The Government has pledged to increase annual spending on reducing flood risk from £500M to £800M by 2011, following the flooding of last week which affected as many as 20,000 properties.
|The Environment Agency believes that funding levels will need to be constantly reviewed
The new environment secretary, Hilary Benn, responded to the Environment Agency’s call for £750M a year for the next three years, which came as it was accused of ‘massive failure’ over last week’s floods. But Benn stressed that ‘even the best defences in the world will sometimes be overwhelmed by concentrated rainfall’. He also warned that cost-benefit analyses would continue to scupper some proposed improvements – particularly in rural areas. Benn announced the funding hike following the flooding of 3,500 properties from main rivers – or perhaps more than 20,000 if surface water flooding is taken into account – last week in Yorkshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and elsewhere. Four people are confirmed to have died as a result, and investigations are ongoing into the causes of the deaths of a further three people. The EA welcomed the announcement, which would ‘make a significant difference in the short-term’. But the spokesman highlighted the fact ‘we will constantly need to review funding levels as the impacts of climate change become clearer’. It was very likely that nearer to £1bn was needed ‘as the impact of climate change bites’, he suggested. Tony Poole, Local Government Association representative, at Bradford Council, hoped there would be ‘new funding opportunities for projects dealing with surface water, as well as fluvial flooding’. The Government was providing £58M for drainage and other council-led capital projects to reduce risk this year. Nonetheless, he warned that public expectations needed to be managed – given that flood risk was predicted to increase over the next century, even if funding increases – and that ways of working were important too, as the ‘integrated drainage’ pilots were highlighting.
Grilled by MPs this week, Benn declined to set out how much would be available in 2008/09 or 2009/10. But he confirmed that the bigger funding programme would cover coastal erosion as well as inland flooding. The move will be welcomed by authorities which developed capital schemes that were unable to get off the ground this year (Surveyor, 11 January).