LIVES ARE at risk because of confusion about who is responsible for flood and sea defences, MPs have warned.
The all party House of Commons Agriculture Committee has demanded a shake-up of laws covering flood and sea defences to end confusion over responsibility for emergency response and preventative action.
MPs said that the 'seeming arbitrary division' of responsibilities for flood and coastal defence between the Environment Agency and local authorities often led to funding shortages and a lack of proper skills to manage work effectively.
The committee recommended that, while policy control should remain with the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food, the Environment Agency should take on a wider supervisory role to include the nation's coastal defence as well as its main rivers.
'In our opinion the Government should rationalise the legislative base of flood and coastal defence policy in England and Wales as soon as possible,' said MPs.
The committee also said that less hard sea defences should be built. Instead, schemes should place more emphasis on softer engineering, designed to manage erosion.
MPs recommended that the entire process of project appraisal should be reviewed to avoid shortsighted parochial planning decisions. 'We have a national flood and coastal strategy in principle but not in practice. More must be done by the Ministry to ensure operating authorities translate national strategic priorities into positive action on the ground.'
The committee also urged that action be taken to prevent development on flood plains and said properties at risk should by identified in a comprehensive land register.
(see Commentary page 10)