William Eichler 26 February 2020

Flood infrastructure funding increased by only £3m over decade

Central Government funding for existing flood infrastructure has only increased by £3m over the last decade, according to a new analysis.

The research found that while total expenditure has increased in real terms from £802m in 2009/10 to £870m in 2018/19, the majority of the increase has been in capital spending, while revenue spending has fluctuated from a low of £272m in 2013/14 to a high of £344m in 2017/18.

The latter is used for staff and office costs, as well as the vital maintenance of existing assets.

Carried out by the public sector procurement specialist Scape Group, the research also shows that funding for capital projects, which increased to £453m in 2018/19, equates to only a £34m annual real terms increase in central Government funding since 2009/10.

Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, said that there is an urgent need to increase funding in England over the next 10 years. Scape Group recommends a 45% increase to allow sufficient prevention and protection and address the rising threat from flooding and coastal erosion.

‘The data shows a limited real term increase over the last decade and we urgently need the amount of funding for flood protection to increase,’ said Mr Robinson.

‘We also need to be thinking critically about how we work together more effectively. Harnessing the knowledge and expertise of our experts and collaborating to operate across boundaries to deliver essential infrastructure needs to be a priority.

‘It is especially concerning to see that revenue expenditure has barely risen over the last 10 years, with real term growth of just £3m.

‘A lot of our water infrastructure is from the Victorian era, it is hundreds of years old and desperately needs to be maintained and upgraded, but we are in the difficult, almost impossible situation of having competing pressures on the limited resources we have at our disposal.’

Scape Group’s report, ‘A Climate Emergency: Flood Defences for the Future’ also looks at regional variations in contributions towards flood and coastal erosion risk management.

The analysis found that spending in Yorkshire and The Humber has decreased, falling in the last few years by £7m, from a high of £21.7m in 2016/17 to £14.91m in 2018/19, despite the area consistently experiencing extreme weather and flash flooding.

Local levy contributions to the Environment Agency from local authorities also vary across the country, with London consistently making the largest contribution at over £5.9m for each of the last four years; a similar contribution to that of the West Midlands, North East and Yorkshire and The Humber combined.

‘In the 21st century, an increasing number of households are going to be living in areas at high risk of flooding, due to new homes being built on flood plains and the rapid erosion of our coastlines,’ Mr Robinson continued.

‘In less than 50 years, the number of homes under threat in England is forecast to double to five million. Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the country today. It is one of the greatest challenges of our time and it needs our immediate and consistent attention.

‘For every £1 we invest in flood protection schemes it saves us £5 in property damages. The return on investment for flood protection is significantly higher than other sectors, so it makes financial sense for the Treasury to invest in flood and coastal erosion risk management.’

The Environment Agency is currently spending £2.6bn building new flood defences that will protect 300,000 properties by 2021. It is also spending over £1bn to maintain existing defences in England.

The Environment Agency’s chief executive, Sir James Bevan, yesterday emphasised the importance of a ‘twin-track’ approach to deal with the impact of climate change, one that focuses on both flood protection and resilience.

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