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Environment Secretary's statement on flooding

Elizabeth Truss makes statement on impact of Storm Desmond and flooding in the north of England

Elizabeth Truss

This news item is not being updated. Read Winter flooding 2015: community support for current information.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the impact of Storm Desmond and flooding in the north of England.

As the House will know, this weekend has brought some enormously difficult and extreme weather conditions, and I would like to begin by expressing my deepest sympathy for those that have been affected in all parts of the UK.

I would also like to commend the emergency responders, volunteers and the Environment Agency who have been working tirelessly throughout the weekend, often in horrific conditions. People have come from all over the country – as far as South Wales, Lincolnshire and Somerset – to help.

I’m sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to their work, and the generous community spirit of those who have been offering food, transport and even beds to neighbours.

Over the course of Friday 4th December it became increasingly clear that Storm Desmond would bring an exceptionally high volume of rainfall across the UK. The Environment Agency responded by mobilising its people and assets, moving temporary defences and pumps to North West England through Friday.

On Saturday morning it became clearer which counties would be impacted and that we would see very high levels of rainfall that evening.

Therefore, the Government mobilised a full national emergency response. At midday on Saturday I held a cross-departmental meeting to assess the projected impacts, shortly followed by the mobilisation of 200 military personnel and supporting assets, including making available a Chinook helicopter.

Local commanders were able to call upon over 50 High Volume Pumps as well as specialist tactical advisers and rescue boats from around the UK, adding to over 200 emergency responders already on the ground.

My Hon Friend the Floods Minister travelled to Cumbria on Saturday to ensure that the emergency responders on the ground got all they need. He has remained in the North West throughout.

On Saturday night we saw an unprecedented amount of rainfall. More than a month’s rain fell in one day andduring Saturday night main rivers all across Cumbria exceeded the highest levels ever recorded.

There is a mark on the bridge in Carlisle showing the flood level in 1853. The 2005 flood was half a metre higher than 1853, which was the highest on record until then. This flood was half a metre higher again. It was 0.6m higher than previous records in Kendal, 0.7 of a metre higher in Keswick and 0.3 of a metre higher in Appleby.

Although over 8,000 properties were protected by our flood defences, by Sunday morning over 3,500 properties had flooded across the country with the majority in Cumbria. In Carlisle over 2,000 properties flooded. Over 600 properties flooded in both Kendal and Keswick with over 200 in Appleby. Flooding was also seen in Northumberland with over 60 properties flooded at Hexham.

55,000 properties lost power in Lancaster following the flooding of the electricity substation. Transport was severely disrupted with roads closed across the North West and bridges damaged. The West Coast mainline was suspended.

Tragically, I can also confirm to the House that there were a number of weather-related fatalities, with incidents caused or exacerbated by flooding or poor weather. I’m sure the House will want to join me to express our deepest sympathy to their families and friends. It is a tragic reminder of how dangerous these conditions can be.

On Sunday morning I chaired a cross Government COBR meeting to ensure the emergency responders on the ground had all the resources they needed and to address immediate issues, including the threat to the power supply in Lancaster and Carlisle. I spoke with Gold Commanders in the worst affected areas during the day to ensure they had sufficient national resources to deliver their emergency plans.

The Prime Minister chaired a further COBR meeting this morning and is visiting the affected areas today. I am pleased to confirm to the House that progress is being made on recovering from some of the impacts. The number of homes affected by power outages has been reduced to less than 5,000 following restoration of power at Lancaster substation. Electricity companies are working round the clock to restore power as soon as possible.

Transport remains disrupted across much of the area. Many roads remain closed and will need to be repaired andthe West Coast Mainline remains suspended to Scotland and service is unlikely to be restored until Wednesday at the earliest.

The Government will continue to ensure all resources are made available to support recovery from this flooding. COBR will continue to meet daily to oversee recovery efforts and I will be travelling to Cumbria and Lancashire after this statement to continue to ensure we’re doing all we can to help those affected.

I know local communities will want to know what action Government will be taking to support the recovery phase. I am pleased to confirm to the House that my colleague, the Communities Secretary, will shortly be opening the Bellwin scheme for local authorities affected by floods, and that 100% of eligible costs will be met by the Government. We will be announcing support schemes over the coming days.

Flood Defences

Since 2009 we have invested £45million in new defences in Cumbria. But we will need to learn lessons and reflect on what we can learn from this extreme weather event.

In the last Parliament there was a real terms increase in the investment in flood defences and in this Parliament there will be another real terms increase in spending. We are investing £2.3bn in 1500 schemes throughout the country that will better protect 300,000 homes andthe Spending Review has also confirmed that we’re protecting flood maintenance spending throughout this Parliament as well as capital spending.

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the whole House would join me in expressing our sincere sympathy to those that have been affected by this weekend’s extreme weather conditions. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to do everything it can to support those affected.

I commend this statement to the House.

Published 7 December 2015