Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Peter Luff MP (FL MP 06)

  I am grateful for your Chairman's letter of 24 July about flooding.

  As Chairman of the old Agriculture Committee at the time of the 1998 floods I particularly hope you will pay attention to the recommendations of the report we produced "Flood and Coastal Defence" in July of that year.

  The latest floods in Evesham are the most severe the town has ever had, and certainly a good deal more serious than the dramatic events of 1998.

  I have heard little criticism of the work of the emergency services, but one issue I think your committee does need to consider is the effectiveness of cross border communications between different regions. The second series of floods this year affected three government regions and three counties all adjoining each other, or very nearly so—West Midlands, South West and South East, or Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. The emergency services feel that the coordination could have been better across these regional boundaries.

  The increased risk of flooding in Evesham and Droitwich apparent from the statistics does suggest that the Environment Agency will have to look at the feasibility of erecting flood defences in areas previously considered not to have a sufficient cost benefit figure to justify such constructions.

  I am also becoming concerned about the increasing uninsurability of properties that are regularly flooded. While I acknowledge that inappropriately constructed buildings may not be able to attract insurance, buildings erected in good faith and particularly buildings that have been there for a considerable period of time, should be able to be insured. The impact of climate change should be fairly spread among society and not targeted on a few properties.

  The long term economic consequences of floods also needs to be born more carefully in mind—both my town centres flooded in my constituency and the long term damage done to the economy of these towns could be very serious indeed. The adequacy of support programmes to re-establish the economies of flooded areas looks to me to be an important question.

  Obviously we are concerned about preventing future floods and in this context building on the flood plan is a controversial area now in my county, facing ambitious housing targets set out in the Regional Spatial Strategy. It is difficult to see how such houses can be constructed without a further adverse impact on the flood risk both to those houses and to those houses around them.

  Another point that should be born in mind is perhaps the increased tendency of new housing development to be more concrete-intensive than it used to be, with smaller gardens and those gardens that are constructed are often concreted over. This means that such housing developments are even more likely to cause enhanced flood risk. Detailed planning regulations probably need to be revised in this area.

  The funding arrangements for assisting local authorities is also a matter of considerable concern. The current estimate in Worcestershire is that some £5 million worth of capital damage has been done to our highways and additional sums for our schools. Our schools may be insured, but the highways certainly aren't and a hard-pressed county council like Worcestershire can't suddenly find £5 million to make good damage to existing structures.

  Finally, a word about mixed messages on health warnings. There has been some confusion in this area as people have heard that the sludge is too dangerous to touch and bugs can even be transmitted through rubber gloves, while others have just got on the job of cleaning up in their properties. This is a small point, but one worth clarifying.

  I hope these comments help, but if further issues come to light as I receive further correspondence from my affected constituents I will of course let you know.

Peter Luff MP

Mid Worcestershire

August 2007

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