The Government must not neglect maintenance of flood defences and watercourses if homes, businesses and farmland are to gain better protection against future flooding risk, warn MPs today in a report of an inquiry triggered by the recent winter floods.
Launching its Report on Winter Floods, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Miss Anne McIntosh said:
"We have repeatedly called on the Government to increase revenue funding so that necessary dredging and watercourse maintenance can be carried out to minimise flood risk, yet funding for maintenance remains at a bare minimum. Ministers must take action now to avoid a repeat of the devastation caused by the winter floods."
Maintenance and dredging
The Committee calls for fully funded plans to address the current backlog of dredging and watercourse maintenance as well as to maintain the growing numbers of man-made flood defences.
"Regular work to dredge and keep rivers clear can be an essential flood prevention measure, yet this is exactly what gets squeezed out when budgets are tight. The Government needs to recognise the importance of regular maintenance work and put it on an equal footing with building new defences" explains Miss Anne McIntosh.
Miss McIntosh added
"local knowledge is key and flood risk management priorities must reflect the local circumstances."
MPs support the devolution of maintenance activity to internal drainage boards and to local landowners, wherever possible. The Committee also urges the Government to address the confusion over maintenance responsibilities through a widespread education campaign.
Environment Agency funding cuts
The Committee warns that it is essential that Environment Agency funding cuts do not lead to unintended consequences where funding is redirected to one operational area to the detriment of another. The Report also calls for a reassurance from Defra that frontline flood jobs at the Environment Agency will not be cut.
The Committee identifies the current split between capital and revenue budgets as a major barrier to targeting funding according to local priorities.
"We want clarity for everyone when it comes to flood funding budgets" says Anne McIntosh. "We see no reason why the Government cannot move to a total expenditure approach for flood funding to allow more flexibility to spend in the most effective way."