The Environmental Audit Committee has said that the Government is failing to protect communities at risk of flooding.
In a new report looking at what the Government and other relevant bodies involved in flood risk management have done to mitigate the impacts of flood events similar to those seen last winter, the MPs found that there was a lack of long-term strategic planning to manage flood risk.
“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,” said Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh.
The committee found that not only does funding for flood defences fluctuate; the condition of critical flood defences is in decline. It said when funding is cut, the number of defences meeting the Environment Agency’s required condition declines.
It also said that there is a “worrying low” level of local flood defence plans that are coordinated with the national plan. The committee said it was concerned that the Government doesn’t know how prepared communities are at a local level and in terms of planning, whether Environment Agency advice on construction in areas vulnerable to floods is followed.
“Any decline in the condition of critical flood defences represents an unacceptable risk to local communities in flood prone areas. We urge the Government to go beyond its current target and aim to have virtually all its critical assets meeting the Environment Agency’s required condition by 2019,” added Creagh.
In addition to the political structure, the committee said that infrastructure companies have varied levels of flood preparedness and that they should be mandated to report their target flood resilience level, why this target is appropriate and what progress on achieving it.
Since the storms of last winter, the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review was launched and the committee, whose report aims to inform this review, said this was a good place to begin a yearly review of flood resilience and associated action plan.
The National Flood Resilience Review is due to be published shortly, and will give immediate actions that need to be carried out in order to better protect places against flooding. A 25-year environment plan is due to be published, which will set out a long-term approach to flood defence.
A Defra spokesperson said that its six-year capital investment programme for flood defences would bring an end to year-on-year fluctuations and give communities more certainty on future funding.
The spokesperson said: “We continue to invest record amounts to protect the nation against the threat of flooding – £2.3bn in flood defences, with an extra £700M announced in the Budget, to better protect more than 300,000 properties.”
Engineers supported the idea that the six-year investment programme should give more funding consistency, but said construction needs to start as soon as possible and further funding may be needed.
“Mitigating the impact of climate change necessitates new ways of thinking, underpinned by a sustained stream of funding,” said Aecom water director Jon Robinson.
“The Government’s six-year capital investment programme for flood defences, delivered by the Environment Agency and its partners, should help address the stop-start approach to funding. It allows schemes to be packaged, which enables more efficient delivery by both the client and suppliers. There is a clear delivery route with money directed with due consideration of benefits.
“But it is important the programme is not back-end loaded with the bulk of construction occurring in years five and six. Design, maintenance and construction must be a continuous process in order to achieve the required outcomes.
“Changes in our climate are only likely to increase pressure on flood defences over the coming decades. Ultimately, funding may therefore need to be increased in order to meet the escalating demand.”