Thomas Bridge 17 June 2014

Prioritise flood protection over cost cutting, MPs say

Flooding could return unless the Government ‘takes action’ and increases funding for maintenance, MPs have said.

An inquiry into the winter floods by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today warned ministers not to ‘neglect’ preservation of flood defences and watercourses.

Record levels of rainfall in parts of England and Wales meant last winter was the wettest in over 200 years, with some 7,000 properties being flooded. Areas of Somerset were under water for three months.

While prime minister David Cameron said in February that ‘money was no object’ in supporting flood affected communities, the committee today concluded a large proportion of the ‘additional’ funding announced by the Government was instead simply ‘reallocated’.

The committee piled further pressure on ministers to provide fully funded plans that address the backlog of dredging and watercourse maintenance.

Chair of the committee, 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.’

‘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,’ she added.

The report on winter floods also concluded it was ‘essential’ that Environment Agency funding cuts did not impact on the distribution of money to particular areas.

McIntosh also voiced support for devolving maintenance activity to internal drainage boards and local landowners.

‘Local knowledge is key and flood risk management priorities must reflect the local circumstances,’ McIntosh said.

Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Maria Eagle, said: ‘The Tory-led Government’s response to the winter floods was slow and chaotic. Ministers cut the funding Labour provided in government and the Select Committee says they are now unable to deal with the long term flood risk.

‘They failed to prepare for the floods, they don’t take the threat of climate change seriously and they don’t have a coherent strategy to deal with the problem in the future.’

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