The Government’s ‘reactive’ approach to flood defences is failing to protect communities at risk of flooding, MPs have said.
A new report from the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee has found a lack of effective long-term strategic planning about how to manage flood risk and that ‘despite efforts to improve, the Government appears to be reactive rather than proactive’.
Ministers must 'maintain defences, as well as building new ones'
Committee chair Mary 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.’
In their report, MPs noted the Government’s commitment to spend £2.3bn on flood defences but said they were ‘surprised to hear that the additional £700m of funding, announced in this year’s Budget, was based on a “political calculation” and may not be allocated using the same methods as the £2.3bn'.
MPs said this ‘could lead to inefficiencies in flood investment, poor decision making and potentially geographically unfair outcomes’.
The Committee also found that the condition of critical flood defences was in decline. MPs pointed out that the independent Worsfold review highlighted that cuts in maintenance spending saw a fall in the number of defences meeting the Environment Agency's required condition.
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.’
MPs said they were ‘concerned’ that the Government only released the Worsfold review when they requested it and that its approach to the publication and tracking of reviews demonstrated ‘a lack of transparency ‘.
They also expressed concern ‘that the Government does not know how prepared local authorities are for mitigating future flood events or whether their flood plans (if they have them) are fit for purpose’.
A spokesperson for environment department Defra said its six-year capital investment programme for flood defences would bring an end to year-on-year fluctuations in spending.
Its National Flood Resilience Review will be published shortly, followed by its 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'.
Jon Robinson, AECOM’s director – Waters, said the Government’s six-year investment programme should help address the stop-start approach to funding.
He added: ‘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.’