Utilities not consumers will pick up bill for defence works, says former flood strategy MP Oliver Letwin

The MP behind the government’s floods strategy, Sir Oliver Letwin, has insisted families will only see their bills increase by “a few pence a week” in exchange for utilities investing in improved defences.

Letwin was David Cameron’s chief policy lieutenant and developed the National Flood Resilience Review before he was sacked as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster by Theresa May in July. The review was published to little fanfare in September, but assigned an additional £12.5m to increase the Environment Agency’s stock of flood defences.

Speaking to Building, Letwin said: “What nobody seemed to notice in the report was that the utilities have now agreed to do a whole series of defence works at their own expense – that’s in addition to the £2.3bn [being spent by the government in 2015-21].”

The report stated that water, telecoms and electricity utilities will develop and implement plans to “improving the resilience of service provision to significant communities from the flooding”.

Letwin (pictured) admitted that it was not clear how this cost will be shared between the utilities’ shareholders and customers, but added: “It’s a very, very small addition to people’s bills that anybody is talking about, in order to provide a much greater degree of assurance that they don’t get turned off in the case of a flood.

“I think if you were an inhabitant of Leeds and you suffered several days during which the Leeds telephone exchange was inoperative, you would be very happy to pay a few pence extra a week.”

Letwin drew up the National Flood Resilience Review after years of extreme floods in Somerset, Cumbria and Yorkshire. It is hoped the government’s £2.3bn spending on flood and coastal defences will better protect around 300,000 homes.

Aside from spending, Letwin also called on local authorities to use the construction of “beautiful” flood defences as part of urban regeneration and design.

He argued: “We should not see flood defences anymore, in an urban context, as something you graft on and that adds cost, but rather something that is built in which is beautiful, viable - indeed highly saleable and desirable – but also resilient.”

Letwin argued there has been “a terrible tendency” to treat flood barriers as an after-thought and only added at a higher cost when an area has already been flooded.

He said: “We can see resilience to flooding as one of the features of good design in just the way that building beautiful buildings and nice urban settings and parks and trees and so on is not an additional drain. On the contrary, it increases [property] value because people actually like it.”