Theo Clarke MP with many fellow Staffordshire MPs highlighted the terrible problems caused by flooding in Staffordshire. Theo Clarke MP for Stafford urged Rebecca Pow MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to establish a flood control centre in Stafford that residents can call directly, which will provide 24/7 assistance for constituents affected by flooding. Ms Clarke stated that the Government must designate one lead authority to have statutory responsibility for flooding in order to ensure flooding is handled effectively in Staffordshire. Theo Clarke MP has held numerous meetings with local residents throughout her constituency and this summer she also hosted a flooding roundtable with key stakeholders. Ms Clarke is grateful to her fellow MPs for supporting this debate, which demonstrates that flooding is a Staffordshire-wide problem. Ms Clarke will continue to work with her constituents, local councillors, key stake holders and the Government to tackle flooding in Stafford.
To see the full debate on Hansard please click here.
Please see Ms Clarke's speech below:
Flooding: Staffordshire Westminster Hall Debate 7th October 2020
I beg to move,
That this House has considered flooding in Staffordshire.
Storm Alex this weekend has been an all too timely reminder of the havoc that flooding can wreak. In January 2020, we saw some of the very worst flooding in Staffordshire for a century. The River Sow in Stafford burst its banks. Throughout my constituency, from Bishop’s Wood to Ranton, from Lapley to Hopton, my constituents have yet again suffered from flooding.
I am grateful to a number of Staffordshire colleagues for coming today to provide support on this important topic. I am sure they will provide numerous illustrations of how their constituents have also been impacted by flooding in Staffordshire.
Staffordshire has done more than its fair share of house building over the last few years. Increased development in Stafford is important, given its strategic location in the UK, but with that come consequences for residents. It is vital that our local infrastructure is able to cope. Increased surface run-off means that, over the last 20 years, homes that were never affected before have suffered from flooding, once-dry sports grounds are now regularly unusable due to being waterlogged, and local businesses are often left counting the cost due to floodwaters preventing them from opening, or destroying their goods. Something needs to be done to tackle these issues. I fear that if we do not act now, the situation regarding flooding in Staffordshire will only get worse.
The major problem in Staffordshire is who to call when your house starts to flood. We all know who to call when a crime is being committed, when someone falls ill or if there is a fire, but there appears to be no answer for flooding. There is literally no one available to answer that call. I have repeatedly had constituents calling me and my constituency office, often at midnight, as water has been pouring into their homes and there is no one to help. It is simply not good enough. I am urging the Government today to create an emergency three-digit flood phone number—for example, 555— that everyone in our country knows to call if they are experiencing a flood emergency.
We already have the technology available. It could work like the 101 number that puts people through to their local police force. In this instance, it would put my constituents in touch with someone in Staffordshire who is able to help them with their flooding situation. The emergency flood phone number should run 24/7, because flooding is an emergency. When water is pouring through your letterbox in the middle of the night, the place where you live, your livelihood and even your life could be risk.
That brings me to another question that, frankly, the Government need to answer. It appears to be a very simple question: who is the lead authority responsible for flooding? Many agencies are involved with handling flooding, but when I speak to them, none seems keen to take overall responsibility. That is not good enough for residents.
Let me give an example from my constituency. Tixall Road was flooded for nearly a month and no agency sorted it out. The main roads from Great Haywood and Little Haywood were blocked due to floodwater; residents told me they had to go on a detour of many miles and it cost local businesses, such as the Canalside Farm shop whose customers come from far and wide, a huge amount of money.
What was I told when I tried to find help for my constituents? The agency responsible for the road said it could not deal with it because it “wasn’t their water,” as the water had come from a field. That is just one of numerous examples of the complete lack of joined-up thinking in relation to flooding, and I am sure the House will hear more examples from my colleagues in their speeches this afternoon.
Of course, I called all the different agencies that are meant to help with flooding but no one was willing to move the water on Tixall Road, and all gave me a different reason why it was not their problem. But it was a problem; the weeks went on and the villagers still could not get on with their lives. They were still cut off by floodwater, farmers’ crops were being destroyed in the fields and local businesses were suffering. The only official response was that the police came along and closed the road. I agree that that was necessary in the short term, but shutting the road did not solve the fundamental problem that it was still flooded and no one could use it. In the end, the residents had to remove the water at their own expense. In my view, that should not have happened and they have been badly let down.
In order to try and find a solution to such problems, I held a flooding roundtable this summer with all the key stakeholders in Staffordshire. They all told me how seriously they take flooding, but not one of them was prepared to say that it was the lead flooding agency or to take responsibility for the specific examples that I gave. It was almost farcical. Let me make this clear: the situation regarding flooding in Staffordshire is not a joke, and this bureaucratic runaround is the same problem that my constituents face every day.
I said earlier that there was a need for a telephone line for constituents to call if they were experiencing flooding, but in tandem with that I am calling for a flood control centre, which is something that I have raised repeatedly, and which has significant local support in Staffordshire. We need a flood control centre with a real person at the end of that telephone number, in Stafford, who is able to do something to help my constituents. It is frankly not good enough for my constituents to have water pouring through their front door, and to call number after number and be sent from pillar to post, when all the while the water is rising and their home and possessions are being destroyed.
Even worse, I have been told by constituents that, on the rare occasions that someone has agreed to help them with flooding, when the agency has arrived it has informed residents that it cannot do anything because, “It is the wrong type of water.” I repeat—“It is the wrong type of water,” and the agency says it is not responsible for it. Another constituent told me they were informed by an agency that, “The water was in the wrong place for them to deal with it.” My constituent was well aware that the water was in the wrong place—it was in her living room.
I am sorry, but this situation is unacceptable. I do not believe that it is my constituents’ job to figure out where water is coming from or the type of water it is. What they want is to have a lead authority for flooding, an authority with statutory responsibility for helping people suffering from this problem—no ifs, no buts, just a lead authority to help them.
Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr Hosie, are we allowed to take interventions?
Stewart Hosie (in the Chair)
You are allowed to take interventions from people on the call list.
Thank you, Mr Hosie. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the system is too fragmented; to give an example from my constituency, parish councillor Mike Joynson in Halmer End reported exactly the same problem, but this time it was with developers—there was a dispute about whether it the utility company or the developers were involved. Again, if we had a single point of contact and people knew who was responsible, it would make it much better for people in both her constituency and mine.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The whole point of today’s debate is to say that creating an emergency three-digit telephone number would mean that all our constituents had a direct number to call in flooding emergencies, which would be linked to our Staffordshire flood control centre, and that having an agency with statutory responsibility for flooding would lessen the impact on our constituents.
We must also have a long-term plan to try to prevent people’s homes from being flooded in the first place. To give another example from my constituency, Sandon Road is flooded all too frequently. As rain begins to fall, it is always the Marston and Sandyford brooks that start to overflow and the water often floods into my constituents’ homes. I recently attended the Sandon Road residents’ meeting, where I was distressed to hear at first hand the impact that regular flooding is having on my constituents. I pay tribute to Councillor Jonathan Price for all his efforts to try to help the residents of Sandon Road.
I am very grateful for Government-supported schemes such as Flood Re, which provides insurance for constituents who would otherwise be unable to access it. It is a vital safety net and very helpful when the worst does happen. However, we should strive to do better. Insurance cannot prevent the fear of flooding that my constituents have every time it rains. Insurance cannot replace priceless items such as family photographs, and floods can often destroy and take away the lives of many of my constituents, with days, weeks or even—in many cases—months being blighted by the impact of their homes being flooded. I therefore believe we need to do more to stop water getting into people’s homes in the first place.
Councillor Price helpfully put out a letter to local residents in Stafford last week in which he said that he has arranged the delivery of sandbags in case of imminent danger of flooding. While that may slow down the water, I am afraid it will not stop it coming in eventually. That is the crux of the problem. While it is vital that we continue to provide short-term emergency support for residents affected by flooding, that will only be truly successful for the residents of Sandon Road and elsewhere in Stafford if it is accompanied by properly funded long-term measures.
I welcome the Conservative party manifesto commitment to £4 billion in new funding over the coming years for new developments as part of a £100 billion investment in infrastructure. I was also pleased to hear the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirm in March that the Government will honour that commitment and spend £4 billion on flood defences over the next five years. Agencies have told me repeatedly that they do not have the funding to maintain and improve the waterways in Staffordshire to combat flooding effectively, so I look forward to working with the Minister and the Department constructively to see how some of that funding can be used to tackle the significant problems in Staffordshire.
I believe that, having left the European Union, the Government have a great part to play in promoting the role of farmers and landowners in preventing residential flooding. We should encourage our farmers to protect land, improve access to the countryside and take measures to prevent residential flooding. Farmers in Stafford should be congratulated on the work they are already doing in this area. I recently visited farmland in my constituency that is very prone to flooding, which has been replanted with willow trees. The area has become a thriving sanctuary for wildlife. I urge the Minister to investigate making such schemes more attractive to farmers, to allow compensation for some of their land to be flooded and to ensure that we can encourage nature as well as protecting homes.
The impacts of climate change will mean that, unfortunately, there will be an increase in both the severity and frequency of flooding in Staffordshire in the future. It is therefore vital that we have robust plans in place to deal with flooding not only over the next year but for the next decade, and to look to the future.
I am afraid that, when we try to look up the true picture of what is going on with flooding in Staffordshire, it is very hard to find out. I have welcomed the Government’s reviews into flood risk management and flooding, but it has been difficult to find a clear picture of the impact of flooding today. The people of Staffordshire completely understand that the Government do not have the power to control mother nature and that they cannot expect the Government to stop the rain from falling or the rivers Penk and Sow from flooding. However, they are asking for our help. They want help to know who exactly to call when water is pouring through their front doors, help to encourage and properly compensate farmers whose land is being submerged by flood waters in order to protect their neighbours’ homes, and help to fund flood management schemes to ensure that no one in Staffordshire lives in fear that one bad spell of rain could leave their house or their family home destroyed.
I am not demanding the impossible from the Minister. I do not expect her and DEFRA to hold back the tide, but I am asking for the measures I have outlined to be implemented to help us to tackle flooding and level up the country so that whether someone lives in Westminster or Stafford, they will know that the Government are doing their best to protect them, their family and their home from the devastating effects of flooding.