MPs have criticised the government for failing to do enough to protect communities at risk of flooding.
In a report published today (9 June), the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) criticised the ‘reactive’ approach to flood incidents and said there was not enough long-term planning aimed at future flood prevention. It urged the government to maintain steady annual spending on flood defences, rather than allowing spending to fluctuate, and said it should pay for the upkeep of existing flood defences in addition to investing in new ones.
The 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. Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank caused estimated damage of £1.3 billion and flooded 16,000 households.
The government is committed to spending £2.3 billion on building new defences and that it will protect 300,000 properties during this parliament, but the EAC said it was ‘sceptical’ that this would be achieved as it depended on optimistic forecasts of efficiency.
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.”
The committee also said it was surprised to learn the extra £700 million 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 £2.3 billion.
The report said that could lead to inefficiencies in flood investments, poor decision-making and outcomes that were potentially unfair to some regions. Failing to maintain existing defences would lead to an “unacceptable risk to local communities in flood prone areas”, said Creagh.
In response, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the national flood resilience review launched by the government in January would be published shortly and that the government’s six-year capital investment programme for flood defences would end the year-on-year fluctuations in spending.
There will also be a 25-year environment plan published later this year that will set out “a new approach to managing our rivers” to keep homes safer from flooding.
Commenting on the EAC report, AECOM director of Water Jon Robinson said: “Mitigating the impact of climate change necessitates new ways of thinking, underpinned by a sustained stream of funding. The government’s six-year capital investment programme for flood defences, delivered by the Environment Agency and its partners, should help address the stop-start approach to funding.
“It 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.”
A version of this article first appeared on wwtonline