Debate on Flooding

Watch my speech in the House of Commons debate on flooding using the following link: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/83912e40-df4e-4099-a3e6-bbac64611b1c?in=17%3A19%3A55&out=17%3A24%3A15

 

Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to say all that I wanted. This is because of the number of MPs who wanted to speak in the debate. I therefore include below the full text of the speech that I had hoped to deliver, in addition to the text of the speech that I was able to make in the time allowed.

 

Speech in Full

 

It has not been the happiest few weeks for many of my constituents and for tens of thousands of people across the country. The devastation seen in communities I represent and other communities throughout the country was only tempered by the scale of the community spirit and resilience displayed by those affected. Let there be no doubt that extreme weather events are becoming a new normal for our country and for the wettest area of England, this is of particular concern.

 

The swift and effective response of emergency services throughout Cumbria should rightly be praised.  Though lives were lost as a result of the severe flooding, our key services kept a lot of people safe.  Praise, too, should go to the local BBC Radio and other local radio services for keeping residents and business owners up to date on a rapidly changing situation.

 

It is also right to praise the communities affected.  Across the country, many who were themselves faced with a level of devastation and loss that is difficult to comprehend were more concerned about the safety of friends and family rather than themselves.  Following the flooding in Keswick, I held an emergency advice surgery in the town to ensure everyone had access to the advice they needed.  The majority of people who came to me during that surgery did so to ensure the wellbeing of others rather than themselves.  To see the community which I represent withstand so much and respond in the manner they did is incredibly humbling.  Inspirational, too. This spirit illustrates the epitome of community resilience, though resilience means more than this.  It means the ability of a community to respond to floods, of course, but it must mean the ability of a community to continue to function throughout an event like this. This means the ability of people to still access the services they need. It also must mean being prepared for when weather events like this happen again – because we know that they will.

 

The impact of the floods on Cumbria cannot be overstated.  Homes and businesses are facing significant damage, schools were closed and roads have disintegrated.  The estimated cost of the damage to Cumbria has been put at £600m – it’s likely to be higher.

 

The A591 from Grasmere to Keswick has become completely unpassable.  Parts of the carriageway have crumbled under the force of the flooding.  This is a key route for many, including many travelling to schools.  The damage caused to this road has put 35 miles on to journeys which is having a profound impact in terms of time, cost and every day life.

 

The support announced by the Government is welcome, but until it translates to a new road surface, it isn’t enough.  The Highways Authority, Cumbria County Council and my constituents need the Government to be more proactive in the repairing of key roads.  I asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he could put a timeline on the remedial work needed on the A591.  He responded that it isn’t a matter for Government.  When Local Government is being cut to the bone, this shrugging of shoulders from the Government simply won’t wash.  It is time to show some leadership.  As I said in the Chamber yesterday, the road needs to be open before Easter – a critical time for the tourist economy.

 

Another result of the floods was the profound impact on healthcare services in the county.  A flooding emergency should never become a health emergency because people aren’t able to access the services they rely on. Cobra shouldn’t be convened every time it rains heavily.

 

The West Cumberland Hospital, in Whitehaven, was not directly affected by flood waters, but the impact of the flooding on the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle had profound effects on the services available to my constituents.  The flooding meant patients weren’t able to travel from the West Cumberland to Carlisle; doctors and nurses weren’t able to get to work and the hospital in Carlisle was running on back-up generators, without staff, bed sheets and more. This proved once and for all, the sheer folly of transferring services from the West Cumberland Hospital.  Heavy rain in the Lake District shouldn’t mean that patients can’t access health services. Rain in the Lakes shouldn’t lead international news bulletins.

 

In the wake of the flooding at the beginning of December, I called on the Government to create a dedicated Cumbrian Infrastructure and Resilience Commission to learn from the floods and put in place practical measures to improve defences, improve resilience and local infrastructure and improve the Government’s response to any future flooding.  I appreciate that since I called for this, many more communities across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been affected by flooding, but I would be grateful if the Minister is able to undertake to write to me on this matter.  Only by properly understanding how and why this flooding occurred, on a practical level, can we hope to defend ourselves better in the future.

 

The key issue at the heart of this debate is resources.  The resources we need for flood defences, the resources we need to improve community resilience and resources we need to rebuild.  It is unfathomable, therefore, that the Government is reluctant to apply for funding from the EU Solidarity Fund to help flood-stricken communities.  International partners have contributed to a EU-wide fund to help communities hit by severe weather.  The Government should commit to seeking these valuable resources from the EU fund specifically set up to help communities that have been flooded. The government’s objective here should be to help communities recover with the resources they need as quickly as possible – not to sacrifice these communities in order to save the Prime Minister’s face or assist with the internal management of the Conservative Party.

 

Any support must reach those who need it quickly.  It is all well and good announcing support, but until repairs actually start it isn’t much use.  I hope the Minister is able to explain how the Government intend to get the support that is badly needed to those who badly need it as soon as possible.

 

My constituents have now experienced three ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ flooding events in the last ten years.  This will happen again – complacency is not an option.

 

In Keswick and the surrounding areas we need to look at dredging, fell water management, bridge relocations, support for businesses, the Thirlmere reservoir and so much more.

 

Speech as Delivered

 

I will be as brief as I can to allow other Members into the debate. The impact of the floods on Cumbria cannot be overstated: homes and businesses face significant damage; schools have been closed; and roads have disintegrated, as the Minister knows only too well. The estimated cost of the damage to Cumbria has been put at £600 million, but the truth is that it is likely to be higher. The A591 from Grasmere to Keswick has become completely impassable. Parts of the carriageway have crumbled under the force of the flooding. It is a key route for many people, including those travelling to schools. The damage caused to this road has put a 35-mile additional journey on people, which is having a profound impact in terms of time, cost and everyday life.

The support announced so far by the Government is welcome, but until it translates into a new road surface it is simply not enough. The highways authority, Cumbria County Council and my constituents need the Government to be more proactive in repairing key roads and infrastructure. I asked the Secretary of State for Transport to put a timeline on the remedial work required for the A591, and his response was that it was not a matter for Government. When local government is being cut to the bone, such shrugging of the shoulders simply will not wash. It is time to show some real leadership. As I said in the Chamber yesterday, the road needs to be open before Easter, as that is a critical time for the tourist economy, particularly for Keswick and the surrounding areas.

 

Another result of the floods was the profound impact on healthcare services in the county. A flooding emergency should never become a health emergency, with people unable to access the services on which they rely. Cobra should not be convened every time there is significant rainfall. The West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven was not directly affected by flood waters, but the impact of the flooding on the Cumberland infirmary in Carlisle had profound effects on the services available to my constituents. Patients were not able to travel from the West Cumberland to Carlisle; doctors and nurses were not able to get to work; and the hospital in Carlisle was running on back-up generators, without staff, bedsheets and more. That proved, once and for all, the sheer folly of transferring services from the West Cumberland hospital to the Cumberland infirmary in Carlisle. Heavy rain in the Lake District should not mean that patients cannot access health services, and it should not lead international news bulletins.

 

In the wake of the flooding at the beginning of December, I called on the Government to create a dedicated Cumbrian infrastructure and resilience commission so that we could learn from the floods and put in place practical measures to improve defences, resilience and local infrastructure and the Government’s response to any future flooding, of which there will be more. I appreciate that since I made that call, many more communities across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been affected by flooding, but I would be grateful to the Minister if he undertook to write to me on this matter, because only by properly understanding, on a practical level, how and why the flooding occurred can we hope to defend ourselves better in the future.

 

The key issue at the heart of this debate is resources—the resources we need for flood defences, for improving community resilience and for rebuilding. It is unfathomable, therefore, that the Government are reluctant to apply for funding from the EU solidarity fund to help flood-stricken communities. International partners have contributed to an EU-wide fund to help communities hit by severe weather. The Government should commit to seeking these valuable resources from the EU fund, which was specifically set up to help flooded communities. The Government’s objective should be to help communities recover and to provide the resources they need as quickly as possible, and not to sacrifice those communities in order to save the Prime Minister’s face or assist with the internal management of the Conservative party.

 

Any support must reach those who need it quickly. It is all well and good announcing support, but until repairs actually start it is not much use. I hope the Minister will explain how the Government intend to get support to those who badly need it as soon as possible. My constituents have now experienced three “once in a lifetime” flooding events in the past 10 years. It will happen again, so complacency is not an option.

 

In Keswick and the surrounding areas, we need to look at dredging, fell-water management, bridge relocations, support for businesses, the Thirlmere reservoir and so much more. Nationally, we need comprehensively to change our approach towards flood defences, water management and community resilience.

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