Government criticised over flood plans

Members of the army and rescue teams help evacuate people from flooded properties after they became trapped by rising floodwater when the River Ouse bursts its banks in York city centre in December 2015Image copyright

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People were evacuated from flooded properties in York in December after the River Ouse burst its banks

The government is failing to do enough to protect communities at risk of flooding, a group of MPs has found.

There should be more long-term planning, rather than a reactive approach to flooding, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report said.

Committee chair Mary Creagh urged the government to pay for the upkeep of existing flood defences, as well as investing in new ones.

The government said it was investing “record amounts to protect the nation”.

The EAC report follows the storms that hit the UK between December 2015 and January 2016, causing flooding in the north of England and Wales, as well as parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The losses suffered during storms Desmond, Eva and Frank led to insurance claims of £1.3bn.

‘Unacceptable risk’

Labour MP Ms Creagh 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.”

The committee found that funding for flooding fluctuates year-on-year. Funding was initially cut during the last parliament and only increased after the winter floods of 2013-14.

The government has committed to spending £2.3bn on building new defences and to protect spending on maintaining existing defences – but the EAC warned they were “sceptical” the government would reach its target of protecting 300,000 properties, saying it was based on an optimistic forecast that assumed the greatest efficiency in spending decisions.

The committee also said it was surprised to learn the extra £700m funding for flood defences announced in this year’s Budget was based on a “political calculation” and may not be allocated with the same strict economic criteria as the £2.3bn.

The report said that could lead to inefficiencies in flood investments, poor decision-making and outcomes that were potentially unfair to some regions.

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Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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The River Calder burst its banks in Mytholmroyd on Boxing Day last year

The condition of critical flood defences is in decline, according to the committee.

Ms Creagh 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 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 said it was concerned the government does not know how prepared local authorities are for flooding, with Ms Creagh adding that local authorities “are not receiving the support they need to prepare for, and mitigate, the impacts of flooding”.

‘Certainty in funding’

Peter Box, environment spokesman for the Local Government Association, said councils were doing all they could to reduce risks to residents, but agreed that councils needed greater support from the 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,” he said.

Information from the review will be used as part of the national flood resilience review launched by the government in January.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “Our six-year capital investment programme for flood defences will bring an end to year-on-year fluctuations in spending so communities can have certainty in future funding.

“Our national flood resilience review will be published shortly, delivering immediate actions to better protect communities ahead of this winter.

“This will be followed by our 25-year environment plan later this year setting out a new approach to managing our rivers across whole catchments, keeping homes, businesses and infrastructure safer from flooding.

“We continue to invest record amounts to protect the nation against the threat of flooding – £2.3bn in flood defences, with an extra £700m announced in the budget, to better protect more than 300,000 properties.”

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