Theresa Villiers – 2020 Statement on the Government’s Flood Response

Below is the text of the statement made by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in the House of Commons on 10 February 2020.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the significant flooding caused by the heavy rain and severe gale force winds brought by Storm Ciara.

First and foremost, I extend my condolences on behalf of the whole House to the family and friends of the individual who lost his life in Hampshire earlier today; our thoughts are with you.

I also express my support and sympathy to all those whose homes or businesses have been flooded over the weekend. Flooding can have appalling consequences for each individual affected, and I want to provide the assurance today that the Environment Agency, local government and the emergency services are working hard to keep people safe in all the areas affected by this devastating storm.

Storm Ciara brought rainfall ranging between 40 and 80 cm in 24 hours across much of northern England. The highest levels were recorded in Cumbria, with 179.8 cm of rain falling over the course of the day. Particularly severe impacts have been felt along the River Calder in Yorkshire, along the River Ribble in Lancashire, along the Irwell in Greater Manchester, and on the Eden in Appleby. Regrettably, four of these communities—the Calder valley, Whalley and Ribchester, the Rossendale valley and Appleby—were flooded in 2015.

The current estimate is that more than 500 properties have been flooded, but this number is expected to increase as further information is collected. The latest number of properties confirmed to have been flooded are 40 in Cumbria, 100 in Lancashire, 150 in Greater Manchester and 260 in Yorkshire. Defences in Carlisle have held. There is local road disruption across the affected areas, and a shipping container is stuck under Elland bridge. One severe flood warning was issued over the weekend to communicate a “risk to life” along the River Nidd at Pateley Bridge. This has now been removed; flood defences were not overtopped and no properties were flooded. Our coastal communities have also been affected, in parts of the south-west and north-east of England, where high tides, large waves and coastal gales have occurred.

The weather is expected to remain unsettled, and 97 flood warnings are currently still in place. Although river levels in West Yorkshire and Lancashire are now receding, we must expect high river levels further downstream in South Yorkshire over the next few days, so we urge people in at-risk areas to remain vigilant, not to take unnecessary risks and to sign up to receive Environment Agency flood alerts. Some coastal flooding is probable tomorrow, but it is not expected to be in the more serious category.

Extensive work is taking place in the affected areas, including clearing debris that can block up river flow. Environment Agency teams have been deploying temporary flood barriers where necessary. I pay tribute to all the dedicated professionals who are working so hard on the emergency response to the situation—operating flood defences, supporting communities and keeping people safe. That includes the hard-working staff of the ​Environment Agency, along with local authority teams and, of course, the police and fire services. I also thank all the volunteers who are part of local flood action groups that are helping with the response effort.

Every effort is being made to keep people safe, and I can confirm that the Government are today activating the Bellwin scheme, which will provide significant financial support to the local authorities in the areas affected by Storm Ciara, helping them to fund the cost of recovery. I encourage councils in the areas affected to consider applications to the Bellwin fund.

In a changing climate, we all want our country and our communities to be better protected from flooding, and more resilient when severe weather occurs. In the areas hit by flooding over the weekend, at least 25,000 properties and businesses have been successfully protected by flood defences. But we know that more needs to be done, and we are determined to deliver.

Since the events of Boxing day 2015, we have been taking action on a range of schemes to strengthen defences and improve resilience. We are investing more than ever before in these defences through a £2.6 billion programme up to 2021 to manage flood and coastal erosion risk. This will enable better protection of over 300,000 properties. Early in 2016, we committed an unprecedented £35 million to improve flood protection for homes and businesses in Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and across Calderdale. Construction in Mytholmroyd is progressing and we expect the defences there to be completed in in the summer. We have built 25 new flood defences in Cumbria and Lancashire, protecting 23,100 homes, and 59 new flood defences in Yorkshire, protecting 13,200 homes. In the autumn, I announced an extra £60 million to boost flood schemes in the north, including £19 million for Calder valley. Our manifesto commits us to a further £4 billion of new funding in the five years up to 2026.

In 2016, we introduced the Flood Re scheme to make insurance cover for flooding more affordable and more accessible. Following the flooding in November, I announced an independent review of the data on insurance cover to ensure that that scheme is working as effectively as possible. Since the incidents of 2015, we have strengthened and improved our system of flood warnings, and we have established a flood recovery framework to prepare for and guide flood recovery schemes.

This Government are determined to maintain and enhance our readiness to respond when extreme weather hits our country. Our swift activation of the Bellwin scheme today, and our investment in the biggest ever programme of flood defence improvement, illustrates that determination. We stand ready to help communities to recover from flooding. We are investing in the defences needed in the warmer, wetter, less predictable climate that the scientists tell us we must expect in the years to come. I commend this statement to the House.