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September 20, 2007 10:00 AM

A key amendment proposed by a local LibDem Euro MP calling for European Solidarity Fund reform and a European force to deal with extreme climate events was approved today at the Brighton Party conference.

Liz Lynne, MEP for the West Midlands, said she felt that the motion debated today, on managing the risk and impact of flooding, which amongst other things calls for improved support for people and communities affected by flooding, was very good but needed a European context.

She said: "My West Midlands regional constituency was one of the worst affected areas in the summer floods. My own village was cut off and I don't live far from Pershore in Worcestershire where six inches of rain fell in 24 hours, a record in the UK over the last hundred years.

"The rainfall led to catastrophic flooding which had a devastating impact. Flash floods caused loss of life and severe damage to infrastructure. It also meant that many people lost their livelihoods and it caused great difficulty for local farmers.

"The main bridge in Ludlow was literally swept away. Much of the Severn Valley railway was destroyed and will be out of action until next February. I could name example after example.

"Despite the bravery of our emergency services, Central Government and Local Authorities stood by impotent, unable to react effectively. We had the ridiculous situation of new mobile flooding equipment, meant for one of the hardest hit areas, Upton on Severn, stranded on the M5 due to flash floods. We have to learn; we have to do better.

"This motion is a step in the right direction but we need to put it in a wider European context. Extreme weather hit all over Europe this summer. Not just Britain. There were the fires in Greece and flooding in Eastern Europe.

"My colleagues and I are working to ensure the EU can play a more effective role. There was a resolution on natural disasters recently adopted by the European Parliament which I co-tabled.

"The EU solidarity fund is in place precisely for such disasters and I hope the European Commission will look at the UK application for financial support favourably, and process it speedily and effectively.

"But we must fight for reform of the solidarity fund to ensure that the threshold for access to funds is lowered and the fund more flexible.

"We must continue to call for an EU Rapid Reaction force capable of deploying equipment, resources and personnel.

"Above all, we must share best practice with other Member States for the purpose of preventing natural disasters, through comprehensive care for the land in order to increase the retention capacity of bodies of water.

"Finally, we must urge implementation of the Kyoto commitments and acknowledge that unless we radically reform the way that we live our lives, this summer's climate events will only be the first step."

The motion and amendment were adopted today with an overwhelming majority, on the final day of the Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Brighton.


Notes to editors:

Extreme weather caused misery for millions of people across Europe this summer. The West Midlands region was severely affected after record rainfall, with flooding affecting some parts of Birmingham, though the worst damage was confined to a strip from Ludlow across to the Severn and Avon, with one man dying in his car near Pershore, where six inches of rain fell in a single day. The Severn Valley Railway, the region's largest heritage railway line, suffered millions of pounds of damage after the track was washed away in several places between Bewdley and Bridgnorth. The line, a key part of the region's tourist economy, is not expected to fully re-open until next February. Nationally, ten people died in the UK due to the floods, while in Greece the raging scrub fires cost at least 60 lives.

For further information, comment or to book an interview, please telephone Liz Lynne on 0776 445 2725 (mobile) or Christian Senior on 07709 255675

Amendment to Motion F45: Managing the risk and impact of flooding

Proposed by Liz Lynne MEP, Heather Kidd (Ludlow PPC) and 10 other conference representatives

Insert after original line 42:

Conference further notes the lack of co-ordination among member states of the European Union in dealing with recent disasters, including floods in Britain and forest fires in Greece . Conference notes that the UK Government has now bid for European Solidarity Fund money from the European Commission and hopes that assistance will be forthcoming as soon as possible.

Conference therefore calls for:

Insert after 1.

2. The European Commission to reform the EU Solidarity fund to bring down the threshold for eligible aid, to speed up the application process and promote increased co-operation between the emergency services and other experts from member states, including the possibility of an EU rapid reaction force, to deal with the growing threat of extreme climate events.

Policy Motion F45 - Managing the Impact and Risk of Flooding

Conference notes with concern:

A. The extensive damage caused by floods from flash rainfall and overflowing rivers in England in June and July 2007 which caused a number of deaths, as well as many billion pounds' worth of damage to homes, businesses and agriculture.

B. That much of Yorkshire, including Doncaster and Sheffield, was particularly hard hit, with nearly one in five households and 90 of the city's 105 schools affected by flooding in the city of Kingston-upon-Hull.

C. The events in the Severn and Thames Valleys, which included the inundation of a water treatment plant in Gloucestershire, leaving 350,000 people without water due to the failure to protect adequately critical utility infrastructure.

D. That the main damage caused in these flood events were examples of a type of flooding that the Environment Agency had not planned for, or warned about, caused by massive flash rainfall overwhelming drainage and raising the water table.

E. That the Stern and Foresight reports state that major urban flooding is inevitable, with costs rising to more than £21bn p.a. later this century.

F. That the Association of British Insurers estimates that with no change in government policies or spending, climate change could increase the number of properties at risk of flooding to 3.5 million.

Action Now

Conference notes that:

i) Annual flood damage now averages £2.3 billion per year, and this total is rising as climate change increases the variability of weather patterns.

ii) Over two million homes are currently at risk from flooding, and this may underestimate homes at risk from inadequate drainage and extreme rainfall.

iii) One-third of designated development sites (up to 108,000 homes) in the Government's South East growth areas are located in a flood plain, and 10,000 properties may be built in areas with significant flood risk.

iv) Only 61% of defences have been maintained to their target conditions, and the flood budget was cut by £14m in 2006-07.

v) Flood risk has increased over recent decades from increased urbanisation, deforestation and the draining of 60% of flood plain water meadows, which once acted as a natural safety valve.

vi) Climate change is likely to increase the incidence of severe weather events, including periods of intense rainfall and therefore potential flooding.

vii) Though the Government is committed to increasing the flood defence budget to £800 million by 2010-11, no commitment has been made for the intervening years, meaning a four-year delay in additional funding.

Conference further notes that the existing Bellwin scheme to help flood-hit areas with compensation is:

a) Complicated and over-bureaucratic.

b) Based on estimates in the first few months rather than long-term impacts.

c) Only normally provides support for current spending rather than capital expenditure, even though in some cases complete reconstruction, of a road section for example, would be more cost-effective than patching up.

Conference therefore calls for:

1. Additional special support for areas hard-hit by the recent flooding, so that repairs can be undertaken quickly to key public buildings and social housing.

2. An ongoing assessment of the physical capacity of the construction industry in flooded areas to respond to the exceptional demand, and a recognition that extra payments may be needed to draft in out-of-area building teams.

3. Generous and speedy grants and interest-free loans to be given by government to allow people in hardship to replace furniture and rebuild their lives in the worst-hit and poorest areas.

4. An early increase in the flood defence budget to ensure adequate maintenance of existing defences and construction of new ones.

5. A review of critical utility infrastructure to assess its vulnerability to flooding with the aim of improving defences where appropriate, and ensuring Flood Risk Maps are kept fully up-todate.

6. A statutory duty on the private water companies to review and upgrade drainage in line with the increased needs due to climate change, as well as to maintain drainage systems properly and make pumping stations proof against flooding.

7. The Environment Agency to take strategic responsibility for flood defence management and planning, working with local authorities and water companies to deliver an accountable strategic, long-term approach to flood defence and an early warning system for all types of flooding, and ensure residential, retail, commercial or industrial premises are not built on flood plains or areas of high flooding risk, unless substantial flood management schemes are in place.

8. The strengthening of existing legislation concerning developments on flood plains to protect against unsustainable developments, avoiding siting vulnerable development in flood plains and ensuring that all new developments incorporate Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) to reduce urban run-off water.

9. Councils to be encouraged to seek contributions from developers under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990 to improve the wider drainage system.

10. The development of shoreline management plans in coastal areas, making a presumption in favour of managed retreat.

11. Wetland and woodland restoration to be a priority as a means of flood management, tied with our support of agri-environment schemes such as hedgerows to slow water run-off from farmland.

12. The establishment of English National Task Forces to create integrated flood management plans, and introduce a rolling 50-year planning horizon for climate change adaptation.

Liz Lynne MEP co tabled a Joint European Parliament resolution on natural disasters in the EU on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe. The resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority in the in the European Parliament on the 5th September. It can be found at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sidesSearch/search.do?type=MOTION&language=EN&term=6&author=4541