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Defra seeks business and local authority contributions for flood funding

Local communities and businesses could contribute to the cost of flood defences under new Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) proposals.

“Getting projects moving”

Defra wants to encourage the construction of more schemes and sees local contributions as a way of getting some projects moving.

Defra has proposed reforms under a new National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy. It wants to enable local communities and businesses to contribute to flood schemes that will benefit them.

Under the current system, lower priority schemes can languish in the queue for public money.

Defra said the reforms would allow communities to influence their position in the queue for funds by raising enough private funding to make it cost effective for the government to pay the rest.

The government would continue to fully fund higher priority schemes “where benefits and outcomes significantly outweigh the costs involved”, it said.

“Overall, it is hoped that more projects would proceed than under the current system,” said Defra.

The idea has previously caused controversy in Parliament, with environment minister Richard Benyon accused of championing a “flood tax”. He denied that asking for local contributions would amount to a flood defence levy.

“I am not in the business of introducing a flood tax,” he told Parliament last week.

“I am not in the business of introducing a flood tax”

Richard Benyon

“However, I want to ensure that we provide for communities that always miss out because they cannot compete with other communities that bring forward plans … that offer a much better return for the money.”

More cash will also be freed up for investment in flood defences through efficiency savings, Environment Agency bosses stressed this week.

Head of strategy for flood and coastal risk management David Rooke told NCE that efficiencies of 15% will be sought from the procurement process.“We have already started discussions with consultants and contractors with a view to meeting that target,” he said.

Soft engineering options

The Agency also supported soft engineering measures as a cheaper form of flood defence.

Its head of climate change and sustainable development Tony Grayling said that “in some cases it might be better to use the natural processes” than hard engineering solutions.

He was responding to comments made by Graham Wynne, a member of the government-backed Committee on Climate Change’s Adaptation Sub-committee.

“There has to be some compromise,” said Wynne. “Soft defences are going to be more practical than hard defences.”

Defra and Agency officials were promoting new ways of maximising spending on flood defences after recent government cuts.

Last month’s Comprehensive Spending Review ringfenced £2.1bn for flood defence funding for the next four years, down on the £2.36bn spent over the past four years. Rooke rejected claims that the Agency’s targets suggest it will now protect 12,083 fewer homes per year.

Fewer homes protected

The Agency has a target of increasing protection to 145,000 more homes in the four years from 2011 to 2015. Its previous target was to increase protection by the same amount, but over the three years between 2008 and 2010.

As an annual average this is a drop from 48,333 homes to 36,250.

Rooke said the Agency will exceed its current target by 15,000 homes, and aims to do the same by 2015.

“We retain the same ambition to exceed the target for the next spending review,” he said.

Environment Agency resources director Graham Ledward said flood defence spending over the past year had been unusually high, and therefore should not be used as a baseline for comparison.

But although Environment Agency chairman Chris Smith said funds for flood defences will be “constrained” Grayling said spending had to rise dramatically.“We estimate we will need to double the capital investment in flood resilience over the next 25 years if we want to maintain protection at the current level,” he said.

Green civils careers would add more to engineering

More people would train as civil engineers if the industry promoted its contribution to sustainability more clearly, an environmental marketing expert said at the Environment Agency’s annual conference this week.

Almost a third of jobseekers say they want roles that contribute to the low carbon economy – but they don’t equate that idea with the construction industry, said Futerra Sustainability Communications co-founder Solitaire Townsend.

“When I think of a green job, I don’t think of men in hard hats,” she said.

“But that’s what we should be able to do. There is an awful lot that can be learned from the “dark arts” of marketing, communications and PR.”

Townsend said recent research by her company found that 30% of the unemployed express a desire to acquire “green job” skills.

“They see a future there,” she said. “We need to make sure there is the education and skills infrastructure to harness that desire.”

However, other conference speakers said that, until client apathy is dispelled, demand for these green skills in the industry will be limited.

“This is not about new jobs – this is about transforming old jobs,” said UK Energy Research Centre co-director Nick Eyre.

“A lot of the skills we need to address much of this [low carbon] agenda are already here; they’re already available,” said National Federation of Builders chief executive Julia Evans.

“But the client is not asking for it,” she added.

It was hoped that the government’s Green Deal, launched in August could support up to 250,000 jobs.

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