Flood Prevention Bill 2016

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Anne Blakesley
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Flood Prevention Bill 2016

Post by Anne Blakesley »

Flood Prevention Bill 2016

Mr Speaker, I beg leave of the House to introduce the Flood Prevention Bill.

Mr Speaker:

The recent flooding in Yorkshire revealed a number of deficiencies in flood contingency and efforts to mitigate flood risk across the United Kingdom. In reviewing the events leading to the flooding in Yorkshire we identified numerous problems with flood preparation and mitigation efforts in the United Kingdom. These issues range from financial - namely the cuts made to flood defences spending during the Coalition and cuts made to local government spending that prevented adequate spending on maintaining drainage measures - to the structural - namely a convoluted regulatory structure for flood defence. Today, we present legislation to establish the Flood Prevention Agency and establish a central authority responsible for flood prevention and mitigation in the United Kingdom.

Mr Speaker, the Flood Prevention Agency will be a non-departmental public body that will have a statutory duty to oversee the development of flood defences and mitigation of flood risk in the United Kingdom. Operating at an arms-length from politicians, it will have the authority to develop policies to prevent flooding in the United Kingdom without undue influence from the political sphere. As a public body associated with the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, it will still be subject to rigourous scrutiny by Parliament.

Currently, Mr Speaker, the flood prevention and preparation infrastructure in the United Kingdom is quite fragmented. There is no statutory obligation for cooperation between the numerous groups responsible for flood prevention. This legislation changes that. All relevant bodies will be required to cooperate with the Flood Prevention Agency and the Flood Prevention Agency will subsequently be responsible for approving and overseeing the implementation of all agreed upon flood management plans. This creates an accountable authority for the management of flood risk, while respecting the role that existing groups, such as local authorities, play in combatting flood risk.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I will comment on one deficiency, in particular, that we learned about during this most recent round of flooding: the failure of local governments and agencies to adequately maintain drainage. This failure to maintain drainage dramatically raised the flooding risk in numerous communities and a great deal of flooding could have been prevented had the drainage been maintained. This legislation will give the Flood Prevention Agency the authority to inspect drainage and compel the responsible authority to implement management plans to maintain it properly, so as to reduce flooding risk. Furthermore, it authorises the Flood Prevention Agency to provide funding to assist localities in these activities. These steps will have a dramatic impact on preventing flood damage, particularly in towns and urban areas throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr Speaker, I commend this legislation to the House.
Dr Anne Blakesley PhD DCB MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer | Energy and Environment Secretary
Labour Party | Hackney South and Shoreditch
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Elaine Ashbury
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Re: Flood Prevention Bill 2016

Post by Elaine Ashbury »

Mr Speaker,

I think the right honourable lady and I agree as to the problem. The flooding in Yorkshire has confronted us with scenes we are bound to see more often as the reality of climate change hits home. It is crucial that we rally communities and social actors behind a strategy to adapt to these realities of climate change, and I am glad that these floods seem to have been taken across the spectrum as an overdue wake-up call.

Unfortunately, I think that is as far as our agreement extends, Mr Speaker, for when it comes to solutions the right honourable lady and I disagree profoundly. The bill before this House today is, sadly, a profoundly old-school Labour solution to any problem: to confront the times when we have to trust eachother most with the tools of mistrust - regulations, centralisation of power and mandates. In effect, the bill proposes to respond to the floods by telling the affected communities that it was their fault for not having been prepared enough. But don't worry, because the government's new flood force will be there to check up on them and lay down the law to them.

Communities and communities like them up and down this country don't need reminding of the need to defend against floods, certainly not after this year's flooding. It is these communities that know the local area and its needs best - and best able to take the lead on making the necessary choices and building the required coalitions without being forced to submit their proverbial forms to Whitehall. Such centralisation as this bill proposes, far from unleashing the necessary energy to bring local communities together behind adaptation, is bound to strangle it in red tape. We need to build coalitions of local authorities, residents, businesses and experts to help these communities adapt from communities based on the needs of the 20th century to the risks and needs of the 21st century. How does the minister propose these coalitions will arise if flood protection is made subject to detailed oversight from miles away in Whitehall?

Far from facilitating flood protection, this bill will introduce more hurdles, more bureaucracy and more red tape - all because the government believes they're far more qualified than local communities to decide how best to take the necessary measures. It might even up the administrative costs for these communities to make plans for flood protection, and take away resources that would have been better spent directly on the measures to be taken to protect against floods.

Not to mention the costs, Mr Speaker, of adding this heavy-handed unhelpful layer of bureaucracy to the systems already in place. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how much this new quango is supposed to cost, and will she reflect on whether that money wouldn't have been better spent by local communities themselves to build actual brick-and-mortar projects for climate adaptation and flood protection? In fact, if we wanted to up the inspection of drainage systems, then why not simply roll it into the Environment Agency?

In conclusion, Mr Speaker: flooding is a 21st-century problem. It is beyond us on this side of this House how anyone could propose such a markedly 20th-century solution to it. Instead of protecting our communities against floods, the government's reflex so far has been the familiar politics of mistrust: checking up on them, monitoring them, taking powers away from the local level that best knows the local situation to place it in the hands of a new, faceless quango in Whitehall.

This bill is far too heavy-handed and runs the risk of strangling initiative rather than facilitating it. For this reason, we cannot support this bill, and will continue to advocate for a politics of trust and working with local communities in dealing with floods.
Miss Elaine Ashbury MP | Banbury (2010-present)
Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party (2015-present)
Shadow Secretary of State for Public Services (2015-present)
Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change (2015-present)

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Re: Flood Prevention Bill 2016

Post by Brown »

Mr. Speaker,

I first wish to thank the Government for announcing the emergency spending to address this flooding. It is sorely needed, and will go a long way to resolving the immediate damage to the region. Unfortunately, I fear this Government will fall into the traps that its predecessors have--and yes, I include Conservative Governments in this number--reacting to the immediate disaster without making the serious investments in addressing our failing anti-flooding infrastructure and failing to act in a way that we save money down the road by actually addressing these issues proactively, instead of dealing with flooding reactively when it occurs. This is costly not only to the Government--but also to those who live and own businesses in constituencies like mine.

I recognize from the outset the noble intentions of this bill. As members of this House who share my passion for the issue of flooding will be aware, The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 requires the Environment Agency to develop, maintain, apply and monitor a national strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management. I am not opposed to the idea, in principle, that there is value in Whitehall providing greater support to localities to address logistical challenges, ensure that certain standards are met, and to provide other support as needed to local governments to ensure that they have the tools to succeed. If that were what was being proposed in this bill, I would support it gladly. Sadly, Mr. Speaker, this bill does not do this, and instead centralizes the power to take action on flooding concerns to Whitehall. While I do not doubt the competence of the Civil Service on a variety of issues, I daresay that I know a thing or two more about the flooding realities of Calder Valley and how to address them rather than a Civil Servant in Whitehall--who may or may not have even set foot in my constituency.

I suspect the Government would respond to my concern by pointing me to Section 3.2 and say “Ah--but the Local Government still has input on this.” To them I respond yes--but that’s precisely what it is input, it is a suggestion--and it is ultimately subject to the approval or veto of the well-meaning but likely not fully informed civil servants that I mentioned earlier. In essence, Mr. Speaker, the Government has crafted legislation that applies a Sir Humphrey Appleby approach to the problem that will add layers of red tape and is certain to hinder, not assist, localities in addressing flooding concerns.

As someone who served on the Calderdale Council for a time, I must also respectfully push back against the Government’s assertion that Local Governments are to blame for the flooding situation, and that they have been somehow derelict in their duties. While it stands to reason that certain localities may have handled preparedness better than others, every member of the Calderdale Council had this issue at the top of their priority list. Why? We are citizens of Calderdale. We live there--have our homes there--many have children there and other loved ones. Some of us even own businesses there. So we understand full well the real cost of flooding, both materially and psychologically, as well as the impact it has on our local communities. We have lived through it ourselves. Were we ever to forget, Mr. Speaker, our constituents--who we see and interact with on a daily basis, would remind us as we’re at the checkout stand at the supermarket, or out and about elsewhere.

The great advantage of Local Government is the reality that we are very close to our constituents--far more than any of us--and yes, I include myself in that number, here in Westminster. This bill proposes to take that power and bestow it effectively not even in us or them, but in Civil Servants in Whitehall who may have never even heard of, let alone visited or lived in, the affected areas. Civil Servants who do not know that Abigail’s bakery is more prone to flooding than Hilda’s garage--and the need with very limited funds to prioritize addressing drainage near Abigail’s bakery rather than Hilda’s garage. A civil servant might, quite rightly, look at facts and figures and say “ah, but Hilda’s garage has many other businesses near it so it can do the most good at her place, not at Abigail’s bakery--which also does not perform as essential a service in my judgment.” We would not challenge his judgment based on the figures, but we who live in Calder Valley would know better--but ultimately not have the final say.

What is being proposed here will, I fear, at best add layers of bureaucratic red tape to the issue of addressing flood control with only marginal support being given to localities and, at worst, result in a situation where localities are routinely overruled on their decisions of where to allocate their limited resources, even though they know better.

I must remind the Government that local governments have far more limited resources than this House--and we do not enjoy many of the same benefits when it comes to powers to widely control taxation and take on large amounts of debt. We must use our limited resources wisely.

What the national Government can and ought to do is to give us more resources so we can do what we in our local communities know needs to be done in order to address this issue. I’m sad to say, Mr. Speaker, that this bill and the Government’s wider actions to address this problem fail to do this, and I fear we are likely to end up in a similar position down the road and the cycle will, once again, repeat itself.

It is not too late to take action of course, and I hope that the Government will look at the proposal I made during the last Conservative Party Conference and the proposal made by the former Shadow Chancellor to dramatically increase our investment in flood prevention so that we can take bold action to address this issue. As my motion in the House has shown, this action has broad cross-party support from all sides of the House--including the Government’s backbenches.

In closing Mr. Speaker, I wish to reiterate an offer I have made again and again: meet with MPs in the constituencies affected by rampant flooding. Connect with our local councils. Let’s solve this problem collaboratively. I certainly believe that the national Government can play an important part in assisting us in addressing these issues both financially and logistically, but I fear this bill does not achieve this and, in fact, is likely to create layers of red tape that will add yet more bureaucratic barriers to addressing this issue while history continues to repeat itself.
Hildegard “Hilda” Brown
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Re: Flood Prevention Bill 2016

Post by Axon »

Mr Speaker

ORDER! Division. Clear the lobby.