Yesterday (4 March) in the House of Commons Rachael Maskell spoke in an Opposition debate on flooding to call for more sustainable and holistic approach to flood prevention and management. In the debate Ms Maskell also expressed concern that the money which is spent is not always used effectively and she raised concern that the current processes are not always delivering value for money and delivering community-wide schemes which could have a long term benefit.
During the recent floods Ms Maskell received correspondence from a number of anxious constituents who felt that communication were poor and that whilst organisations such as the council and the Environment Agency knew what was happening, this was not communicated well to the people living in the flooded areas.
Rachael Maskell also called for upper catchment management to be improved to slow the flow and she referred to recent research carried out by the University of York which confirmed that 20% of water coming downstream could be diverted away from flooded areas if the uplands were managed differently. This is a matter which the MP has raised on countless occasions and yet little has been done to improve things. She reminded the Minister that there were commitments to address this in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.
The MP also used the debate to criticise the failure to look at community resilience planning and property level resilience. Some constituents had expressed concern about the Environment Agency’s procurement process and Ms Maskell agrees there is a need for these to be reviewed. She called for the Floods Minister to look into this issue to see if the schemes can work faster and more efficiently and at less cost. She questioned whether the responsibility with dealing with property level resilience and development would sit better with Local Authorities, however she notes that if this were to be so, it is vital that the Environment Agency is given statutory powers in the planning process to determine whether developments should proceed in flood risk areas.
Finally, Ms Maskell called to a need to ensure that the money which comes from a number of different sources including the Bellwin scheme, resilience grants, insurance, the Environment Agency and local authorities is brought together to gain maximum benefit. There is concern that the agencies do not always work together and as a result of this money is wasted or not used as effectively as it could be. Ms Maskell is calling on all these agencies to work together for the good of York.
In concluding, Rachael Maskell thanked the Environment Agency, Council staff and the BBC which demonstrated its core role in public service broadcasting.
Rachael Maskell MP says:
“Whilst I am the first to admit that it could have been much worse in York during the recent floods and many more homes could have been flooded there is still more which could be done to prevent the city flooding again in the future. We all know that the climate is changing and we are getting wetter winters which result in more flooding. This year we were fortunate that York did not flood in the way that many other areas did with hundreds of properties under water. However, this does not mean we can be complacent and we need to look closely at areas where we can improve things and make things better for the people who are affected. Clearly some businesses were badly impacted, and more needs to be done to support business. I am following the review of the Flood RE insurance scheme closely to ensure that everyone can have the protection they need.
“I think it is essential to take notice of the report from the University of York and ensure that upper catchment management is properly managed. This is something I have been calling for since the Boxing Day floods of 2015 and yet very little seems to have been done. I am also concerned about the Environment Agency’s procurement process and I believe there is a need for a review of how the money is spent. This is public money and it is essential that every penny is used wisely, especially when residents are having to contribute to the resilience measures.
“I am grateful to everyone who worked so hard during the recent floods and we all owe these people a big thank you. However, if there is more which can be done to prevent flooding in the future we should act now and not wait until York is flooded once again.”
Rachael Maskell’s speech recorded according to Hansard is shown below:
Wednesday 4 March – 2:29pm – House of Commons
We have been here so many times before; Mr Deputy Speaker, I know that you have spoken on the Floor of the House about the impact of flooding. That is why this motion is so important—we must turn focus into action and ensure that we address the real issues. I know that my constituents who yet again were flooded are fed up of hearing promises; they need resilience put in place. We also need to agree this motion because the climate is changing. We are getting wetter winters and, as a result, river levels are getting higher and more frequent flooding is occurring.
We know that systems are not working in the way that they should. We need more connectivity in the whole system, with a whole catchment approach, to manage the way that the water works, as opposed to just looking at this scheme by scheme. We need to ensure that the money spent and offered is working most effectively. It is not, which is why it is important that we review those processes to ensure that they work effectively for the future.
We have heard so many times how upper catchment management is needed to slow the flow and to ensure that we do planting, manage farmland differently, look at a ban on grouse shooting and manage peatland, yet the focus is always downstream. I know from the research carried out by the University of York that we could take away 20% of the water coming downstream if we managed uplands differently, which would mean that my city would not flood—yet the resources go into barriers getting higher and higher, as opposed to solving the issue upstream. That is why the Environment Agency is right to call for resources to be given to areas to manage the whole catchment efficiently and effectively. We must look at that.
I want to remind the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, that as part of the national flood resilience review, the discussion put a focus on the comprehensive spending review, which is on its way, to ensure that proper investment goes into upper catchment management. I hope that she makes those representations, and I will certainly make further representations to her about that.
My city is grateful that the Foss barrier worked. It was a £17 million investment, and the Minister’s predecessor gave us the additional spending to ensure that we brought it up to speed. It saved a lot of my city, but yet again properties and businesses along the River Ouse flooded, which has caused much anxiety in my community. There is a personal impact from not only seeing the flooding but anticipating it.
Time and again, we have seen a failure to look at community resilience planning and property-level resilience. The procurement mechanisms need to be reviewed. We have had surveys carried out and then more surveys carried out because the last lot of surveys were inefficient. Four years later, we still have not had the upgrades that we need. The companies providing those surveys are now saying, “You have to buy our resilience measures,” and jacking up their prices. A kitemarked door might cost about £2,000, but those companies are saying, “You’ve got to buy ours, which is £5,000,” and it is not kitemarked, so there has to be a special testing mechanism. That is nonsensical. We need to ensure that we have proper procurement. I want to put a question out there: is the Environment Agency the right agency to deal with property-level resilience? This is about building, and issues around building and planning might belong in a different agency, to make the process more effective. I would like the Minister to look into that issue, to see whether these schemes can work faster and more efficiently.
Finally, we need to ensure that the money works together. We have money coming from the Bellwin scheme, resilience grants, insurance, the Environment Agency and local authorities, yet the money does not pull together to create community-level resilience, in place of individual property resilience. We need to ensure that that works.
It could have been a lot worse in York. I want to thank Environment Agency staff for their day-to-day diligence and keeping me up to date; the local authority staff who work day and night to ensure that we are safe; and the BBC, who were fantastic at communicating what was happening.