Ministers ‘lack the mettle’ to deal with flooding

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Successive governments have lacked the “mettle” to bring in vital reforms to protect homes and businesses from flooding, a senior MP has said in a scathing attack on her own party leadership.

Anne McIntosh the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton and chair of Parliament’s environment committee, said Ministers have been “too slow” to implement a raft of key measures recommended by a review into flooding from 2008.

Her committee today publishes its response to the Government’s draft Water Bill, which is due to be pushed through Parliament later this year.

The Bill will allow businesses – though not households – to actively choose their water supplier, so introducing competition into the water sector for the first time.

But Miss McIntosh – who was a shadow environment minister when the Tories were in Opposition – said the Bill fails to address the pressing issue of flooding.

“The Government has been too slow to implement changes that would protect homes and businesses from the shattering effects of flooding,” she said.

“New laws will increase competition in the retail water market, and while we welcome those changes, Government must get on with implementing changes that would reduce flooding – many of which were recommended nearly five years ago.”

Following the devastating floods of 2007, which hit town and cities across the country including Hull and Sheffield, the Labour Government ordered a review by Sir Michael Pitt on how to prevent a similar disaster. His report made 92 recommendations, most of which the Government insists have been implemented.

But floods have repeatedly hit Yorkshire and other parts of the country in subsequent years, and Miss McIntosh laid the blame at the Government’s door.

“Widespread flooding has once again wrought devastation and heartache in communities across the country,” she said.

“Solutions that would reduce the impact of flooding are out there, and would make a difference, but successive Governments have not had the mettle to put them into practice.”

Her committee’s report picked out new measures on sustainable drainage systems, reservoirs and the provision of household flood insurance as key areas where action needs to be taken.

It was seized upon by Labour, who said the Government had become obsessed with making the water industry more market-driven and was failing to address the vital issue of flood defences.

Mary Creagh, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary and the MP for Wakefield, said: “The Government have cut funding for flood defence schemes and failed to tackle rising water bills. This report highlights the lack of action.

“It is astonishing the Government still have not put in place the advanced computing system to predict severe weather events, as recommended in the Pitt review.”

But the Government insisted it has implemented the “vast majority” of Pitt’s recommendations, and rejected claims it has failed to address flooding.

Floods Minister Richard Benyon said: “Having taken forward the vast majority of recommendations in the Pitt review, the country is now better prepared than ever before to deal with major flooding.

“We are doing all we can to protect homes and businesses from flooding. We are investing over £2.3bn on building flood defences, and expect to exceed our target to protect a further 145,000 properties by 2015.”