Parliamentary committee heavily criticises Government over poor flood defence

A House of Commons select committee has heavily criticised the British Government for its failure to develop a long-term flood defence strategy, and for the lack of a ‘flood’ minister.

There are too many agencies involved in flood defence and the Government has failed to “develop a clear, long-term strategy for flood and coastal defence and the means for ensuring its delivery”, according to the House of Commons Agricultural Select Committee. The Committee is also critical that there is still no senior minister at the top of Government who is ultimately responsible for dealing with flooding issues.

The Committee also criticises the Government’s poor record on providing funding for flood defence, repeating its call from a 1998 report that there should be fundamental reform of funding arrangements, and adding that Government should take account of the additional costs to local authorities resulting from the recent flooding. Although the Committee welcomes the extra £51 million announced last November (see related story), committee members believe this to be insufficient, and call for an urgent reassessment of provisions.

However, the Committee also criticises those local authorities which are refusing to co-operate with the Environment Agency on flood defence inspections, concluding that “accountability and leadership at local level is required” in order to ensure that the authorities fulfil their responsibilities with regards to the provision of adequate flood defence.

The Committee also stresses concerns over housing developments on flood plains. Such developments should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances, and additional powers should be given to the Environment Agency to refer planning applications of concern to the ‘flood’ minister, says the Committee.

The Environment Agency supports the findings of the report, stating that although it also welcomed recent funding announcements, including last month’s additional £11.6 million to cover emergency and repair costs (see related story), it shares the Committee’s concerns that these sums are not sufficient to meet ongoing flood defence management needs. “Flood defence cannot be managed through a series of patchwork one-off payments,” said Geoff Mance, the Environment Agency’s Director of Water Management.

“For some time the Agency has been calling for an overhaul of the management of flood defences in England and Wales,” said Mance. “The Committee’s recommendation of a fundamental reform of the institutional and funding arrangements for flood defence echoes the Agency’s long-held concerns that the current system is unwieldy and uncoordinated and consequently unresponsive to the real needs of the community – and we welcome their support.”

The Government published its new planning guidance policy on 6 February, which includes a clear statement that building in the functional flood plains should only occur in exceptional circumstances and should be limited to essential infrastructure. There is also a stipulation that builders must fund flood defence work and sustainable drainage measures in order to avoid adding to the flood risk elsewhere.

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