UK

MPs criticise government over flood protection plans

Members of the army and rescue teams help evacuate people from flooded properties after they became trapped by rising floodwater when the River Ouse bursts its banks in York city centre in December 2015 Image copyright PA
Image caption People were evacuated from flooded properties in York in December after the River Ouse burst its banks

The government is failing to do enough to protect communities at risk of flooding, a group of MPs has found.

There should be more long-term planning, rather than a reactive approach to flooding, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report said.

Committee chairwoman Mary Creagh urged the government to pay for the upkeep of existing flood defences, as well as investing in new ones.

The government said it was investing "record amounts to protect the nation".

The EAC report follows the storms that hit the UK between December 2015 and January 2016, causing flooding in the north of England and Wales, as well as parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The losses suffered during storms Desmond, Eva and Frank led to insurance claims of £1.3bn.

'Unacceptable risk'

Dr Roger Pierce, whose York home flooded in December last year, told the BBC it had been "devastating".

"You've lost your heating, you've lost your lighting, it's desperately cold.... You realise that photographs and things on ground level in your house have all been destroyed," he said.

"Like everyone else I have had disappointment in my life - deaths, illnesses - this I think is the most severe."

Labour MP Ms Creagh 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."

The committee found that funding for flooding fluctuates year-on-year. Funding was initially cut during the last Parliament and only increased after the winter floods of 2013-14.

The government has committed to spending £2.3bn on building new defences and to protect spending on maintaining existing defences - but the EAC warned they were "sceptical" the government would reach its target of protecting 300,000 properties, saying it was based on an optimistic forecast that assumed the greatest efficiency in spending decisions.

The committee also said it was surprised to learn the extra £700m funding for flood defences announced in this year's Budget was based on a "political calculation" and may not be allocated with the same strict economic criteria as the £2.3bn.

The report said that could lead to inefficiencies in flood investments, poor decision-making and outcomes that were potentially unfair to some regions.

Image copyright Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Image caption The River Calder burst its banks in Mytholmroyd on Boxing Day last year

The condition of critical flood defences is in decline, according to the committee, and Ms Creagh said any decline was "an unacceptable risk to local communities in flood prone areas".

She said money should be put into the upkeep of existing flood defences, as well as new ones, otherwise there could be "terrible consequences".

Ms Creagh added that local authorities "are not receiving the support they need".

Peter Box, Local Government Association spokesman, agreed that councils needed greater support and said: "New measures that could make a positive difference include devolving new flood defence funding to local areas, further incentives for private sector investment in flood defences and mandatory flood-proof requirements for new homes and offices."


Analysis

By Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst

The report asks a question that is perplexing flood experts - where did the SUDS go?

For more than a decade engineers have been promoting Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems.

It means if developers want to build a new housing estate, they're not allowed to plug into the main drainage sewer and thereby increase the flood potential of the system.

Instead they should catch water on the site with porous surfaces, grassy hollows to collect heavy rains, and on-site mini wetlands.

Some house-builders oppose mandatory SUDS, partly because it cuts their profit and partly because there are tricky questions about long-term liability for maintenance.

The committee accuses the government of repeatedly kicking this issue into the long grass. SUDS should be the default, they say.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin


Paul Cobbing, chief executive of the National Flood Forum, welcomed the report but said "much, much more" was needed for communities to feel safe.

"As it stands, long-term flood risk management is inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem, both in approach and in the level of funding," he said.

Information from the review will be used as part of the national flood resilience review launched by the government in January.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said this review will be published "shortly" and the government's six-year capital investment programme for flood defences will end the year-on-year fluctuations in spending.

There will also be a 25-year environment plan published later this year that will set out "a new approach to managing our rivers" to keep homes safer from flooding.

He said the government continued to invest "record amounts" to protect against flooding including £2.3bn in flood defences, with an extra £700m announced in the Budget.

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