Green Alliance: Public spending on flood strategy ‘perverse’

The UK Government's "perverse" flood strategy makes four times as much money available to actions that could increase flood risk instead of preventing flooding, according to new research from Green Alliance.

The study, released today (28 November), found that £1.5bn of public funding is spent on subsidies that ignores or increases flood risk, in comparison to £419m invested in flood prevention measures. According to Green Alliance, a total of £613m is spent on dealing with the after effects of a flood, more than double the £269m provided for hard flood defences.

Green Alliance senior economist Angela Francis said: “This analysis reveals how we are spending hundreds of millions of pounds of public money in ways that are perverse. Just by allocating current funding more rationally the Government could reduce the burden on the public purse, save vulnerable communities from the misery of flooding, and increase the health of our natural environment.”

Post-Brexit opportunity

Last winter’s flooding in Northern England is estimated to cost the economy £5bn. Green Alliance suggests that current flood management strategy could increase associated damages by up to 150% by the 2080s.

This concern led environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) to call for “warm words to be replaced with hard cash” in the Autumn Statement. The Government duly obliged by providing £20m of further investment for natural flood management.

The move was welcomed by Green Alliance, which believes that the additional funding should be used as an innovation fund to support schemes on a river catchment scale. Green Alliance wants regional catchment management boards to consolidate flood risk decision-making in a single local body.

The think tank also states that the UK farming support scheme that replaces the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should reward land management that helps to prevent flooding.

Welcoming the report, National Trust rural enterprises director Patrick Begg said: “Post-Brexit we have an opportunity to create a system that rewards and incentivises farmers and land managers to implement natural solutions to slow the flow of flood waters.

“Farmers are perfectly positioned to make these small interventions in how they manage land that can have a big impact in reducing flooding, saving us all millions of pounds in the long-term. Public money is needed to support farmers in delivering these public benefits. But our own work with Green Alliance suggests that it should also be possible to set up a market for services from farming that today go unrewarded, reducing flood risks, improving water quality and boosting biodiversity.”

Policy overhaul

The Government’s flood management strategy has come under intense scrutiny in recent times. Earlier this month, MPs urged the Government to overhaul its flood protection system to help reduce the long-term flood risks for UK businesses and communities.

The recommendations included a plan to tackle inefficiencies in the Environment Agency (EA) and a strategy to develop a grant scheme to support SMEs unable to secure affordable insurance to install resilience measures by the end of 2017.

The Government’s much-anticipated National Flood Resilience Review, released in September, revealed that Defra is looking to take a cross-sector approach to protecting critical infrastructure through closer collaboration between water, telecoms and power companies.

A Defra spokesperson recently told edie that the department remains “committed to better protecting the country from flooding”, and that natural flood management “plays an important role in our strategy”.

“We’re spending a record £2.5bn on flood defences to better protect 300,000 more homes by 2021 and many of these projects are already using natural flood management measures,” the spokesperson said.

George Ogleby

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