Funding for flood defences
The Committee warns that a reactive approach to funding for flood defence exposes the Government's lack of long-term strategic planning to manage flood risk. The Committee found that funding fluctuates year-on-year. During the last Parliament funding was initially cut and only increased after the winter 2013/2014 floods.
Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, 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."
Condition of critical flood defences was in decline
The Committee also found that the condition of critical flood defences was in decline. The independent Worsfold review demonstrated a relationship between flood maintenance spending and the good condition of critical flood defences. As the money required to maintain these defences was cut, the number of defences which met the Environment Agency's required condition also declined.
Mary 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.
"Any decline in the condition of critical flood defences represents an unacceptable risk to local communities in flood prone areas. We urge the Government to go beyond its current target and aim to have virtually all its critical assets meeting the Environment Agency's required condition by 2019."
The Committee learnt that, while most government flood spending would be allocated according to strict economic criteria, a significant proportion of the new funding announced in this year’s Budget - £700 million - would be allocated based on a “political calculation”. This could lead to inefficiencies in flood investment, poor decision making and, potentially, regionally unfair outcomes.
While there is national policy in place to plan for flood prevention, the number of local flood plans and strategies under the NPPF is worryingly low and the Government does not seem to be supporting local authorities to develop them.
The Committee is concerned 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 extent to which 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.
Mary Creagh said:
"Local Authorities are not receiving the support they need to prepare for, and mitigate, the impacts of flooding."
The Committee found that infrastructure companies are adopting varying degrees of flood preparedness. There is a lack of Government vigour to ensure a consistent and robust approach is taken to protecting essential services. For public confidence, 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.
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 recommends that the Government produce an annual national flood resilience review accompanied by an action plan. It suggested that the Government’s current National Flood Resilience Review would be a good place to start.
Mary Creagh MP said:
"It is critical the Government undertakes its current review in an open and transparent way to allow stakeholders, including Parliament, to monitor its progress and hold it to account."
Between December 2015 and January 2016 severe flooding affected the north of England and Wales and parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Insured losses totalled £1.3 billion.
The Government’s National Flood Resilience Review was launched following the flooding. The Committee’s report aims to inform this Review.
The Worsfold Review was conducted by Mark Worsfold, Chief Engineer at Ofwat. It looked at the maintenance of the Environment Agency’s flood and coastal risk management (FCRM) assets.