This gave a window into what these communities were facing, and I saw first-hand just how devastating an experience this can be. Before people’s eyes their treasured homes were destroyed, filled with filthy debris and mud and in many cases, businesses were stopped in their tracks as premises were turned upside down and transport links connecting communities closed. These sights were truly miserable, and my heart went out to those affected.
Since then, a lot has changed.
Coronavirus has brought dramatic changes to all of our lives, but few have faced the double pressure that many communities in Shropshire have faced, simultaneously dealing with perhaps the greatest health challenge this country has faced whilst still reeling from having their worlds turned upside down by Storms Ciara and Dennis.
It is a further example of the real impact that climate change is already having on our communities, and the urgent need for a serious long-term vision to accelerate action to tackle flooding in this country.
We’re setting out that vision today by committing to over 40 actions which will help to better protect and better prepare the country against flooding and coastal erosion.
We are doubling our record investment in protecting and preparing the nation to £5.2 billion, this will deliver 2,000 new flood schemes across England by 2027, better protect 300,000 properties – including 46,000 non-residential sites like hospitals and schools.
We’re being more ambitious in our use of nature to reduce flood risk, for example planting more trees to slow run-off into rivers while creating habitats for wildlife and green spaces for people to enjoy.
And to kickstart this programme and provide a boost to the nation’s economic recovery from coronavirus, we’re immediately investing up to £170 million to accelerate the construction of flood schemes where they can be built quickly to better protect households, businesses and jobs, and provide a boost for local economies.
And after what the people of Shropshire went through last winter, I’m delighted that the Government will be investing £36 million of that £170 million to build flood banks, walls and flood storage areas to reduce flood risk along the length of the River Severn. This will help to create more than 8,000 jobs, better protect nearly 3,000 homes, and boost growth in towns and cities along the river.
What also struck me last winter was the resilience of the flood-hit communities. Their homes and businesses may have been devastated by the water, but the people were not defeated and within hours already working to get their lives back in order.
Now we need to make sure that those homes and businesses themselves are as resilient as the people who live and work in them.
Last spring was the wettest on record, and in the face of climate change, where extreme weather is becoming more frequent and flooding more severe, we’ll be making sure that every property at high risk of flooding is better protected or prepared.
This is clearly a huge task, but one we’re getting on with immediately.
£200 million will be provided to 25 local areas to drive innovative actions to boost resilience, with the Severn Valley being one of four initial areas to benefit from this funding, and changes to the Flood Re insurance scheme will provide households with cheaper premiums if they make changes to their properties to increase flood resilience. Longer-term, we’re also expanding the flood warning system to cover all properties at high risk of flooding, and reviewing planning rules for building on floodplains.
Of course we recognise the reality for those families and businesses which are still working to recover from the winter’s flooding (especially while simultaneously dealing with the realities of coronavirus) – and we have provided a package of support to help those affected get back on their feet.
Importantly by building a better protected and better prepared nation, we will ensure that there are fewer such families and businesses in the future and that every place can thrive in a changing climate.