In the last few weeks, flooding has swept through even more communities– from my neighbours in East Yorkshire, to Shropshire and Wales. In South Yorkshire, my residents saw their homes and businesses destroyed by the devastating floods last November.
When I visited affected communities there was a feeling of anger by many. They told me how they felt that they’d been abandoned by the Government in their hour of need. More than 1,000 homes were affected, and many families are still living in temporary accommodation.
While the recovery is well under way, there is still an urgent need for ongoing support for many communities, not just in South Yorkshire, but across the UK.
Widespread flooding shows the stark reality facing us: unless we change our ways, the destruction caused by flooding and extreme weather will become the new normal.
We can’t afford for that to happen. Across the country, Metro Mayors and local leaders are taking the first steps in the fight back against the climate crisis.
Last week, I held a roundtable with experts from the Sheffield City Region so we can begin a just transition to a clean, sustainable future – one where we can grow our economy and protect our environment. It was an important first step in the SCR: Net Zero Partnership – which will take South Yorkshire to a carbon-neutral future by 2040.
Now, our attention must turn to ensuring that these devastating events are not repeated, and South Yorkshire’s resilience to flooding, is strengthened. And our efforts must be backed up by action from Government. There are three steps I would like to see them take so we can protect my constituents.
Firstly: there is an urgent need to invest in flood prevention and mitigation. Last week, I wrote to the Secretary of State George Eustice to submit South Yorkshire’s Flood Priority Programme. It’s a bid for £271m to substantially reduce flood risk.
Approving this in full would give 19 schemes the resource they need to plug funding gaps. By putting these mitigations in place, they will help protect more than 10,300 homes and 2,800 businesses. It would provide a joined-up approach to flood protection across the region.
I also propose investment of £4m on Natural Flood Management, which would introduce up-stream solutions that can “slow the flow” of water and reduce the risk to downstream areas.
Let us be clear: this is the scale of ambition, funding and commitment we need to see from our Government. The Government has a golden opportunity to deliver, by funding our submission in full at next week’s Budget.
My constituents have paid the price – physically, financially and physiologically – from flooding. So not only is the programme credible, costed and comprehensive, it is the right thing to do.
Secondly: the Government must look again at the Green Book. They need to urgently look at the specific criteria used to make funding decisions about flood defences. The current criteria gives too much priority to the value of the properties affected. Which, given the areas that were affected in the recent floods in South Yorkshire, will make it much harder for them to compete for funding. It is time for the Green Book to be rewritten.
Thirdly: We must ensure that those who are affected or at the risk of flooding have access to flood protection insurance. The Flood Re scheme has made a difference, but there is still work to do.
Research published last week highlighted the gaps in Flood Re. It found there are 70,000 homes ‘at-risk’ of being left uninsurable in the future. It defines this as homes built after 2008 – meaning they are not covered by Flood Re.
Doncaster, which bore the brunt of November’s floods, had one of the highest concentrations of homes facing this situation with 727 homes – worryingly, 442 of them are not protected by flood defences. Those affected by flooding in the most recent storms need to have the peace of mind that they can get insurance again, and that the insurance they are offered is affordable.
Before I conclude, there is one final call I make of the Government. In November, the Prime Minister agreed to hold a joint Flooding Summit in South Yorkshire with me.
Last week, the Secretary of State said this would take place “within two months”. While I am grateful for this update, I’m calling on the Environment Secretary to urgently agree a date.
Protecting families and businesses in South Yorkshire, and not subjecting them to the further harm from floods, would ensure our concerns are addressed. That is the least my constituents deserve.