Conservative MPs representing flood-hit constituencies are pressuring Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to do more to protect households against flooding and to take climate change more seriously, The Independent has learnt.
As new figures reveal that eight of the 10 constituencies most at risk of flooding are represented by Tories, the MPs have sounded the alarm about the urgent need to tackle the increasingly extreme weather they expect as a result of climate change.
“The recent floods are a wake-up call on the need to do more to protect households from severe weather events. We also need a renewed focus on tackling climate change, as well as preparing for it,” said Neil Parish, Conservative MP for flood-hit Tiverton and Honiton in Devon.
Henry Bellingham, Tory MP for North West Norfolk, where storms damaged sea defences, added: “There is no room for complacency and our sea and flood defences will require further investment in order to increase their height. I also believe that it is vital that the Government should look at a new funding formula for sea and flood defences that will enable additional funds to be forthcoming.” Mark Spencer, MP for Sherwood in Nottingham, said: “The Government must do more to protect householders from the effect of climate change and encourage developers to build climate change mitigation into new [housing].”
The MPs were speaking after the statistics watchdog contradicted the Government’s claim to be spending a record amount on flood defences. It said the Coalition spent £2.34 billion on flood defences over four years, compared to the £2.37 billion spent by Labour in the previous four – a £247 million funding cut in real terms. This government is only spending fractionally more if it includes money raised from private firms and other third parties and ignores the impact of inflation, it said.
Furthermore, the watchdog pointed out that the figures included the budget of more than £600 million inherited from Labour after Gordon Brown raised flooding as a serious concern and hiked spending – and after which spending was cut sharply as a result of George Osborne’s 2010 austerity spending review.
The eight Conservative and two Liberal Democrat MPs raised their concerns about flood spending and global warming a month after Mr Paterson was accused of “incredible complacency” over climate change when new figures showed his department has slashed spending on domestic “climate change initiatives” by 41 per cent in this financial year, compared to the previous one.
John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham’s Yardley ward, said: “The links between climate and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been predicted since 1938, at the latest, however action to deal with this has been begrudging.”
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, added: “There can surely now be nobody who doubts climate change is upon us. Year on year we are seeing more weather extremes, whether it is in terms of temperature, rainfall or storms. But the world response so far, in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been woefully inadequate and even countries like the UK where we have done more than most have not done enough.”
Peter Luff, Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, said: “A lot more can be done to protect individual properties from flooding”, while Conservative MP for South Swindon, Robert Buckland said: “Flood defence plans must take into account the impacts of climate change, like more rainfall and higher sea levels.”
The Conservative MPs Henry Smith, Neil Parish and Laura Sandys – of Crawley, Tiverton & Honiton and South Thanet, respectively – also said the recent weather had been a “wake-up call” and called for a greater focus on tackling climate change.
Analysis of Environment Agency data by the Association of British Insurers has revealed that the areas of England and Wales most at risk of flooding are dominated by Conservative MPs. Mark Simmonds, MP for Boston and Skegness, tops the list, with 7,550 homes in his constituency at significant risk of flooding, while Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary and MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, is at number five, with 6,541 homes at risk.
Mr Hammond said: “The Lower Thames has the largest number of properties at risk from river flooding in the UK and this must be addressed. The Lower Thames Flood Alleviation Scheme sets out a clear way forward that will, in the medium term, protect the vast majority of properties at risk.”
Friends of the Earth’s Guy Shrubsole said: “These figures show that hundreds of thousands of households across the country are threatened with the misery of flooding – this ought to be a major issue for politicians of all parties. With Conservative constituencies disproportionately at risk, it’s clear that David Cameron needs to back up his warm words with solid action.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said: “We are looking at all potential options to tackle flooding and are spending £2.4m on flood management and protection from coastal erosion. That is more than ever before.”