Julian Sturdy: Village’s action on floods sets an example for insurers

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AS the Member of Parliament for a constituency that contains two major river courses and surrounds one of the most historic, flood-hit cities in the country, I naturally have constituents who express a great deal of concern about flooding, its impact on the local community and on the availability and affordability of flood insurance.

Flood insurance is an issue not only for those who have sadly been flooded, but for those who have not and may never be but are deemed to be in a flood-risk area.

Given that the “statement of principles” between the Government and the insurance industry comes to an end in June, the future looks very uncertain for many of my constituents and those of MPs throughout the House.

I want to focus on a village in my constituency situated to the south of York, on the banks of the River Ouse. Large parts of Naburn are at a significant risk of flooding.

Late last year, I was contacted by a Naburn resident who informed me that, over the past 37 years, his property has been badly flooded on four separate occasions.

In the six months since last autumn’s terrible wet weather, some homes in Naburn have been flooded numerous times.

Thankfully, the people of Naburn have a strong sense of community spirit. They are Yorkshire folk, after all, and they are starting to pull together to do all they can to reduce their collective flood risk.

Following a public meeting in the village in November, the parish council and a group of interested residents set up a working group to investigate inexpensive and cost-effective measures that they can swiftly enact to help them deal with flooding.

Some ideas that have been considered include allowing local residents to have control over mobile pumping units and sandbag storage and delivery and to use their local knowledge to protect the most vulnerable people. We must not forget that there are some severely vulnerable people in flood-risk areas, and we must make sure that they do not become isolated by flooding. Independently, many people are considering making flood resilience improvements to their own homes.

The hard work, positive action and sense of resolve that I have witnessed in Naburn is extraordinary, and the community should be commended for its collective approach to the problems that it faces. I am well aware that, as has been pointed out, there are similar stories across the country of communities coming together to battle the difficulties of flooding, and they should all be commended.

Like MPs in Oxford, I am aware of circumstances in relation to the accessibility of local flood insurance where just because one person in one property gets a quote from an insurance company their neighbour may not be able to get anything like a similar quote from the same company, because the companies limit their exposure in these areas. That is giving people intolerable uncertainty.

But what my constituents fear, as I do, is that their efforts could all be in vain if the statement of principles ends without a new agreement in place.

Home insurance premiums would sky-rocket for all residents in communities such as Naburn, regardless of whether or not a property is susceptible to flooding. Some people would lose flood insurance altogether, and, as has been said, mortgage agreements could be at risk as a result.

I understand the need for negotiations between the Government and the Association of British Insurers to be private and confidential, but the lack of any specific details emerging from the negotiations is fuelling my constituents’ concerns.

My constituents are prepared to come together to work as a community to face up to the flooding threat on their doorstep. They therefore need the same commitment from the Government and the insurance industry to do all that they can to protect people from the worst excesses of flooding and deliver an agreement that improves the availability and affordability of flooding insurance where flood resilience measures fail.

It is time for action.