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Spelman defends government flood defence spending cuts

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman this week defended government’s decision to cut funding to more than 270 flood defence schemes.

Spelman told industry group Water UK’s city conference last week that spending cuts at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were not “optional”.

“We have got to get on with it. My strategy was to go all out to protect capital funding [for flood defences],” she said.

Spelman’s comments came as Defra announced its 2011/12 budgets for flood defence funding.

It revealed that only 356 of 630 schemes that had previously been in line for 2011/12 capital funding are set to receive money this year.

“We have got to get on with it. My strategy was to go all out to protect capital funding”

Caroline Spelman

The announcement leaves 50,000 households unsure whether their properties will be protected by new flood defences. Major schemes in York, Leeds, Morpeth and Thirsk have been postponed.

Know Your Flood Risk campaign chairman James Sherwood-Rogers said the funding was “simply not enough”.

“The government’s plan to spend at least £2.1bn by 2015 on flood defences falls woefully short of the investment needed to protect households and businesses,” he said, “especially in light of the Environment Agency’s estimate in 2009 that £1bn a year needed to be spent for the next 25 years on flood defences just to maintain the existing level of protection.”

Spelman added that the forthcoming review of the water industry will look at how water companies could take on greater responsibility for flood risk management.

Defra will publish a White Paper this summer.

“Flooding and the role of the water industry is going to be very important,” she said. “There are roles for water companies in flood management that we should explore.”

Different water companies could take on different levels of responsibility according to their particular geographical challenges, she suggested.

“Some are more interested in being involved in the flood management side of things and others are not.”

Spelman said she was “very impressed” with the attitudes of Yorkshire Water, Anglian Water and South West Water’s to flooding.

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