The House of Commons this week debated the recent flooding and I gave a speech thanking those who helped with the amazing community response and highlighting the need for government funding to repair our roads and bridges. You can watch it here or read the extended text below which had to be cut slightly due to time constraints in the debate:
On Boxing Day, my constituency and the neighbouring Calder Valley were devastated by Storm Eva.
I firstly want to take this opportunity, to thank the council officers, emergency services and armies of volunteers who committed time and effort over the Christmas period, to come and help with the clean-up. Most of the volunteers were local but some had come from much further afield to come and play their part in supporting people in their hour of need.
Their absolutely staggering generosity and compassion allowed us to make a great deal of progress in the hours and days immediately after the floods. By taking the lead on cleaning up the streets, and helping home owners and businesses with the removal of ruined and contaminated goods and furniture, they freed up council officers to deal with the most serious incidents. Even though the worst had happened, the very best of community spirit got us over it.
Calderdale council early into the crisis, established community hubs in the affected areas, from which efforts could be coordinated. Christ Church in Sowerby Bridge, run by Angela, the Reverend Canon and her wardens, served the community with distinction. My staff also gave up parts of their Christmas break to help me to open a temporary parliamentary office from Christ church to liaise with the relevant agencies and offer support and advice to victims where we could.
The hubs also served as a point where donations could be dropped off. Had it not been for the efforts of the volunteers at Christ Church, organising and re-distributing the donations, the church itself would have been quite literally overwhelmed with cleaning products, food, toiletries, and clothes, all donated by individuals and businesses to assist the flood victims through what we’re incredibly difficult times.
Because we had such a huge response to the call for donations of clothes, the local authority has now actually opened up a pop-up charity shop in Halifax town centre, with the excess clothes donations being sold, with the money raised going to the Community Foundation fund for the flood victims, which the Government has agreed to match.
I would like to say a particular thank you to Clare Calland. Clare was just visiting her parents in Sowerby Bridge when the floods struck, however she coordinates volunteers for a living and stepped in and was instrumental in organising the relief effort in Sowerby Bridge and we owe her our a debt of gratitude for role that she played during the first few days of the crisis.
In terms of the impact on residential properties, there are a number of old mills and factories along the river Calder, a reminder of our days as a textile powerhouse, and many of those buildings have been converted into apartments. I met with residents who lived in the ground floor of some those apartments, where every room was flooded.
Those people lost everything, from the white goods in their kitchen, to the clothes in their wardrobes. I spoke to one resident who had been informed only days before the flood, that his insurance would not be renewed because of his proximity to the river. He had been unable to resolve the situation before the floods wiped him out on Boxing Day.
I also visited businesses, some which were big employers in my constituency, who have never flooded before, but the cost and the devastation caused by flooding just once, mean that they are thinking long and hard about if they want to rebuild in the same premises.
Some had Business interruption insurance, but the vast majority didn’t. I very much doubt that those who did have it will find renewal affordable in the future.
Pulman Steel, who have been visited by the Chancellor twice in the run up to the 2010 and 2015 general elections, are faced with completely refitting their factory, but are battling to be up and trading at full strength again as soon as possible. I have today written to the Chancellor, inviting him on a return visit to Pulman Steel. From his previous visits, the chancellor will know that they are a supplier to a number of key northern powerhouse infrastructure projects, and so it is of strategic importance to the North and beyond, that they are operating at full strength, as quickly as possible and I would ask for his support in getting there.
It is essential for our local economy that we remain an attractive place for businesses to operate and we need to make sure that they have the specialist support required to get back on their feet.
The local authority can provide some of that support but I would like to echo Calderdale council’s request to the government, that the Department for Business, Innovation and skills gets out to those flood affected areas, and with the LEPs, works to bolster that specialist business support that could make such a big difference.
With regards to the damage to infrastructure in our area I want to thank the Secretary of State for her comments yesterday about Elland Bridge and its national significance. I am keen not to reduce this debate to one exclusively about funding, because a comprehensive strategy to combat the effect of floods will be about a change in attitudes towards the environment and climate change as much as anything else. Having said that, I am mindful that in the short term a change in attitudes alone will not rebuild our damaged bridges or repair our highways.
Elland bridge is not the only one which is seriously damaged and initial estimates for repairs to basic infrastructure including bridges, highway damage and land slips across Calderdale is already in the region of £15.8 million. The Secretary of State will appreciate that Calderdale council will need financial assistance if we are to reconnect the district’s towns and reopen our bridges and roads.
In yesterday’s statement, the Secretary of State was very generous with her time and agreed to meet with a number of honourable members. Can I ask the Secretary of State again, if she could clarify if she would be willing to meet with me, and representatives from Calderdale council, to discuss ways in which we can work together to ensure Calderdale gets back on its feet, as quickly as possible.