Lord Smith staunchly defends EA staff over 'flooding failure' claims
In the face of widespread criticism, Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith has defended frontline staff who have worked solidly over Christmas and New Year to tackle flood-hit parts of the UK, saying dredging is not the answer.
Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme this morning, Lord Smith immediately took the opportunity to praise Environment Agency staff, pointing out that they have been out working tirelessly to tackle flood waters.
His defence comes in the face of widespread media criticism about the way the Agency has handled the latest round of extreme weather, and follows in the wake of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's visit to the Somerset Levels yesterday. Residents and local councillors reacted angrily to his visit, blaming the latest floods on the Environment Agency's failure to dredge the rivers Tone and Parrett over the past 20 years.
Speaking to the programme earlier in the day, the Association of Drainage Authorities had said that if the Agency had been systematically clearing the rivers over the past 20 years then the current pumping activity would have managed to drain the area completely within days.
However, Lord Smith refuted that claim, saying, "It would not have solved the problems that we are facing at the moment".
He continued: "Dredging would probably make a small difference. It's not the comprehensive answer some people have been claiming it is... It is quite possible that dredging will be part of the solution, but I must emphasise, only part of the solution."
The high-profile criticism comes at a time when the Agency is facing touch cut-backs with up to 1,500 job losses. When asked how the Agency would allocate the limited resources it has left, Lord Smith conceded that it would be difficult, but that flooding emergencies would remain fully resourced.
"This of course is the difficult set of choices that anyone running a public service organisation at the moment faces. We are facing financial constraints. We're doing that in the best and most methodical way that we can," adding that, "an absolutely red line for us in the Environment Agency is we have to be able to maintain our ability to respond to flooding emergencies."
An excerpt from Lord Smith's interview can be heard here.