Last winter the storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge caused devastation across the country. Each storm brought with it more flood damage, worsening the impact of the previous storm and limiting people’s ability to recover.
Thousands had their lives turned upside-down, and now coronavirus is making it impossible for these communities to recover.
Businesses who had only just started trading again had to close and in some parts of the country households are self-isolating in homes that are still waterlogged.
Flood-hit areas need reassurances that the Government will support ongoing recovery efforts now and when the pandemic has passed.
Financial aid is urgently needed to help households and businesses severely impacted by the winter floods to get back on their feet. Right now many are experiencing real uncertainty, unsure of whether their business will survive after such a long period without money coming in.
This includes pubs and other businesses within the hospitality industry who haven’t been able to operate since November.
Many fear social distancing restrictions will limit their earnings over a normally lucrative summer period.
This pandemic also shows the fragility of our food supply system. Before the crisis, farmers were calling for Government support for those unable to grow crops due to flooded fields.
Thousands of acres of farmland were underwater until January, drastically reducing the yield of winter vegetables such as potatoes, cauliflowers and cabbages.
If action is not taken now to protect the vulnerable businesses most affected by lockdown measures, then we risk losing them. And without long-term, sustained investment in flood defences, households, businesses and community groups will remain in harm’s way.
Climate change and extreme weather events mean flood defences are crucial to improving the resilience of more and more regions. Investment in natural flood management measures that slow water discharge, including peat bog renewal as well as proper catchment-wide management, will help protect homes and businesses repeatedly flooded in recent years.
The Environment Agency has suffered huge cuts to its workforce and staff pay since 2013. Over the last 10 years, flood risk areas have been neglected. The Government must accept the urgent need for investment into flood defences.
We need a proper flooding plan, made in collaboration stakeholders including local and national government. It must match the scale of the devastation caused by last winter’s floods and tackle escalating flood risk.
Flood-hit communities must have a seat at the table during these discussions. Local knowledge and concerns are invaluable but have so far been ignored.
There are many lessons to learn from last winter’s floods from the Government’s initial response and failing to recognise the national emergency, to the lack of support for flood-hit areas in the aftermath of the storms.
I asked the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, why the Prime Minister had failed to honour his election promise to hold a flood summit in South Yorkshire. It would bring together councils, agencies and the Government to create a flood resilience strategy for the region. He blamed the Covid-19 outbreak. That’s simply not good enough over seven months on.
I welcome the independent inquiry launched in April into why people in Doncaster did not have the insurance cover to recover from the floods. I hope it will empower victims who have so far been silenced.
Having met with the chair of the inquiry to discuss how it will operate over the coming months, I have written to the Government to ask if it would advertise the inquiry’s existence in local and regional media.
Everyone who has spent hours on hold, waiting for flood insurers to tell them they will not cover repairs to flood damaged homes and businesses, should be given the opportunity to contribute. These victims need urgent financial support.
I am proud to stand up for flood hit communities in Parliament, and I look forward to continuing to do so as the Shadow Minister. The consequences of flooding remain a daily reality for people across our region and the country. We need to act sooner rather than later if we are to protect homes and livelihoods.
Stephanie Peacock is Labour MP for Barnsley East and Shadow Fisheries, Water and Flooding Minister.
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