William Eichler 02 November 2016

MPs demand ‘overhaul’ of Environment Agency’s flood management role

MPs have demanded a complete ‘overhaul’ of the Environment Agency’s role in flood management—a move environmentalists have dubbed a ‘terrible idea’.

A new report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee calls for an overhaul of flood management in England to tackle the rising risk to communities from climate change.

The committee criticised the Government’s current National Flood Resilience Review—set up last January to assess flood defences—as a ‘limited’ solution to what they characterised as the country’s ‘fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood risk management arrangements.’

The committee’s report—titled Future Flood Prevention—recommends a new governance model with a new National Floods Commissioner responsible for flood management in England.

S/he would agree with the Government strategic, long-term flood risk reduction outcomes and be held to account for their effective delivery by new Regional Flood and Coastal Boards and a new English Rivers and Coastal Authority.

The committee chair, Neil Parish MP, said this would deliver ‘a far more holistic approach to flooding and water supply management.’

He also emphasised that under the proposed new governance model for flood management, funding would be ‘firmly linked to outcomes’.

‘Our proposed model would streamline roles and pool expertise to allow bodies to deliver their unique roles,’ Mr Parish said.

‘Funding would be firmly linked to outcomes: the Commissioner would hold the new English Rivers and Coastal Authority to account on whether it spends its budgets efficiently - whether by directly undertaking work or by commissioning projects from catchment partnerships or Internal Drainage Boards.

‘New Regional Boards would enable a close link between national plans and local aims.’

However, environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth has dismissed the proposals as a ‘waste’ of the ‘vital expertise’ possessed by the Environment Agency.

‘Abolishing the Environment Agency's role in flooding, as this report proposes, is a terrible idea, which would waste vital expertise and could cause more delays in planning better ways to avoid flooding,’ a spokesperson said.

‘The environment committee clearly understands that better management of our rivers and waterways needs more joined-up thinking - not less. This includes working with nature across entire river catchments and dealing with climate change.’

‘Government should heed MPs' welcome proposals to tackle flooding at root - but not distracting proposals to break up the Environment Agency.’

Responding to the committee’s report, the Local Government Association (LGA) said the ‘key’ to effective flood management is more devolution.

‘The key to protecting communities from the sort of devastation seen last winter is for Government to devolve funding to councils, who know their areas best and can most effectively meet local needs,’ said the LGA environment spokesman, Cllr Martin Tett.

‘Councils make considerable contributions to flood defences yet they have little control over where the money is spent.’

Cllr Tett also stressed the importance of anti-flood requirements for new homes.

‘The Government must also introduce mandatory anti-flood requirements for new homes which are included in building regulations.

‘These would require developers to introduce measures like raised electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring above floor level; ventilation brick covers; sealed floors; and raised damp-proof courses.’

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