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The Jubilee River story - March 2003 - Ministerial denial

Elliot Morley and the Jubilee River blame game!

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13 Mar 2003 : Column 513—continued

13 Mar 2003 : Column 517

I accept the case that a number of hon. Members made about upstream storage. The Environment Agency has the powers to include upstream storage as part of flood defence. It has to go through normal planning and land agreements. In relation to Uckfield, that was considered, but unfortunately it was not thought to be a viable option.

Roadworks can be considered for joint funding if there is a benefit in relation to flood defence. I am keen on co-operation with other Departments. I have been speaking to the Department for Transport about the potential for co-operation on schemes—for example, using reclaimed material for roads and removing flood obstacles in floodplains. Those are the kind of issues that we have been exploring with the Department for Transport.

With regard to internal drainage boards, the Environment Agency has a general supervisory duty to make sure that flood defence management operates efficiently. It can use the new subcontracting powers that we intend to give it to bring about changes. Some of those changes might mean amalgamation. Size and efficiency depend very much on local circumstances. We do not believe that if an IDB is bigger, it is automatically better. We need to consider how it operates and how effective it is. There are some good examples in the country, and we want the standard of the poorest to be brought up to the standard of the best.

Many hon. Members mentioned sewer flooding. I acknowledged that that was a serious issue. I am pleased that the sewer companies are taking action to deal with storm discharges and sewer flooding, and I have raised the matter with Ofwat.

On the Jubilee river, I repeat that I do not believe that it is to blame for the flooding of other communities on the Thames. It was subject to independent planning scrutiny as part of a public planning inquiry, and it is subject to independent scrutiny by our own DEFRA engineers, who are independent of the Environment Agency. Although I accept that hon. Members representing communities on the Thames have put their case in a fair and non-partisan way, I think that some communities and some individuals are engaged in a blame game, and I call on them to stop. All the information on the matter should be made available, and I will take steps to ensure that it is, so that there can be scrutiny by local communities.

As regards the invitation to contribute to an independent analysis, I have no objection to local authorities employing their own independent consultants, but for them to say to the Environment Agency, "We don't believe a word that you say, but give us your money anyway" is not a very attractive proposition. The agency has bent over backwards to try and examine the issue independently and make information available. People need to see that and reach the conclusion that the Jubilee river went through all the proper procedures and is not responsible for the flooding.

As a matter of routine, in every area that was flooded in the January incident there will be an examination of the causes of the flooding and the steps that can reasonably be taken to make sure that it does not happen again. That is part of the response to any flooding incident.

13 Mar 2003 : Column 518

13/3/2003 - Elliot Morley and the Jubilee River 'blame game' (Hansard)

Elliot Morley to face criminal charges (March 2010)

7/4/2011 - Elliot Morley pleads guilty