Previous SectionIndexHome Page

13 Mar 2003 : Column 470—continued

Mr. David Heath : My hon. Friend might also be interested in the tie-up between the Highways Agency, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), and the Environment Agency because road schemes can often act as water-retaining measures, sometimes to the advantage of communities, but sometimes—as with Ilchester Mead in my constituency, where the A303 causes floods—to their great disadvantage. It is very difficult to convince the Highways Agency that correcting those problems is its priority, because its priority is building roads, not stopping floods.

Norman Baker: I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an important intervention. Joined-up government is needed across Departments to look at those matters, but sometimes things work in reverse: the Highways Agency is currently advocating a scheme for the A27 in my constituency that was described as the worst possible environmental option when it was proposed previously, but the agency is justifying the scheme because it will have less impact on the floodplain. So those in the Highways Agency sometimes invoke that argument to save money when it suits them and ignore it when that suits them.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman about the Environment Agency's progress in my constituency. This is particularly relevant to him because the Welsh Environment Agency takes care of flood defences in my part of England, and, as he will know, it is run by the Welsh Assembly, which is run by the Liberal Democrats in coalition with the Labour party, so I am curious to see how he reacts when he hears that those on the Lugg internal draining board say that they are extremely unhappy with the agency's progress. What would he say to them?

Norman Baker: I am not familiar with the position in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I am sure that he is capable of arguing his case very articulately in the House and with other colleagues. Cross-border matters are an issue. Water does not respect boundaries between counties, flood defence committees, nations or whatever, and we shall have to address that in

13 Mar 2003 : Column 471

considering the Water Bill and different legislation for Scotland and England, so the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point.

Perhaps we know all this, but it is worth putting it on record that we are having debates about flood defences not simply because the system has been faulty for so long, but because we are facing climate change of significantly increasing proportions. Average surface temperatures on the earth are 0.6° C higher than 120 years ago. The 1995 intergovernmental panel on climate change predicted that global temperature would increase by between 1° and 3.5° by the end of this century, and models project an increase in sea level of between 13 and 95 cm between 1995 and 2100. Those are all those significant figures that affect this country, but they often affect developing countries far more.

Under those circumstances, it is incumbent on the Government not simply to put money into flood defence, which they are now doing, and to have a coherent strategy, which is now coming, but to ensure that their other policies that affect climate change are in line with the Minister's desires to minimise its impact, thus reducing the call on moneys for flood defences. So he will be disappointed that last year, for example, the amount of energy generated from renewable sources in this country dropped from 3.3 to 3.1 per cent. of all energy generated, notwithstanding the energy White Paper.

The Minister will be disappointed that carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft are due to double between 1990 and 2010, and the Department for Transport propose to do nothing about it. He will be disappointed that road traffic reduction targets have been abandoned, and we are now back to predict and provide methods for road building. He will be equally disappointed that the Kyoto protocol has not been signed by the United States Government, and our Government seem keener on discussing other matters with the US Government, rather than environmental issues and climate change.

The Government need to address the issue on a cross-departmental basis, and all the good work that the Minister and his colleagues in DEFRA may be doing is undermined if other colleagues in other Departments that have impacts on climate change are not following sensible policies and, in fact, are making matters worse for the Minister at DEFRA.

I will not run through the various problems with flooding that we have in this country—they are well documented and the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire referred to some of them—but I will refer, as the Minister will understand, to the position in Lewes. He would be disappointed if I did not, and I must do so given the horrendous impact of the floods in my constituency in 2000.

I welcome the fact that we are now approaching a stage where a start will be made on the Malling Brooks scheme in the town. That was announced a couple of days ago.

Mr. Morley: Yesterday.

Norman Baker: The Minister confirms that that happened yesterday, and I very much welcome that

13 Mar 2003 : Column 472

scheme, as it will go some way to relieve the considerable anxiety about flooding in my constituency. However, there are still problems in identifying a proper funding mechanism, notwithstanding the announcement that the Minister has made today. For example, I refer him to a letter that I received on 7 March from Peter Midgely, the Sussex area manager at the Environment Agency, in which he says:

He is unclear exactly how much money he has, despite the announcement that the Minister made some time ago that extra money would be forthcoming, and he is in the best position to know, yet does not do so.

I have also had representations from Councillor Roger Thomas of East Sussex county council, as other Sussex Members may have done. I see the hon. Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) nodding, and I suspect that he has received a similar representation. Councillor Thomas was concerned about Sussex flood defence funding for 2003–04, and says in a letter to Peter Midgely:

I will not read the whole letter, but he and other members of the flood defence committee were led to believe very strongly that the 75 per cent. rate would apply and they based their calculations on that only to have the rug pulled from underneath them at the last moment. That is how they see it anyway, and if we are to achieve co-operation between the different bodies involved—local authorities, DEFRA, the Environment Agency and others—we need some certainty about the financial arrangements in which they work. Clearly, those financial arrangements have not worked very well in Sussex this year from the point of view of the members of that flood committee.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire mentioned Happisburgh, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who is taking a very close interest in the issue, has asked me to raise it in the House this afternoon. He is currently either speaking or intending to speak in the debate in Westminster Hall—one of the casualties of our double Chamber system. He has asked me to reiterate the fact that nearly 300 people have written to him about that issue.

My hon. Friend has taken up the matter with the Minister and asked for a meeting—I hope that the Minister will agree to that—and he has asked me to pass on his view that the people of that area feel neglected and that no investment has been made in protecting their community. I shall not go into the details for soft defences and managed retreat, but there is a strong feeling in that community, and the issue needs to be addressed. Clearly, that has not been done satisfactorily so far.

Mr. Morley: I can certainly confirm that, as with all Members who have a pressing constituency problem in relation to coastal defence, I will be happy to meet the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and discuss those problems. However, I want to deal with

13 Mar 2003 : Column 473

another problem: there has been misinformation about Happisburgh. The responsibility for drawing up the scheme lies with the local authority, as the lead authority. It is true that we have new criteria to assess flooding and coastal defence, but I am pretty sure that the original application that was made and then withdrawn used the old system and that the local council's advisers were concerned about some issues, so we have not been able to give proper consideration to any scheme proposed by the local authority to defend Happisburgh. Of course, if the local authority can put together a scheme that meets the three criteria—technical, environmental and cost benefits—we will consider it, but those criteria must be met.

Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention, as well as for his willingness to meet affected parties. It is good that he put that on the record, and I shall draw it to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk.

Mr. Sayeed: Will the hon. Gentleman press the Minister, as I have done, to look again at the criteria, so that they include the social, economic and environmental impact of the new demands, because they may well damage existing communities?

Next Section

IndexHome Page