19 JAN 2017

Star Column - 17th January 2017

"On Friday evening all eyes were on the weather as Suffolk braced itself for a tidal surge. As Floods Minister, I always have my wellies at the ready in case I need to dash off to a part of the country affected by bad weather but over the weekend the risk was far closer to home with severe flood warnings issued right across the east coast. As I've said before, being MP for Suffolk Coastal has given me a great apprenticeship for the role of Environment Minister, not least the floods of 2013 where some parts of my constituency were hit by a storm surge with water levels surpassing even the 1953 flood.

This time levels were lower than they were three years ago and thankfully we remained largely unscathed. We were better prepared this time with more temporary and permanent defences. In fact our coastal defences are estimated to have protected over 500,000 properties over the weekend. I visited Snape and Felixstowe Ferry who were prepared for the worst but thankfully the storm passed. I know there was some minor flooding further up the coast with the Harbour Inn in Southwold bearing the brunt. There was also a hugely tragic incident on Saturday morning where a gentlemen died under crumbling cliffs in Thorpeness. My sympathy goes to his family and friends.

The advance warning of the surge meant the Emergency Planning team were able to swing into action and set up the Strategic Coordinating Group, chaired by Suffolk Police – which gave me regular briefings on Friday evening. Rest centres were mobilised to cope with evacuations and a helpline was set up to help move people. I want to thank Suffolk Police, the fire service, council officers, the Environment Agency and flood groups who all helped residents and businesses at risk of flooding.

Turning to matters in Westminster. Today, the Prime Minister will set out her approach to Brexit negotiations. She is clear that we will decide for ourselves how we control immigration and that we will pass our own laws. We will be a fully independent, sovereign country. The Prime Minister wants a deal that is unique to Britain and by the end of today we will know a little more about her approach to that deal. Parliament has already voted the trigger Article 50 by the end of March, which will set off a period of negotiations. Whether you voted Leave or Remain it is time to unite to build a global Britain outside the EU.

Finally, we had welcome news last week that Suffolk is going to benefit from a dedicated £1.8m pothole fund, which will help keep the county moving. Whilst on my constituency tour last year the state of our roads was consistently raised with me by local residents, so I'm delighted the County Council will benefit from this additional fund, which builds on the £1.4m we received last year to help fix our roads. Remember you can report potholes to be fixed online at www.suffolk.gov.uk."

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