Flood defence funding: Is the Government treading water?

The coalition Government has unveiled details of its latest pre-election spending commitment in the form of £2.3bn of funding for more than 1,400 new flood defence projects across the UK - but opposition parties and green groups have been quick to voice their concerns.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander today (2 December) announced details of the new funding, which includes £196m for the Thames Estuary programme, more than £80m for the Humber Estuary and £15.5m in Somerset, which was badly hit by heavy flooding last winter.

“We all saw the destruction and heartache caused by flooding last year and that is why this investment is vital to build Britain’s defences for the future,” said Lib Dem MP Alexander. “The projects we are announcing today will protect some of the country’s most at risk locations ensuing that we will be as prepared as possible for future severe weather.”

‘Government spin’

Other flood defence projects to receive funding include £73m for the Boston Barrier/Barrage; £42m for the Oxford Western Conveyance; and more than £17m for Tonbridge, Yalding and the surrounding communities. In Somerset, the £15.5m will be spent on flood defences over the next 6 years, providing protection to 7,000 properties and including £4.2m to be spent on the Somerset Levels and Moors.

But none of this is new investment. The six-year NIP is part of £2.3bn capital investment that was earmarked in last year’s public spending round. Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle has labelled this ‘Government spin on what is simply a re-announcement of capital funding confirmed a year ago’.

“This is not new money – at the beginning of this parliament David Cameron cut the flood protection budget by over a £100m a year,” said Eagle. “As a result, we are playing catch up on flood defences. The Committee on Climate on Change has already said that the Government’s plans could leave 80,000 additional properties at serious risk of flooding.

“There have been reports of a £500m black hole in these plans which the Government expect communities to meet themselves. This kind of uncertainty is unfair on those affected – we need a proper long term plan for infrastructure investment including flooding which is why we have called for an Independent National Infrastructure Commission.”

Money no object?

Meanwhile, campaign group Friends of the Earth says the investment of more than £2bn in flood defence projects is still not enough to protect homes and businesses from the impacts of climate change. The budget for flood defence spending over the next Parliament is in fact short by at least half a billion pounds, according to confidential plans obtained by the environment charity.

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: “Whatever happened to ‘money no object’? These flood defence plans simply don’t hold water and are wholly inadequate to keep pace with rising flood risk.

“Failing to tackle climate change comes with a heavy cost, and it’s not right that the government makes flood-risk households pay the price for its failure to do so.

“All parties must, as a matter of national urgency, rethink how we protect the country from climate change – and do far more to prevent it getting worse.”

National leadership

Dr Doug Parr from fellow campaign group Greenpeace added: “The Government’s allocation of finance to new schemes to protect homes from flooding is a step forward but the funding is still well short of what the government’s own advisors say is needed as our climate starts to change.

“This money won’t help those previously flooded areas which will remain vulnerable during the next Parliament. Climate change is beginning to have real costs in Britain as we saw from the floods last year and requires a determined Government committed to tackling the causes as well as effects of flooding.

“As countries meet in Lima this week to negotiate commitments on climate change, global as well as national leadership is needed to cut emissions to prevent the effects of global warming such as flooding.”

National Infrastructure Plan

This announcement forms part of the National Infrastructure Plan, which sets out the Government’s vision for all key infrastructure sectors to be achieved over the next Parliament and beyond. The £460bn package of public and private investment also includes a £15bn Strategic Road Network investment and a £38bn Network Rail delivery programme which involves the electrification of key lines.

Commenting on the Plan, the UK Green Building Council’s chief executive Paul King said: “Government has shown it recognises the importance of investing in a whole range of infrastructure priorities to future-proof our economy and communities.

“However, there is a blind spot when it comes to the energy efficiency of our existing homes. Even by Government’s own tests, energy efficiency is a sound investment – not only helping households struggling with energy bills, but boosting economic growth, increasing energy security and improving the health of thousands of people.

“It’s disappointing that Government has recognised the ‘significant opportunity’ energy efficiency offers, but failed to act upon it.”

The coalition government’s pre-election infrastructure spending announcement comes a day before Chancellor George Osborne will give his annual Autumn Statement – a ‘mini budget’ to provide an update on the Government’s economic plans before the General Election in May. Read our ‘Autumn Statement wishlist’ here.

Luke Nicholls

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