6 February 2024
George Freeman intervenes in flooding debate

George Freeman urges DEFRA to prioritise dredging and clearing of ditches and rivers to help prevent flooding. 

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. To his point, in my part of Mid Norfolk, where the clue is in the name—it is not on the coast—we have seen in the past 10 years an extremely high rate of flooding. In 2020, 200 houses were flooded with sewage; two months ago, 100 houses in Attleborough were affected . This is getting worse and worse. It is partly climate change, yes, but also house dumping and inappropriate investment in infrastructure. Does he agree that, as well as a national strategy, we need to ensure that in such counties, where 38 agencies have responsibility, somebody has to be held to account to avoid the flooding of our constituents’ houses?

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)

My hon. Friend is right, and makes a good point I will touch on. Although some flooding is occasionally inevitable, we can take action to avoid some of the worst excesses. Since 2007, a number of schemes have been implemented in my area, at Deerhurst, Longlevens and Westbury, and some minor improvements have been made elsewhere, but we were flooded again a few weeks ago. People in Sandhurst and Tewkesbury itself suffered when their homes were flooded. People in those areas feel that more could have been done to prevent the effects of heavy rainfall.


George Freeman 

My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does he agree that it is really important that the Department—I am grateful that the Environment Minister is in her place—understands that rivers’ principal function is to drain water to the sea, and that our ditches’ and watercourses’ principal function is to do that? At times in Norfolk, it is beginning to feel as though the environmental agencies are more concerned with keeping them full of mud and plants than making sure that they fulfil their primary purpose, leaving constituents—farmers and people with sewage in their houses—to pay the price. We need to remember that drainage is about drainage, first and foremost.

Mr Robertson 

Absolutely. That is why rivers run to the sea. It is a very good point.

One of the arguments made against dredging—I am afraid it is on the Government’s website—is that clearing one part of a river just pushes the water downstream, but the logical conclusion to that argument would be to say that we should never place flood defences anywhere, which we are obviously not going to say. Rather, it is one good reason that we need both national and local approaches to the problem. For example, looking at the River Severn as a whole, we might come to the conclusion that the whole river needs dredging so that the water can be moved out to the sea as quickly as possible, as my hon. Friend suggests. I know that dredging is controversial, but we need to have a conversation about its benefits, and a proper analysis carried out by the Government and the Environment Agency.


George Freeman 

In Norfolk certainly, the internal drainage boards are the most expert bodies at handling drainage. Could I make the gentle suggestion that we pay for them through some of the Environment Agency’s substantial funding, rather than through council surcharges, which are very stretched?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)

The drainage boards play a very important role in all of this. They play an important role in many cases, including the provision of nature-based solutions and regulating water levels, as was touched on earlier.