Flood defence policy flawed, say MPs

The government must do more to protect homes in England from flooding, according to a cross-party committee of MPs.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee said the government hadn’t maintained enough of its existing flood defences or built enough new ones.

Scientists say climate change makes heavy rainfall and floods more likely.

The government said it would consider the committee’s findings and had spent £6bn protecting homes since 2010.

In 2020 the government committed to better protecting 336,000 more properties between 2021 and 2027.

But a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) in November said this was reduced to 200,000, a cut of 40%, with inflation cited as the major reason.

The Public Accounts Committee said in its report that the reduced number was also due to delays and bureaucracy.

It also said that some existing flood defences have not been properly looked after. The MPs say a £34m shortfall in funding for the Environment Agency to maintain defences had meant that only 94% of its assets were properly maintained. As a result 203,000 English homes are actually at an increased risk of flooding, according to the MPs.

They noted that money saved from the slow progress of the new flood defence projects could have been spent on maintaining existing infrastructure.

Image caption,

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak looks at flood defences in Oxford following Storm Henk

“This inquiry has uncovered the alarming truth that in a number of ways, the approach to keeping our citizens safe in this area is contradictory and self-defeating,” said Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a Conservative MP and deputy chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

According to official figures 5.7 million homes in England are at risk from some sort of flooding. This winter more than 2,000 across the UK were flooded after a series of storms brought heavy rain.

“Since 2010, we have invested over £6bn to better protect over 600,000 properties from flooding and coastal erosion” a spokesperson for the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs said.

“Thanks to this significant investment, 381,000 homes have been protected since 2015, with over 102,000 protected during Storm Henk.”

The MPs noted that housing developments continue to be built on flood plains saying it was “unforgivable” when it was happening without mitigation. Though the government’s stated ambition is to create a nation more resilient to flooding the report said it had not defined what this actually means, so there was no way to measure whether it’s achieving that or not.

“The reality is we also have to look at is how do we ensure we can live with climate change. How can we live with flooding?” Conservative MP and committee member Anne Marie Morris told BBC News. “And that’s a question which isn’t being asked, and it must absolutely not only be asked, but be answered.”

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