The latest edition of my monthly newsletter is now available to view online here.
I spoke in yesterday’s Opposition Day debate on the importance of long term plans to address flood risk.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): My hon. Friend is right to talk about the slow and belated but ultimately welcome response. Is not the danger that, now that the national media circus has moved on and the visiting Ministers have gone way, the Somerset levels are still under water and both of our main rail connections from the south-west to the rest of the country are still severed, and likely to be so for several more weeks? We need sustained and comprehensive attention and policies to address flood risk and flood management in the long term.
Maria Eagle: I acknowledge the truth of what my right hon. Friend said. Of course, it is the job of Her Majesty’s Opposition to try to make sure that the Government realise that need as much as we do. I am sure that we will seek to do that.
February 13, 2014 in Local
I asked Ed Miliband to Exeter today because I didn’t think enough thanks has been expressed to the hard working and dedicated staff of the Environment Agency and Met Office during the recent floods and storms. I also wanted him to be left in no doubt of the needs of our region for better flood defences and rail resilience.
Exeter is home both to the globally renowned Met Office and the South West regional headquarters of the Environment Agency (EA). Both have been performing an incredible job over the last few weeks. This is the second year running that they’ve more or less had to put Christmas on hold.
Ed saw the control room at the EA on the Sowton estate and met regional director Richard Cresswell and colleagues. He was shown how future storms and floods are both predicted and then reacted to using real time data on rain and river levels and wind and wave strength and size.
This year’s storms and floods were described by the EA experts we met as a 1 in a 250 year event. Last years floods were a 1 in a 100 year event. Yet, against that sort of back drop they are losing staff and funds, the very people who are currently help us get through this crisis. That cannot be sensible and I was pleased Ed raised his concerns about this during Questions to the Prime Minister this week.
At the Met Office, Ed met weather and climate change experts who showed him their world leading forecasting technology and talked him through the latest evidence on the impact of climate change on our weather. They are in no doubt that the increase in the frequency and severity of major weather events is connected to global warming and that even with the recent pause in the pace of increase in global surface temperature the oceans have continued warming, their levels rising and the ice caps melting. Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist, said “Globally, the last decade has been the warmest ever recorded.”
From there, Ed had a cup of tea at the home of a couple who live on Exeter Quay who wrote to David Cameron this week about the huge increase in their flood insurance and sent a copy of their letter to me. They’ve been hit by the reduced protection offered by Exeter’s 1960s flood defence scheme – which was built to withstand a 1 in a 100 year flood, but will now only withstand a 1 in 40 year one.
Later in the afternoon, the Chairman of Exeter Chamber of Commerce told us that businesses on Marsh Barton have recently had the excess on their flood insurance quintupled! Some have also been told that if there is a flood warning they have to move everything to a first floor, when many of them are only single storey.
I then took Ed to show him the railway line at Cowley Bridge where we had the serious flooding problems last year. It was after that when the Government promised an extra £31 million for improved railway protection – money which never came. David Cameron appears to have re-announced it this week. But we’ll have to see if the Government actually delivers this time.
Finally we went to the Mill on the Exe (not for a pint, sadly) but to look at the city’s existing flood relief channel and to get a briefing from the city council on the plans for an upgrade. The leader of Plymouth City Council, Tudor Evans was on hand to lobby Ed on the particularly serious plight of Plymouth – now without a railway link as well as an airport. Ed also spoke to Derek Philips, local councillors, City Council officers responsible for the flood defence scheme and the rep for Unison for the Environment Agency in the South West.
I hope he left with a clear idea of all the hard work and effort that has being going on to deal with the recent crisis, but also of the needs of Exeter and the South West for much better flood defences and more resilient and reliable transport connections.
Below is a letter from myself and other South West MPs asking the Government what has happened to the £31 million funding for rail resilience promised after last winter’s floods.
Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP
Secretary of State for Transport
Department for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Rd
10th February 2014
As you know vital rail services in the South West Peninsula have in the last couple of weeks once again been disrupted by severe weather, further underlining the weak resilience of our region’s strategic transport links. The South West Peninsula is increasingly southern Britain’s front-line for extreme weather. The events of this week have again underlined that fact. Climate change projections warn that such events will occur more frequently up to 2050 and beyond.
We need urgent Government investment in our region’s rail infrastructure and services. In early 2013 Network Rail drew up details plans setting out work required to reduce the likelihood of damage from flooding, at a reasonable cost of £31.3m. It was expected that this investment, which would also come from the DfT, would materialise in the Autumn Statement. It was, however, omitted despite public commitments to produce the funding.
Consequently, there is widespread concern in the region that the Government is failing to grasp the urgency of these repairs. The immediate effect of the 2012/13 floods has been an estimated £140 million cost to the public purse, transport and economy of the Peninsula. The cumulative total will be significantly more when more recent severe weather disruption is taken into account.
Attached with this letter is a report put together by the five major local authorities – Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth, Somerset & Torbay – and the region’s LEPs, called ‘The South West – Extreme Weather Resilience’. The report contains a deliberate and measured assessment into the severe weather events of 2012/13 and serves as a siren warning for the kind of infrastructural and economic damage these severe weather events can and will inflict.
Securing the investment needed for Network Rail’s flood resilience programme for the South West is the urgent priority and a necessary first step in a campaign to deliver the transport infrastructure and services vital to the Peninsula’s future economic security.
We would therefore urge you to read the report and heed its recommendations, and deliver as an immediate priority the £31.3m flood resilience funding so that work can begin to strengthen the South West’s rail network for the future.
Nick Harvey MP (North Devon)
Ben Bradshaw MP (Exeter Central)
David Heath MP (Somerton & Frome)
Anne-Marie Morris MP (Newton Abbot)
Adrian Sanders MP (Torbay)
Neil Parish MP (Tiverton & Honiton)
Geoffrey Cox MP (Torridge & West Devon)
Stephen Gilbert MP (St Austell & Newquay)
Andrew George MP (St Ives)
February 11, 2014 in Local
You can read my latest column for the Western Morning News on the need for a resilient rail line for the South West as a priority over High Speed 2 here.
At an Urgent Question in the House of Commons yesterday, I asked about the funding promised for rail resilience after last year’s floods in the South West which has yet to materialise.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I cannot remember a more complacent or inadequate response from a Cabinet Minister to a serious matter in this House. Last year, after last winter’s floods and the travel disruption in the south-west, the Government announced £31 million of new money for improved rail resilience in the south-west. That money has still not materialised. Why should anybody believe any of the new promises the Secretary of State is making when he has failed to deliver on any of them in the past?
Mr Pickles: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman seems to resort to petty insults across the Chamber. There are people right now risking their lives and working on the railways to get them running and get a proper price worked out, and frankly, to play this rather pathetic game of who is to blame—[Interruption.] There will be a time when we will look closely into the causes of the floods and the reaction of the Government, but right now we should get on with the job.
February 6, 2014 in Local
At today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, I asked about investment in transport infrastructure and action on climate change in light of the flooding in the South West.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab):The loss of the railway line at Dawlish in the overnight storms is a devastating blow to the economies of Devon and Cornwall. It comes just a year after we lost our railway service for a whole month because of flooding. Does the Prime Minister accept that we, as a country, will have to spend a great deal more investing in the resilience of our transport infrastructure and that we need a Government who are united in their acceptance of, and their determination to do something about, climate change?
The Prime Minister: I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Gentleman on a number of points. First, we need to ensure that urgent action is taken to restore the transport links and that is why I will chair Cobra this afternoon, bringing together the problems of the power reductions, the floods and the effect on transport. Secondly, we must ensure that we go on investing in rail schemes and this Government are putting record amounts into such rail schemes. The third point, on which I totally agree with him, is that we need to continue the analysis of the resilience of our infrastructure that is now carried out by the Cabinet Office. Where extra investment and protections are needed, they must be put in place.