Labour has called on government to be more transparent about flood spending, in response to suggestions that £700m of flood defence cash could be used ‘in a more imaginative way’.
Environment minister, Rory Stewart, who has responsibility for flood policy, told MPs that £700m of new funds announced in last month’s Budget could be directed towards protecting critical infrastructure, natural flood alleviation, or prioritising households in ‘particularly vulnerable and deprived communities’.
He added 'a more imaginative' approach was needed in flood spending, the Telegraph reported, and pointed to recent flooding in Leeds where a £190m flood defence project had previously been cancelled on cost grounds.
Environment minister Rory Stewart
‘Leeds famously didn’t stack up if you ran it through the traditional formula that simply looked at narrow cost-benefit,’ he said.
Mr Stewart was appearing before the Environmental Audit Committee with Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin.
Before the hearing the committee published the 2014 Worsfold Review of the Government’s Flood and Coastal Risk Management (FCRM), which was commissioned by the Government after the winter 2013-14 floods of and completed in September 2014.
Committee chair Mary Creagh said: ‘It has taken 18 months and an intervention from my Committee to get this Review published and into the public domain. Mark Worsfold’s Review showed that the condition of the Environment Agency’s vital flood defence assets showed a worrying decline in 2014.
‘It raised concerns that the Government’s partnership funding model for flood defences could "distort economic delivery decisions or create delivery inefficiencies".’
The Review said the management of flood defence assets was ‘primarily driven by asset condition, which does not help the Environment Agency forecast service and expenditure requirements’.
Labour’s shadow environment minister, Alex Cunningham, said the report confirms 'what Labour has been saying all along - the Government’s cuts to flood defence spending have undermined flood defences around the country'.
'Now the Government is struggling to keep pace with repairs, let alone get ahead of the curve. Labour have been calling for a greater focus on flood prevention as part of a long-term strategy that addresses all aspects of flood risk management.'
He added minsters needed to urgently clarify what the term ‘more imaginative’ means for the country’s flood defences.
‘The Government must be transparent about the basis for making decisions about flood defence expenditure. With science spending down £1bn compared with 2010, cuts to frontline Environment Agency staff of over 20%, and Defra funding of crucial flood research halved, flood-hit communities must be reassured that these plans are based on sound science and evidence.’