It was awful to hear of more flooding problems at the weekend, particularly at Holway House Park in Ilminster. I am in touch with residents there about insurance and other issues and am still working with our councils to try to find better solutions for management of the effect of these high rainfall events to the extent possible. Further to reports of widespread problems across the South West I am speaking with neighbouring MPs and the Minister about the broader strategy on this as a matter of urgency.
The context of this is the passage of the Environment Bill this week which contains a raft of measures to control upstream water flows and improve their quality, and should lead to a much better holistic approach to environmental management.
Sadly there has been a great deal of misinformation and aggression online in respect of one aspect of this. An unworkable amendment tabled in the Lords during the legislative process would have introduced a blanket duty with very bad unintended consequences when it comes to flooding and sewage management and potentially massive liabilities for improvement falling on water users or tax payers. This has now been sorted by a better House of Commons amendment negotiated with the Lords which dovetails the new duty on water companies to reduce sewage outflows with existing legislative powers and gives OFWAT and the Secretary of State the clear ability to enforce it and allocate funding according to the plans made.
This is very important for us here in Somerset given the phosphate issues with our wetlands and the lack of foresight by planning authorities to insist that water companies made appropriate provision for development.
On a completely different but important topic, it was great to be at the opening of the Sycamore Building at Fairmead School with the Princess Royal and others. The new building will be a great environment for the children at the school who have special needs and are on the autism spectrum. I contacted the Prime Minister a number of times during the pandemic about how important early support is for children with a whole range of additional needs but also about how those children can develop so quickly and, in the meantime, brighten up any room they are in. I will continue to campaign for them all to get the very best help.
I am writing in advance of Wednesday’s Budget and Spending Review, although items have already been announced. I would agree with the Speaker that these things should be not shared in advance and will give a proper update next week.
I will continue to campaign for simpler and lower taxes to boost our recovery from the last two years and to secure opportunities for investment and skills development locally. A hugely important focus of my time at the moment in that respect is lobbying for the AW149 from Leonardo to be the answer to the Ministry of Defence’s new medium lift helicopter requirement. I am coordinating MPs in support based on the aircraft’s superior technology, cost effectiveness, export potential and effect on prosperity locally and throughout the UK, and I hope there might be a decision on this before too long.