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Doubts about flood defence cost drive

Doubts emerged this week about the deliverability and usefulness of Treasury body Infrastructure UK (IUK) proposals to drive down the cost of Environment Agency flood defence projects.

Two year programme

IUK’s infrastructure cost review implementation plan, published last month, states that the government will publish a rolling two year forward programme of investments in infrastructure across all sectors (NCE 7 April).

The hope is that this will give the supply chain greater certainty so it can invest in innovation and manage its resources to pass on cost savings to the public purse.

However, Environment Agency programme manager Mark Hagger said the way the Agency is currently set up means it is unable to provide a detailed two year plan.

At present, specific investments are only agreed with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on an annual basis, he said.

An approximate medium term forward plan is agreed as many as four years in advance, but lacks detail and is subject to significant change.

“It’s easy to say ‘it should be like this’, but life is complicated. There’s a lot of work to do”

Mark Hagger, Environment Agency

Hagger said a two year rolling programme would be “great to have in place, but there are challenges. It’s easy to say ‘it should be like this’, but life is complicated. There’s a lot of work to do going forward,” he said.

Pennine Water Group managing director Richard Ashley said publishing such a programme may not be a useful move for flood defence schemes, as investment priorities could change significantly in the space of two years.

“I can’t see that the government is going to stick to a two year programme anyway,” he said.
IUK’s implementation plan also wants the Agency to group flood defence schemes together into larger, long term spending programmes.

Money saving

Hagger said IUK’s proposal to group projects together as one programme builds on what the Agency is already doing to save money by using the same supply chain regionally.

“We’ve had a programme of packaging projects over the past year or so,” he said, adding that a contractor may simply move on to a similar, new scheme which forms part of the same regional programme.

But Ashley said this was unlikely to achieve cost savings on a significant scale. “It just sounds like clutching at straws to me,” he said. “I don’t see why that’s going to be particularly useful. It’s just going to save very small amounts of money.”

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