reports and the flood and coastal defence funding and organisation review, to which hon. Members, the public and others have responded; the Government have not yet responded to that. I hope that by October we will have such a response from them, before we debate the issues again. I also hope that we will be told whether there is a prospect of a development connection chargethe Government left that open as a possibility yesterday. However, I do not stress that too forcefully because in places where development is occurringmuch of it in south Cambridgeshiredemands on it are already very high. Affordable housing, infrastructure costs and meeting the direct drainage and flood defence
I also hope that we will have substantial additional progress on catchment studies. The catchment for the Cam, in the first instance, and also for the Great Ouse and so onmy hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) who will respond on behalf of the Opposition will speak about those riversis a matter of the greatest importance to people around Cambridge. The catchment studies have to be the starting point for identifying where the risks are and how we can deal with them. We cannot make good progress without them.
Linked to that is the point that rural areas will not necessarily need costly physical flood defence barriers, but their requirements may be beyond the investment measures that the Government announced yesterday. In the context of reform of the common agricultural policy, one of the principle measures that we can achieve using agricultural support to the farming industry is to encourage farmers to make land available for flood storage and reservoirs up stream, so that rural areas can be defended in ways that are sympathetic to the environment. Those of my constituents in the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds would also say that there could be substantial wildlife benefits. We have identified two locations in my constituency where flooding could have been prevented last October if such flood storage areas had been created, or in some senses re-created as compared with what happened in recent years when flood plains were lost.
I shall mention two other matters that should be in place by October. We should know where the responsibilities lie for managing the watercourse, warning people about flood risk and taking action when required. I shall not dwell on who should have the responsibility, but I shall say that action cannot be removed from first-tier local authorities. They have a substantial role to play and are accountable locally to their voters for delivery of that service. However, they need the resources, which brings me to my last point.
In the context of the local government review of fundingit is now no longer part of the Minister's Departmentwe will know by October the shape of the new structure of revenue grant funding to local authorities and how it is to be calculated. I have considered the relevant document, which suggests several options. However, I must confess that I have not yet found any reference to flood defence as one of the factors that must be included in the calculations. I cannot believe that it would not be there, so I hope that it is and that it will be prominent among the measures that will lead to additional needs-related block funding to local authorities.
All such measures could be in place by October. On the basis of some of them being implemented, I could return to my constituents and say that some measures had been taken by the Government and Parliament to make the repetition of the flooding last October and the risk to them a great deal less likely.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), not only on securing the debate, but on the passion with which he spoke. He brings a great deal of experience and expertise to the issues. I will not detain hon. Members long, because my right hon. and hon. Friends have covered the subject so comprehensively and with such expertise that I will largely repeat what they said, and so shall curtail my remarks.
It was the flooding in autumn 2000 that enforced my interest in the subject, especially because of my constituents' experience. We have two problems in the New Forest. One is the coastal problem of the western Solent and the Lymington river, which is protected to an extent by Hurst spit. However, it is subject to tidal flooding, especially when it is exacerbated by high river levels with increased rainfall. Further along the coast, we have the erosion of the cliffs at Barton-on-Sea. That is a well- known phenomenon. I once met someone from New Zealand who explained that they knew all about the problems of Barton-on-Sea because they had read about it in textbooks at school.
An equal if not greater problem is flooding on the Avon valley, which affects towns such as Fordingbridge and Ringwood, and villages further south. Increased rainfall leading to high river levels is exacerbated by a high water table when there has been a persistently wet period before the immediate flooding. That means that the ground simply cannot absorb any more water. In that respect, I was interested to hear what my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said about pigs. In the autumn of 2000, the run-off from pigs caused a substantial problem. I was unaware until he mentioned it that pigs are like ladies in that they do not sweat. I am not sure what bearing that has on flooding, but it was news to me.
After the experience that we had in the autumn of 2000 and the winter of 2001, there is a certainty that the problem will get even worse. The Henley centre, which is attached to the Meteorological Office, estimates that the sea level will rise by some 24 cm in the next 50 years. That is about 9 or 10 in. That rise in levels will have a different effect on different parts of the United Kingdom, and the Scots have less of a problem in that respect. Extraordinary as it may seem, Scotland is rising as England is sinking; the entire United Kingdom is pivoting. The sea level will rise on average by 16 cm in Scotland but by 31 cm in England. When one adds to that effect the other phenomena associated with global warming, such as increased and more persistent rainfall, storms and winds and so on, we can expect flooding problems to increase.
That begs the question whether we can continue with a legal framework that merely permits local authorities to take action over flooding rather than imposing duties on them. That approach might have been adequate in the past, but will it be adequate in future? Equally, can we go on with fragmented responsibilities and the lack of clear lines of accountability, with responsibility spread between local authorities, DEFRA, the DTLR and so on?
Bob Spink : My hon. Friend has made some interesting points. He identified global warming as an underlying cause of flood risks. In the light of the performance and innovation unit report on the energy review from earlier this year, does he accept that replacing the 25 per cent. non-carbon nuclear capacity with carbon generating capacity for our energy source over the next 10, 20 or 30 years will add to global warming, increase sea levels and river levels and add to the flood risk? It will be a disaster for this country, and we shall miss our Kyoto targets.
Mr. Swayne : My hon. Friend is right. It is not simply a question of cutting backwe must put the process into reverse, because even if we stop generating carbon at present levels, the problem will persist for many years. The problem will have to be addressed in future, but it needs to be addressed now.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) on securing this timely and important debate. As I said in an intervention, his reputation in the area is not in dispute and is well regarded both inside and outside the House. As he also said, as he represents Suffolk, Coastal, he has a direct concern and responsibility to ensure that these matters are discussed.
At the Liberal Democrat party conference last September, I co-chaired with the Environment Agency a breakfast on flooding. The Environment Agency was then and remains extremely concerned about the fact that it has some responsibility but insufficient control to be able to prevent, and protect people from, flooding. The sad truth is that the risks of flooding are likely to be as great or even greater than they have been in recent years, and nothing has really changed during the past year. Flooding may occur in different places, but certain pressure points will be overwhelmed.
The Minister will, no doubt, make much of the spending review's commitment to provide more money. That is, of course, welcome, but he must accept that it will take time, and therefore more floods, as well as more money, to deal with the problem. Even then, we are unlikely to keep pace with the increasing pressure to build, which will create floods, so we are chasing a target that is moving away from us faster than we are moving towards it. There is a lack of control and co-ordination, as well as a lack of funding, which together reduce our protection against floods. As has already been mentioned, it will soon be 50 years since 300 people lost their lives in the coastal flooding that occurred on the night of 31 January and 1 February 1953. In the money of the day, there was £5 billion-worth of damage. As the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, the scale of damage and loss of life would be far greater were such an event to happen now.
Coastal defences were strengthened after that event, but unfortunately the circumstances that conspired to cause it have worsened in the ensuing 49 years, and the coastal defences are now at the end of their useful life. The severe weather that arises from climate changenot an issue in dispute in this debatemeans that catastrophic tidal surges are more likely to happen and on a greater scale, not least because weather patterns are becoming more extreme. I saw a photograph in my local newspaper, The Press and Journal, of a tornado in Aberdeenshire. Such an event has never been heard of before, let alone photographed for the local paper.
Coastal erosion has also accelerated along the south and east coast and sea levels are rising. It has been estimated that, in the south of England over the next 50 years, the rise could average 0.6 mm a year. That means that existing sea defences, including the Thames barrier, will be overwhelmed in just a few years. Cities, such as Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol, Hull, Grimsby and Manchester, all face major flooding risks. I am afraid that, in my view, it is a matter of when, rather than if, such a major inundation of the east coast will happen, and it is by no means clear whether we could cope with coastal flooding on such a scale. Some 5 per cent. of England's populationmore than 2 million peoplelive in the 2,200 sq km of land most at risk of flooding from the sea, but five times as much land is at risk of flooding from rivers in England and Wales, and more than 1.3 million properties are at risk. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the combined flooding risk affects more than 2 million properties.
In both cases, it is likely to prove more expensive and less effective to spend money purely on flood protection rather than on prevention. The Association of British Insurers has said that it needs £145 millionit is funny how that figure connectsif it is not to withdraw the insurance. I have seen its press release, and the association has not said that the deal is done, only that it will consider it.
I accept that work needs to be done and, of course, protection mechanisms must be put in place. I am not suggesting that the money is unnecessary for physical protection, but I hope that the Minister accepts that we must think more deeply about how to deal with flooding, because we must address the issue of prevention as well as protection. We should not be concerned only about development on flood and coastal plains, although that is an issue. We must also ask whether we should continue building on land that is at risk from flooding from the sea, from rivers and from natural drainage patterns while recognising that development on other land, including farming practices, disrupts natural drainage patterns and increases flood risks, sometimes in unexpected placesincluding some of the brownfield sites that the Government want to develop, many of which have not been properly assessed for their contribution to floods.
I speak from personal experience as well as that of a constituency MP. I suffered a couple of years ago as a result of very localised flooding. After three and a half days of continuous rain, the water had risen until it came up through the floor of my house. My concern, like anybody's, was not only how to prevent it, but how to ensure that it did not happen again. Things happened by serendipity: my next door neighbour but one put down hardcore and gravel for his carthat flooded the lane,
Inverurie, the main town in my constituency, has repeated flood problems. It has not been foolish enough to build on the flood plain, although a recent development plan review suggested that it should. A more sensible suggestion was that the flood plain should be changed into an ornamental lakeI should say loch, but they call it a lakewith houses and recreational facilities built around it. That seemed a better idea. The problem was the houses that were built up the hill.
Major developments on former farming land meant that where water had previously fallen on fields and had leached away slowly in a natural drainage pattern, it now hit tarmac and tiles, overwhelmed the drainage system and inundated the centre of the town. The force of the water was so great that one constituent described to me having seen a manhole cover blown 20 ft in the air by the force of water after a cloudburst. We must recognise that we build at our peril. Any new development can have unexpected effects on drainage. We need more research and more control. If we are to build the 4.4 million homesan astonishing numberplanned for England and Wales, it is difficult to see how, under present planning rules, we will not contribute to new flooding problems that are on a scale that we have not previously experienced and that we shall have enormous difficulty preventing.
We need to take positive action to change the planning rules. I accept the role of English Nature, in terms of both wildlife and biodiversity and drainage patterns. When I say that the Environment Agency should be given overall control of flood management, it should be in partnership with English Nature. In Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage work together in that way. The hard standing for my neighbour's car demonstrated in a very local and specific way that sustainable urban drainage systems can make a major contribution to preventing rapid run-offs. I suggest that the Minister tell the Department that is responsible that they should be made mandatory for new developmentsthey work and make a real contribution.
Reference has been made to the practice and experience in Scotland. We do not have England's scale of coastal threat or the pressure of development in so many areas that England and Wales experience. However, we have had serious problems in places such as Paisley, Perth, Inverness, Elgin and Inverurie. That has contributed to what the Scottish Parliament and the Executive have done. I shall not read it, because of the time constraints on me, but I have a checklist that draws a sharp contrast to the mandatory practices adopted in Scotland, where all local authority chief executives are directed to take climate change into account and to take
Malcolm Bruce : I will. In conclusion, if we do not take such issues into account, we shall be unable to tackle a problem that has been bad enough over the past few years, but which will get worse in the coming years.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) on introducing the debate, although I have one complaint. He brings such knowledge, fluency, humour and passion to such important subjects that he is an extremely difficult act to follow. Indeed, he makes so many of one's own points so much more effectively that I sometimes feel like a man with a very large brush and a very large bucket following a resplendent cavalcade. However, I shall do my best.
The floods of 2000 demonstrated the disaster that inundation can be for people and their property. Some 700 locations were flooded, 11,000 people had to evacuate their homes or businesses, 10,000 properties were damaged and 37,000 others were saved only by prompt local action.
This October, there will be an unusually high tide. Rainfall has been high this year, the aquifers are full and much of the ground is saturated. We continue to build on water-absorbing land, however, and 5 million people, 2 million homes and 130,000 commercial properties in England are in areas at risk from flooding. In a normal year, with existing defences, flood damage costs about £600 million. In 2000, the floods cost insurers £1.3 billion, and uninsured losses may take the cost to £2 billion. This October, matters could be much worse.
It is therefore right to ask how the Government have prepared the nation. Although they cannot turn back the tide, stop the rain or immediately reverse rising sea levels, they can do much to protect us from something that is foreseeable and which may be a calamity. However, they have not prepared very well, according to a March 2001 National Audit Office report called "Inland Flood Defence". The report found that flood defences have remained constantly poor because of a continued lack of funding. In a condition survey of the Environment Agency's flood defence assets, which was completed in 2000, 43 per cent. of structures and 36 per cent. of linear barriers in England were categorised as very poor, poor or only fair.
I am sorry to say that little has changed. Indeed, the complacency of new Labour's attitude to coastal flood defences is clear from an examination of the figures supplied by the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries
Mr. Morley : It may assist the hon. Gentleman if I say that it is question of interpreting the figures. There has not been a drop in expenditure. Everything very much depends on the capital programmes and engineering schemes that are in place, and those vary from year to year. Sometimes slippage occurs on projects, and sometimes the amount of money allocated for ongoing projects may vary. In themselves, the figures do not indicate a decline in investment in flood defences.
Mr. Gummer : May I point out that the Minister always gives that answer. The truth is that, at the same time, the proportion of support given to coastal authorities had been cut, and the result was that many coastal defence projects did not go ahead because local authorities like mine could no longer afford them.
Mr. Sayeed : My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figures show that the Government have cut the amount being spent on protecting us from flooding. It does not matter how one cuts the cakethat is the reality. The 2001 Labour party manifesto stated:
and we are committed to investment in preventative solutions."
In the aftermath of the catastrophic events of autumn 2000, the Association of British Insurers called on the Government to increase spending on all flood defence measures in England and Wales by at least £145 million. However, when increased Government funding finally arrived last year in the shape of additional subsidies from DEFRA, it did little to help a deteriorating situation. Money allocated for flood warning and flood defence programmes increased from £66 million in 2000-01 to £114 million in 2003-04a nominal increase of £48 million, when insurers had asked for a minimum of £145 million a year.
The Minister may tell us that yesterday's comprehensive spending review will provide an extra £150 million, but my right hon. Friend has dealt effectively with that figure. True, it is to be welcomed, but how much of it will be used to maintain or improve defences; or will a third once again disappear down a bureaucratic black hole? Will the Minister confirm that none of that money will avert the effect of possible floods in October?
I acknowledge that the Government are considering whether the Environment Agency should take responsibility for critical rivers, yet operational responsibility for flood alleviation measures currently lies with local authorities, the water companies, riparian owners, the Environment Agency, the internal drainage boards and a host of other bodies. That is a recipe for evading responsibility, until a problem becomes a disaster. That is why, yet again, I ask the Minister to consider appointing a body to take overall responsibility for flood defence systems. That body, which may be an expanded Ofwat, should have no direct financial interest in the provision of defences, for that may give rise to accusations of conflicts of interest. It should be empowered to act as an independent adjudicator and enforcer, so that it can order emergency works to be carried out before a problem becomes a disaster, determine who should do them and, once the division of responsibility is clear, apportion the costs.
In a Westminster Hall debate on 10 July, at column 288, I raised the need for natural or what are known as soft defences, because inland hard defences often tend to shift the problem up or down stream. The Minister acknowledged the value of natural defences but neglected to say what the Government were doing. I would ask him today to remedy that. I also pointed out the need for better dredging. He replied that
I will be charitable: that was clearly an off-the-cuff remark to which the Minister had given little thought. One does not have to be a hydrologist to recognise that the reason that water flows from rivers to the sea is because there is a difference in pressure. A dredged river mouth permits the passage of a greater volume of water over a period of time, particularly at the twice-daily low tide levels. This time, I hope that the Minister will tell us what dredging operations are being undertaken and at what cost, or at least agree to write to me and place a copy of that information in the Library.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley) : I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) on securing this debate. He is acknowledged for his interest in the environment and for his work in the previous Conservative Government. He put his case in his usual flamboyant manner, which I enjoyed listening to very much. However, I do not necessarily agree with all his points, and there seems to be something of a schism among Opposition Members who have accused us of throwing money at the problem and of not providing enough money in the first place. Their approach seems confused.
It is worth bearing in mind that the funding comes from several sources. We provide capital funding and funding for other expenditure on forecasting and early-warning systems. Funding comes from local authorities in the standard spending assessment and through the levy that they pay, and the internal drainage boards also provide some.
Total funding has risen from £312.4 million in 1997, the year when the Halcrow report was written, to a projected £564.2 million for 2005. During the three years of the previous comprehensive spending review, there was a real growth rate of 3.2 per cent. in the money invested in our flood and coastal defence. In the new comprehensive spending review, covering the next three years, there will be an increase in real terms of 8.6 per cent. in funding for such defence. That represents a real average increase over the period of 15.02 per cent. Those are substantial sums of money and are in line with what the ABI has been asking for and with our own independent assessments of the investment that we need to make.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point that it is not just an issue of money. Money is important when dealing with such matters, but doing so involves a package of measures. We recognise that flood plain development is an issue in itself. It did not feature very much in the recent planning Green Paper because it has already been addressed in PPG 25, which was referred to by some hon. Members.
I accept that there are large communities living in flood plains. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Hull, which has invested substantially in reducing risk. I myself opened the Saltend flood defence scheme, which protects the outskirts of Hull. One of the rocks in that scheme has my name on it, as do several pumps that I have opened over the years in various obscure places in the Fens. That is part of the substantial investment in such schemes over the past few years. Since 2000, the Government have approved 274 schemes, at a total cost of £386 million.
On some of the comments about Scotland, it was conceded that Scotland has a smaller problem in that regardit has approved 60 schemes in the past 40 years and has an annual spend is £12 million. I must correct the right hon. Gentleman: there is no statutory obligation in Scotland to provide flood defences. The situation is no different from that in England. There are statutory obligations in regard to maintenance but that is not quite the same.
Changes at sea level are taken into account in the projected changes in our planning and forward proposals, in the research that we have commissioned into shoreline management plans and strategies and in the fully integrated research programmes that we have with the Environment Agency. I accept that in some cases factors such as changes in agricultural practices have not helped in regard to water run-off, although I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman that the grassland environmental impact assessment, which is a
We have set targets on a range of issues, including brownfield sites. We are ahead of target on the proportion of brownfield sites used for development. We are looking at ways of raising other income. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire mentioned connection charges; we can look at that, not only in terms of raising additional money for flood defence but of making people think carefully about development in flood risk areas. A flood plain levy was also suggested but it is clear from our consultation that that is not a favoured option and we will take that into serious consideration.
We recognise that there has to be a range of elements in this package of measures. We are streamlining capital, maintenance and operational funding into one fund, as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire requested; we have announced warning systems; we have improved forecasting; there is stronger planning guidance and long-term strategic planning; we have a foresight programme, overseen by the Government chief scientist, which is a 100-year assessment of need; high-level targets have been set; there is investment and research into climate change; there is streamlining of institutions in our study of the funding review; there is support for self-help publicity through flood awareness campaigns; catchment study plans; and support for new technology and mobile schemes, as my hon. Friend the
Since 1998, when we commissioned the Bye report after the floods in Northampton, there has been a revolution in the provision of flood and coastal defence in this country, in terms of the number of reviews that we have initiated, the actions that we have taken to enhance flood warnings and to strengthen our response to flooding and our substantially increased investment. We have also introduced a points system to try to ensure a transparent method of determining priority in flood defence schemes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester said, we will review that next April, to emphasise the number of people who are affected.
One cannot ignore the issue of cost benefit, which was introduced in the flood defence strategy in 1993. We accept cost-benefit analysis as part of our approach. We also recognise that we need to look at planning and that includes sustainable urban drainage. We are in close discussion with insurance companies and we listen carefully to what they say. We welcome the development of digital mapping, for example, and understand that there is a potential risk in using such mapping to exclude property. We hope that that will not happen. We hope that insurance companies recognise that only in exceptional circumstances will properties be unable to get insurance. Our dialogue on that will continue. Sewage flooding is also important, and the impending waste water directive will cover that. Those are all substantial investments that will help us examine how to reduce the flooding in this country. Huge sums of money are being invested, and our record on the problem is good. There is no complacency in the Government, and we will continue to work to reduce the risk.