“Please find below the text of my speech in the Commons for the flooding debate which will take place later this afternoon. There is a high chance that due to the number of members wishing to speak in the debate, that I may be cut short in the delivery, however I thought it would be useful for you to be able to see the full text of what I intend to say.”
-Nigel Adams MP
The flooding in Selby District between Christmas and New Year could not have come at a worse time as many residents and businesses were relaxing away from the pressures of work and several householders and business owners using the break to get away therefore leaving their property unattended and unable to defend their homes and possessions from the extreme rainfall which we encountered.
Selby District is no stranger to flooding. Most notably there were serious floods in 1947, 1981, 2000 and plenty of occasions between and since where parts of the district succumbed to floodwater. On this occasion, I was relieved that the flood defences protected the town of Selby where, to my knowledge, not a single property was flooded. Additionally, the historic village of Cawood was also spared as it’s flood walls kept the River Ouse at bay.
I want to pay tribute to Selby District and North Yorkshire councils, the local Cawood flood group under the stewardship of David Jones, local emergency services, local village volunteers who responded to a call on social media to assist with the sandbag distribution helping members of the Army, who did a fantastic job bolstering the village flood wall. Thankfully the defences were not breached; otherwise the whole village and surrounding area would have been engulfed by the Ouse.
Similarly, Selby’s flood defences were not overtopped and I can only say that the way in which all the agencies responded was superb ensuring that evacuation measures were in place should the worst happen. Residents who potentially would have to be evacuated were notified and rest centres were prepared.
It is clear that plenty has been learnt from previous flooding incidents.
Unfortunately, the town of Tadcaster and the villages of Ulleskelf, Kirkby Wharfe, Church Fenton, Newton Kyme, Acaster Selby and Bolton Percy were not so fortunate. In Tadcaster, sixteen residential properties, forty-one commercial premises, and three public buildings including St Mary’s Church, succumbed to flooding. Ulleskelf saw sixteen properties flooded largely in the West End of the village, I would like to thank all the volunteers there, led by Cllr Carl Clayton whose efforts, early action and diligence without doubt prevented further homes from being flooded. Church Fenton had three homes under water adjacent to the former RAF base and I would like to thank the Prime Minister for joining me in visiting affected families in Church Fenton without media coverage and the accompanying journalists and I know this approach meant a lot to the families on Ulla Green. The new owner of the airbase Chris Makin should also be praised for opening up the air base to allow traffic and locals to reach ulleskelf, which would have otherwise been cut off.
Nearby, Kirkby Wharfe saw twelve homes affected, ironically just before a flood defence solution was about to be implemented, however, even with that in place, homes would have still suffered given the sheer level of the flood water.
The town of Tadcaster, famous for its brewing heritage, viaduct and 300-year-old bridge linking the east and west of the town has now attracted worldwide media attention because of the flooding and in particular, the partial collapse of the bridge which was filmed by onlookers and footage shown on news stations as far afield as Los Angeles and Australia.
I want to take a moment to comment on the response to the flooding in Tadcaster.
I, along with over a hundred local residents attended a public meeting organised by the local flood group the day after Boxing Day and volunteers signed up to help the relief effort. Alongside the flood group, residents were fortunate to have the assistance of volunteer group Team Rubicon and Serve-On, a team of volunteers assisting the people of Tadcaster and surrounding villages following the devastating impact of the unprecedented flooding.
Operation Calcaria focused initially on Tadcaster, supported the community in clearing homes and businesses and providing support to volunteers and affected households.
Following the partial collapse of the bridge the Team Rubicon volunteers, who had travelled from all over the UK, assisted the Army with evacuation of homes until the risk of gas leaks had been lifted.
I would like to single out Dougie Clark, Team Rubicon’s Incident Commander for the response and his colleague David Wiseman for the leadership they provided during the response and recovery stages. Rubicon can deploy quickly to incidents like this across the country and I would urge ministers to meet with myself and the Team Rubicon board so that government can investigate how we can use their expertise during these incidents on a more formal basis.
Rubicon’s team of volunteers in conjunction with Serve-On and members of the town’s flood group under Nicola Eades and the town council staff did an incredible job and their support will not be forgotten.
In fact, it’s fair to say that the whole response to this incident has been exemplary; The Emergency Services; and I would like to mention that the North Yorkshire Fire Authority have just conducted a review into firefighting services in Tadcaster and in light of recent events, they may want to re-visit their decision to alter the services based in the town.
Selby District Council, North Yorkshire County Council, Environment Agency, Charities, Utilities, and yes, Government ministers all have been on the front foot but above all, the residents and business community of Tadcaster and those from a wider area, who have come to the town’s aid, including – I have to add, Mr Speaker – a wonderful group of additional volunteers who came from around the country who I had the pleasure of meeting, who did a superb job helping residents and businesses. I take my hat off to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association.
Mr Speaker, as the local MP, I have seen with my own eyes, acts of kindness and selflessness since the floods occurred, that will stay with me for a very long time. In fact, all the communities affected have shown an incredible resilience and community spirit that is the best of Yorkshire and the best of British.
Having to deal with sixteen homes and forty-plus other buildings being flooded is bad enough but the double whammy of the partial collapse of the town’s 300-year-old bridge is causing extreme difficulties for the town’s residents and traders. The bridge is the main vehicular and pedestrian route between east and west of the town, its closure makes it difficult for people to reach the doctors surgery, local shops on Bridge and High Street, difficulties in getting to work, school and seeing family members. I’m grateful for the county council for immediately putting on a shuttle bus service which is continuing but it is not a long-term solution. The viaduct down river has been reopened to allow pedestrian access but is too far away and inaccessible for some for it to be a long term solution.
Following investigation, we now know that repair of the existing bridge may take up to a year.
The Secretary of State inspected the bridge damage with me last week and confirmed that the Tadcaster Bridge situation was a national priority and still is.
What is needed urgently is a temporary footbridge at least, connecting east and west. I know that several options have been investigated, sourced and costed. I know the Government will provide the money so can I ask the Secretary of State to urge the authorities to get a bridge ordered, if it hasn’t already been done today, so that contractors can crack on, get it erected so Tadcaster can begin to rebuild.
Can I praise the Government for acting quickly to make money available to local councils to help those affected by flooding and I understand the cash has already been sent to Selby District Council. I know from talking to those who have been flooded that this money to help make properties more resilient is extremely welcome and the council need to act quickly to ensure that these grants find their way to flood victims in the fairest and speediest way possible. They also need to take into consideration that in areas like mine, a high percentage of the properties flooded are owned by landlords rather than the occupiers.
The medium and long term impact on small businesses in the town could be catastrophic so it is imperative that anything that can be done is done to support businesses in Tadcaster through this difficult period.
A very close look needs to be taken by the Environment Agency at flood defences in and around Tadcaster. Something has to change to prevent further recurrences of this type of flooding. The catchment based approach is working in Pickering and elsewhere which helps slow the flow has to be adopted elsewhere as does dredging, which is undertaken by the EA elsewhere and is remembered by many in the Selby District as a way of keeping levels within safe limits. I know measures will be expensive but we cannot afford not to act.
Can I take this opportunity to welcome the longer term approach to flood defence spending in contrast to the approach under previous Governments, can I also welcome the Secretary of State announcement of a National Flood Resilience Review to ensure that we can deal with increasingly extreme weather events. Historic modelling and forecasting has not been good enough and we need to look very closely with a fresh pair of eyes at how and where we make decisions about flood defence expenditure, which contrary to what some on the benches opposite have stated, has increased under this Conservative Government and it also increased under the coalition Government.
Mr Speaker, in conclusion, parts of my constituency but particularly Tadcaster have a potentially long and arduous road ahead as it recovers from Storm Eva and it is crucial that we stand by it’s people, it’s businesses, the town council, district and county councils.
The Government has made a good start with its response coming out of the blocks quickly but this does not just need a short term response. We require a longer term solution and rest assured, I shall be playing my part in ensuring that happens.