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Government rapped over failure to protect communities against flooding

The Government has been heavily criticised by a committee of MPs for failing to protect communities at risk of flooding.
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The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report, Flooding: Cooperation across Government, said reactive flood defence funding had exposed ‘a lack of long-term strategic planning’.

 

It came as Defra and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) were criticised for major delays to the distribution of the Farming Recovery Fund (FRF), worth £11 million to flood-hit farmers.

 

Many communities are still reeling from the 2015/2016 winter floods which caused millions of pounds worth of damage to homes and businesses in the north west of England and the Scottish Borders.

 

The crisis mirrored that of the Somerset floods in 2013/2014 which left the agricultural industry facing crippling damages.

 

MPs detailed a decline in the condition of critical flood defences, which has been linked by the Worsfold review to flood maintenance spending.

 

Funding for flood defences had fluctuated year-on-year, MPs found.

 

The report said while most spending would be allocated according to strict economic criteria, a ‘significant proportion’ of new funding announced in this year’s budget – £700m – will be based on a ‘political calculation’.

 

This could lead to inefficient investment, poor decision making and, potentially, regionally unfair outcomes, it warned.

 

Committee chairman Mary Creagh 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.”

 

The CLA agreed more needed to be done on flood management and urged the Government, the Environment Agency and Natural England to work together with landowners on practical solutions on a catchment by catchment basis.

 

NFU environment forum chairman Mark Pope questioned whether the annual maintenance budget of £170m was sufficient.

 

He added: “Sustained and increased maintenance budgets are vital to ensure repairs are made to river channels and flood defence structures.

 

“An unacceptable flood risk is posed to rural communities and productive agricultural land when this maintenance is not undertaken.”

 

A Defra spokesman said the department’s six-year capital investment programme for flood defences would bring an end to year-on-year fluctuations in spending ’so communities can have certainty in future funding’.

 

He said the National Flood Resilience Review would be published shortly, delivering immediate actions to better protect communities ahead of this winter.

 

David Hall, NFU north west regional director, said farmers on his patch had ’lost trust’ in the RPA after it failed to meet deadlines to assess applicants for the FRF.

 

He urged the RPA to communicate with farmers and give them a five to 15-day payment schedule to allow them to plan ahead.

 

The RPA said claims totalling £11.4m were being processed in April.

 

Ian Bell, of farm help charity The Addington Fund, said the RPA’s decision to insist upon three quotes for works was ’unnecessarily bureaucratic’.

 


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