Flooding: Government must change inefficient and reactive approach, say MPs
The UK Government is failing to protect communities and businesses at risk of flooding, according to a new report released today (9 June) by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee.
The 54-page report, backed by MPs including Caroline Lucas, Zac Goldsmith, and current Environment Minister Rory Stewart, warns that a reactive approach to investment for flood defence is undermining a supposed long-term strategic plan to manage flood risk.
The MPs criticise the Government’s “inefficient” approach to flood risk management funding, which has suffered through year-on-year fluctuations that have only risen through “reactive” injections following the 2013/14 floods. A lack of consistent funding has negatively impacted on the condition of critical flood defences, the report claims, with the number of defences meeting the Environmental Agency’s required condition in steady decline.
Committee chair Mary Creagh MP said: “We know that flooding is projected to get worse and occur more frequently because of climate change, so it just isn’t good enough for Government to react to flooding events as they occur. Communities at risk deserve certainty from Government.”
‘Clear delivery route’
Amidst the wettest winter ever in 2014, the Government announced a £2.3bn capital investment package to upgrade Britain's flood defences, programme for flood defences. The spending commitment has been praised by business as a “clear delivery route” which should help address the “stop-start approach” to funding, but concerns still linger over the long-term future of infrastructure investment.
Commenting on this latest report, construction giant AECOM’s water director Jon Robinson said: “[The investment programme] allows schemes to be packaged, which enables more efficient delivery by both the client and suppliers. There is a clear delivery route with money directed with due consideration of benefits.
“But it is important the programme is not back-end loaded with the bulk of construction occurring in years five and six. Design, maintenance and construction must be a continuous process in order to achieve the required outcomes.
“Changes in our climate are only likely to increase pressure on flood defences over the coming decades. Ultimately, funding may therefore need to be increased in order to meet the escalating demand.”
Environment Minister Stewart recently told MPs at an Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) meeting that he was confident the Government will reach its target of protecting 300,000 properties. However, the Committee voiced concerns over this figure which it believes is based on an “inherently optimistic forecast” that assumes “optimal efficiency” in spending decisions.
The Committee was also surprised to hear that the increased expenditure figure of £700m announced in this year’s Budget was based on what Stewart called a “political calculation”, suggesting the decision could lead to inefficiencies in flood investment, poor decision-making and potentially geographically unfair outcomes.
Creagh MP said: “The Government needs to put money into the upkeep of existing flood defences as well as investing in new defences. Failure to do so can have terrible consequences for residents and businesses when defences fail.
“Any decline in the condition of critical flood defences represents is an unacceptable risk to local communities in flood prone areas. We urge the Government to go beyond its current target and aim to have virtually all its critical assets meeting the Environment Agency's required condition by 2019.”
The Committee found that local authorities have not been receiving the support they need to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of flooding. This follows on from a recent report by the Local Government Association (LGA) which found that local authorities were landed with a bill of £250m for the costs of the most recent winter floods.
The LGA has today called for Government to provide more support to local authorities in the short term and enable councils to develop joint local plans to properly take account of flood risk management.
LGA Environment spokesman Cllr Peter Box said: “Councils are at the sharp end of responding to and managing flooding and are going the extra mile to prepare and protect their communities. Local authorities are also doing everything they can to alleviate the risk to residents, which includes working hard to establish and maintain evidence-based local flood risk strategies.
“However, we agree with the committee that councils need to be better supported by government. New measures that could make a positive difference include devolving new flood defence funding to local areas, further incentives for private sector investment in flood defences and mandatory flood-proof requirements for new homes and offices.”
Today’s report follows a series of industry appeals for the Government to do more to mitigate the future risk of flooding.
The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) recently called for a Government environmental “policy reboot” or risk future floods causing “untold damage” and “misery” every few years. The Committee’s research found that insurance loss from damage caused by storms Desmond, Eva and Frank totalled £1.3bn.
Numerous other calls have been made for reform of the new ‘Flood Re’ insurance programme for its apparent inability to ensure policy holders are rewarded for improving their defences by reducing premiums.