I'm determined flooding will not drop off the national agenda. The winter floods ruined peoples' lives. They devastated homes and businesses across the country. They caused untold sadness and financial hardship. When they hit, I said I was going to fight tooth and nail to find a solution for my constituents - and I meant it. We owe it to the people who are still recovering from the devastation the floods caused.
We need to be prepared and we need proper protections in place for if floods hit again. It's painful to see the things people have worked hard to create washed away. I experienced it myself. I saw dirty water rip through people's homes and businesses, properties that had taken decades of hard work and persistence to save for were ruined. We must have a solution that gives residents and businesses the long-lasting security and self-confidence to rebuild their lives and invest in our area again.
Funding must be found for the Lower Thames Scheme
Thankfully, there is a long-term solution: The Lower Thames Scheme. This scheme would build three flood channels from Datchet down to Teddington as well as improve weirs on the river. If floods hit again, the excess water will be carried down to Teddington Lock, where it would be dragged out to sea by the tide. With improved weirs, the Environment Agency could quickly and easily control and direct this excess water.
It's currently being held back because of costs. Completing the scheme will be expensive, but we must work together to get a deal on funding signed. The scheme has been estimated to cost more than £250m; that's a lot of money but the alternative - not doing anything - would cost more.
When the floods hit in January, the governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney warned about its potential effects on the UK economy. And he was right to worry. Lots of places affected by the flooding were highly populated areas with large businesses, making up 13% of UK GDP. This is especially true in the Thames Valley, a vibrant centre of technology companies and highly-skilled manufacturers. Lots of international businesses are also based here because of good transport connections. If we don't protect this economic heartland, another flood could be devastating to the national economy.
This Scheme is economic common sense
This is exactly what I have stressed in my letters and conversations with the Environment Agency and the government. This message was echoed in my speech to the House of Commons this March where I said that some of the longer-term flood defences - the long-term plan to make our country more secure - would actually save the economy money. Perhaps not in the first five or 10 years, but over a 20-year period the money would be returned in savings from lower insurance costs, fewer businesses closures and interruptions, less commuter disruption and from savings across the economy overall.
Thankfully the government is committed to improving long-term flood risks. I would now urge the Government to make a clear and unequivocal commitment to funding at least half the cost of completing the Lower Thames Scheme. Why? Because I'm convinced the rest could be raised locally and from other sources with an interest. That would be a reasonable balance. In return for its investment, the country would benefit from protecting economically important companies based in the Thames Valley as well as national assets like Sandhurst; in return for local investment, residents and businesses would not only directly benefit from the extra protection, but our insurance premiums would fall too.
We can't afford to wait - let's sign off the plans
So I urge the Environment Agency, the government and, in particular, councils to get this deal signed, so we can start building. This is a massive project and it will take time, so the quicker we iron out the administration, the quicker we can start protecting Berkshire.
The Environment Agency has outlined a 20-year timescale. I want that cut in half, and I know the Government agrees with me. Philip Hammond has recently asked the Agency to take another look at their blueprints to speed up construction. We need to join together to demand a 10-year timeline, anything less than that would be infeasible. We must also start some of the work immediately, like the weir upgrades, which will help us defend ourselves in the short-term.
Protecting the Thames Valley from flooding is in the local, regional and national interest. I'm optimistic this can be achieved. The prime minister has shown his support for investing in flood defences and the government's fully behind accelerating this scheme. We just need to crack on, we need to sign off the plans, and we need to get the shovels out to protect our homes, livelihoods and futures.