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MPs blast government failure to protect against flooding

Words: Huw Morris
Flooding in York

The government is failing to protect communities at risk of flooding, according to MPs.

In a scathing report, the Commons environmental audit committee claimed a reactive approach to funding flood defences is exposing the government’s lack of long-term strategic planning to flood risk. The MPs pointed to initial cuts to funding in the last Parliament only to be increased after the winter floods of 2013-14.

The committee cited evidence from the independent Worsfold review which showed that while money for maintaining flood defences was cut, their condition declined.

While there is national policy in place to plan for flood prevention, the number of local flood plans and strategies under the National Planning Policy Framework is “worryingly low” and the government does not “seem to be supporting local authorities to develop them”, the MPs argued.

The committee expressed concerns 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”. The Environment Agency’s advice on whether, or how, to build in high flood-risk areas, is not systematically monitored, reported or followed up through the planning system, the MPs 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 the government to react to flooding events as they occur,” said committee chair Mary Creagh. “Communities at risk deserve certainty from government.

“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.”

The committee said while most government spending would be allocated according to strict economic criteria, £700 million of new funding announced in this year’s Budget would be allocated on a “political calculation”. This could lead to inefficiencies in flood investment, poor decision making and, potentially, regionally unfair outcomes.

The committee also found that infrastructure companies adopt varying degrees of flood preparedness and accused the government of failing to ensure a consistent and robust approach to protecting essential services. Infrastructure companies should be mandated to report their target flood resilience level, why this target is appropriate and what progress they are making to achieve it, MPs said.

The MPs were disappointed by the lack of transparency demonstrated by the government’s failure to publish the results of past reviews and to track in an open way how it has implemented them. The committee called on the government to produce an annual national flood resilience review accompanied by an action plan.

Friends of the Earth flooding campaigner Guy Shrubsole commented: "After every flood, politicians stride about in welly boots, throw a bit of money at the problem and commission a review. The real test for ministers after last winter's super-charged floods is whether they prepare the UK for extreme climate change, and re-wild our rivers and uplands to slow the flow of water downstream.”

Image | iStock

Download the report Flooding: Cooperation across Government from the Parliament UK website