THE GOVERNMENT'S funding target for UK flood and coastal defence in 1999 has almost been met, according to the chairman of the Environment Agency's Regional Flood Defence Committee for the Thames Region, Jean Venables, speaking at the ICE last week.
Setting out new political and financial developments in national flood defence at the one-day conference - Land Drainage and Flood Response 1999 - Venables claimed that the Environment Agency's regional flood defence committees in England and Wales had levied £216M from local authorities for 1999, which was within 2% of the required national figure.
The levy will cover flood defence in areas of 'main river' nearer to coastlines which are under Environment Agency supervision. But certain local authorities had failed to raise any money to reach their regional targets on 'non main river', creating a patchy overall picture of flood response, said Venables.
'Since local authorities lost responsibility for drainage work to the water companies, some claim to have a zero budget for non main rivers. There is a risk that some flood defence committees may have insufficient funds to complete the flood defence action programme.
'But local authorities have got to decide what their spending priorities are. If they can't manage this responsibility, it may have to be moved somewhere else.'
Certain local authority representatives at the conference claimed that they hadn't even got the funds to produce a flood defence action plan required by the Environment Agency.
Venables went on to comment on the new targets for flood warning and defence set out by the Ministry for Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) at the beginning of May, and the granting of a greater supervisory role to the Environment Agency to ensure local authorities carry them out.
'We are going to have to report to MAFF on the integrity of flood defences and identify problem areas,' she said.
'In other words, we are going to have to tell tales out of school and report on which organisations are reaching their targets and which are not. We will identify deficiencies and agree an action plan with the local authority.'
The action plan could be carried out by the Environment Agency on a repayment basis, she added.
The new supervisory role for the Environment Agency would clarify powers which until now had been vague, said Venables. It would give the Agency a remit to force the local authority to act.
'Local authorities have no mandatory duty to act on flood protection, and the system breaks down if the local authority doesn't choose to use its powers,' said Venebles.
But the Agency's remit to chase up all local authorities would place a greater burden on resources. More staff would be needed to develop supervision and funds could be taken away from flood defence schemes that were being prepared, warned Venables.
'If the current system cannot be made to work it will have to be re- examined,' she said.
The Agency's remit to ensure that there is a 'seamless and integrated response to flood warning and response by April 2000' would cover:
Provision of an adequate flood warning system;
Provision of adequate, environmentally and economically sound, sustainable land drainage and flood defence systems; and
Discouragement of inappropriate development in areas at risk.
While supporting the MAFF targets, Venables sounded a cautionary note about plans to alert the public to 'flood risk maps'. She said: 'Referring to flood risk maps is, I believe, very misleading as it raises public expectation that flooding will not occur outside the flood risk area. This will give ourselves a problem in the future.
'If we get flooding outside a flood risk area, it will look like we have done something wrong. It would be too late to say that's not what we mean. That's what we will have said.'