Yorkshire has suffered devastating flooding events in recent years, and my thoughts are with everyone who has been, and continues to be, impacted.
We are continuing to invest and take action to reduce the likelihood and impacts of flooding to our communities. We have felt the effects of Storm Christoph in recent weeks. Yorkshire is better prepared for flooding than ever before, but every flooded property is one too many.
Since 2015, we have invested more in flood defences for Yorkshire than any other region – £496m has been spent to better protect more than 66,000 properties. The initial programme of flood schemes for areas starting in April 2021 is in the process of being signed off by Regional Flood and Coastal Committees and the Environment Agency.
In York alone, £45m is being invested to better protect 2,000 local homes and business in York, with an additional £38m used to upgrade the Foss Barrier and surrounding infrastructure.
I know that there is more to be done. Fishlake and Hebden Bridge may have been spared this time, but families and businesses feared a repeat of November 2019 and February 2020. We have doubled our investment in flood defences to £5.2bn over the next six years. I am determined to make sure that those areas that suffer repeat flooding are able to access the funds that they need for new and improved defences.
That is why I am publishing a Call for Evidence to look at both better protecting and better preparing our communities from flooding. This includes looking at changes to how our flood defence investment programme can further benefit frequently flooded communities, and also exploring ways to increase the uptake of Property Flood Resilience measures.
Our current investment programme has already better protected some communities that have been frequently flooded in the past. In January 2018, a £20.7m scheme was completed to better protect Sheffield’s Lower Don Valley which experienced flooding in 2007, 2009 and 2012. Defra’s grant in aid contributed £19.3m towards the capital cost.
However, I know that there are parts of this region, such as Shipley, that have suffered repeated flooding and go through the same turmoil in every period of bad weather. I want to make sure that our programme ensures we make the best decisions about the actions we take and investments we make.
Last year, I was clear of my intention to host a series of roundtables based on management catchments because I want to understand the specific issues that areas are facing. We will be prioritising those roundtables in areas that have had serious flooding incidents at least three times in the last 10 years.
I want to explore how areas are using all of the existing tools to tackle flood risk, and what more could be achieved by adopting a catchment-based approach. We will also be using the meetings to explore how the issue of frequently flooded communities could best be addressed.
I want us to go further, and look at how our Environmental Land Management scheme could support flood objectives, and how we can better align flood risk and water resource planning at a catchment scale.
In tandem, we want to ensure homes, businesses and communities have the information they need to manage and prepare for their flood risk. We need to see an increase in the take-up of Property Flood Resilience measures, to enable householders and businesses to better manage the impacts of flooding if it occurs.
I have also announced that we are consulting on a number of technical changes to the Flood Reinsurance scheme, as well as proposals to incentivise Property Flood Resilience measures.
This could mean discounted premiums to people who make improvements to their homes such as installing flood doors or moving electrics up walls to reduce the impact of flooding, and additional payments on top of claims to help them install these measures when flooding does hit.
Significant wet weather is forecast this winter, and I would like to take this opportunity to record my thanks to the Environment Agency, emergency services and local communities for all that they have done in recent weeks. All of the flood defences that were damaged last year have been repaired, or alternatives have been put in place. We will continue to work to ensure that our country is more resilient in the long term.
George Eustice is the Environment Secretary and a Conservative MP.
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