Here’s part of the debate, as recorded by Hansard
Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): I am delighted to
be under your chairmanship once again, Mr Turner. I am also delighted to see my
hon. Friends the Members for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), for Wells (Tessa Munt)
and for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) in Westminster Hall to take part in this
debate about the serious flooding in Somerset.
I have stood in this place and made many similar speeches before. I have criticised
the Environment Agency annually because the flooding in our area has become an
almost annual crisis—and here we are again, mopping up after the latest deluge,
listening to the same lame excuses and hoping that there will finally be some
sensible action. I have to tell this House that many of my constituents are not as
restrained as I am, and who can blame them, or anyone else across Somerset, for
feeling like that? In my constituency alone, 17,000 acres of land on the Somerset
levels are now under water: homes are uninhabitable, farms are unworkable and
jobs are being expensively destroyed. A huge area of Somerset is now drowning
under water that should have been prevented from getting to where it is now.
What went wrong? Was it climate change or incompetence? Let me read an extract
from a constituent’s e-mail:
“As I write, the village of Moorland is slowly flooding. Earlier today the Environment
Agency brought in additional pumps at Northmoor. But local farmers begged for
pumping to start in earnest ten days before Christmas. However, the response was
just too slow”.
These floods were predictable and predicted—the Met Office knew that it was going
to rain, and anyone in Somerset with half an ounce of common sense or a bit of
seaweed would also have realised it—but the Environment Agency apparently failed
to cotton on. In spite of its highly paid bosses and a huge team of experts it missed
The Environment Agency is one of the most expensive quangos in this country. It
employs more people than the Canadian environment agency, and the number of
people employed by the environment agencies of Denmark, France, Germany,
Sweden and Austria put together do not match the number of people that our agency employs. Many of those countries have far longer coastlines and in some cases far bigger populations than we do, but their environment agencies cost a great deal less and do a better job than ours. Why are we spending £1 billion a year on the
It seems someone else has been reading insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk
Are we seriously getting value for that money?
On the Somerset levels, people are scared and angry—very angry. My local council
in Sedgemoor is angry, and I am sure the same is true in Taunton Deane and
Mendip. These floods shut off our major roads; the resulting detours add many miles
to our journeys, which consequently cost us more. The roads that have flooded have
sunk 12% in Sedgmoor. That is not a freak act of nature; it is unforgiveable
negligence. Nineteen years ago, the two main rivers that run through Sedgmoor
were regularly dredged by the old river boards. Dredging was expensive, dirty and
repetitive, but it was a job that everybody realised had to done, because rivers on
low-lying land silt up if they are not dredged. That is common sense.
Once upon a time, Sedgmoor was probably part of the Bristol channel, until the
Romans arrived and dug ditches. It took Dutch engineers to tame the levels in the
17th century. They understood the consequences of doing nothing, as much of their
own country is below sea level. It is well worth dwelling on that fact: over Christmas
and in the ghastly wet days that followed, almost the same amount of rain that
flooded my constituency fell in the Netherlands, but there were no floods in the
Netherlands, because in Holland they dredge, they prepare and they protect. They
plan for the worst and rarely suffer a problem.
One of the benefits of regular dredging is that the riverbanks are built up at the same
time. It is a double whammy—ask any Dutch hydrologist. However, 18 years ago the
Environment Agency was created and it made a policy U-turn that took everybody
completely by surprise, and we have all been suffering from it ever since. Regular
dredging of the Parrett and the Tone came to an abrupt end, and the agency decided
that the future lay in managing any floods that might result. The agency bears huge
responsibility for all the problems that have happened. The Parrett and the Tone are
now so silted up that in some places they no longer act as rivers at all.
Here you can read more of the Somerset Flooding debate
insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk now reports EA Blamed For Floods, surprise surprise
and others are joining in. Bit like shooting fish in a barrel.
EA should spend less time trying to recreate saltmarsh by knocking down sea defences and actually work on flood defence, maybe they’d get something done.