Leeds MP Rachel Reeves takes aim at Government over city flood defences

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has called for more protection for flooding victims and an overhaul of a protective insurance scheme.

By Geraldine Scott
Wednesday, 4th March 2020, 5:52 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th March 2020, 5:54 pm

Speaking during a debate called by Labour today which called for an independent review into the recent flooding, Ms Reeves said residents in her constituency lived in fear of being flooded.

And she said Leeds was still waiting for flood defences it was promised in 2015.

Ms Reeves said in the most recent storms "if the water had have risen in the river just a few centimeters more we would have been devastated in exactly the same way, because we still do not have the flood defences that we were promised and that we need".

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Rachel Reeves. Photo: JPI Media

The Government has said more than £35m had been put towards in a scheme to better protect the city centre and had committed a further £65m for a second phase.

But Ms Reeves said the project fell £23m short and Kirkstall and Burley remained unprotected.

Her comments came as the Government was accused of seeking to “silence” victims of severe flooding in Yorkshire who have endured millions of pounds worth of damage with repeated catastrophic floods in recent years.

The Labour Party called for an independent review in order to learn the lessons following Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, including an assessment of the Government's response.

Shadow Environment Secretary, Luke Pollard, however, took aim at Conservative MPs during a House of Commons debate today for refusing to back his party's proposals to establish a review.

Mr Pollard said: "The review that we're asking for seeks to look at how we learn the lessons as a country, how the Government learns lessons, how the work and the innovations of local communities is recognised.

"But the Government's amendment to our motion today seeks to do only one thing - not learn the lessons of the flooding. It deletes the lessons learned review and it seeks to silence the voices of those communities that have been flooded. I want to have the voices of those communities underwater heard in the review we are proposing."

Mr Pollard said that he was keen to hear from small business owners, farmers, home owners, emergency service workers and Welsh coal mining communities as part of the review, but accused Conservatives of refusing to listen.

Mr Pollard added: "For every Tory MP that votes against our motion today, they're doing something very simple, they're refusing to listen and learn the lessons of the flooding, refusing to improve their response to flooding in a calm and independent manner.

"Those communities who are underwater, many of whom are represented by Conservative MPs, will wonder what has happened to their Members of Parliament when they had an opportunity to have the voice of those communities heard, they decided to turn against them. That's not leadership at all."

As well as an independent review, the Government is under pressure to overhaul the Flood Re scheme which helps those with difficulty accessing adequate flooding.

Ms Reeves, in her role as Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, wrote to Environment Secretary George Eustice today with concerns about the project.

In a letter co-written with Philip Dunne MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, and Neil Parish, Chair of the EFRA Committee, they said the scheme does not currently cover businesses or houses built since 2009.

A review of the scheme has already been announced but the letter said: “The Environment Agency now says that tough decisions will be needed about whether to continue protecting some at-risk properties, meaning that the circumstances of some householders have changed drastically since 2009.

“The review of Flood Re should look carefully at the cut-off and seriously consider whether the date should be moved later.”

Speaking in the Commons Mr Eustice said that the Government acknowledged a need for further investment in flood defences and outlined a commitment to tackling climate change.

He said: "We are determined to be ready for the future and we know that we must expect more frequent extreme weather in this country.

"So as well as investing even more in flood defence, the Government is also committed to leading a global response to climate change through our work around the world and as hosts of the next climate change conference, COP26, urging nations to achieve net zero in ways that help nature recover, reduces global warming and addresses the causes of these extreme weather events."

Tory backbencher and MP for Calder Valley Craig Whittaker criticised the speed of the Government's payments to flood victims.

He said: "Will the Secretary of State agree to look at the support package and amend it so that we have an off-the-shelf package that automatically gets triggered in the future for any constituency that's (hit by) flooding, so no constituency should be left waiting for nine days ever again?"

Ms Reeves added flood insurance was too expensive for many people.

He said: "Many businesses in my community no longer have flood insurance because it would make their businesses unviable."