Flood defence spending down £64m since 2015, warns new report

Lizzy Buchan
Teme Street in Tenbury Wells, a market town in Worcestershire, is seen under floodwater from the overflowing River Teme amid Storm Dennis: AFP

Government spending on vital flood defences across England has fallen by £64m since 2015 despite an urgent need to upgrade "Victorian era" infrastructure, a new report has said.

As parts of the country suffer devastating floods, analysis by the public sector procurement firm Scape Group found spending on flood defences and coastal erosion fell in real terms from £934m in 2014/15 to £870m last year.

It comes Boris Johnson was accused by being a "part-time prime minister" by Labour for failing to visit flood-stricken areas, despite ongoing storms and rain plaguing communities in the north and the Midlands.

The prime minister spent the February recess at Chevening, a government residence in Kent, which comes at odds with his enthusiasm for visiting flood-hit communities during the December election campaign.

While total expenditure has risen from £802m in 2009/10, the majority of the increase has gone on revenue funding, such as staff and office costs, rather than vital maintentance of flood defences, the report found.

Spending on flood-hit Yorkshire and the Humber in particular has decreased by £7m, from a high of £21.7m in 2016/17 to £14.91m in 2018/19, despite regular extreme weather in the region.

The report called for an urgent 45 per cent funding boost to the Environment Agency budget over the next six years to cope with the floods and storm surges brought on by climate change.

It said: “As the impact of climate change becomes increasingly evident, we need to be responding with more innovative approaches and solutions, sharing best practice and taking a lesson learned approach from the flood protection strategies implemented in other countries.

"The reality is that storm surges and flash flooding are only going to increase, and we need to learn to live with the water, rather than fighting against it.”

Mark Robinson, chief executive of Scape Group, said there was an urgent need for funding for flood protection to increase.

He said: “It is especially concerning to see that revenue expenditure has barely risen over the last ten years, with real term growth of just £3m.

"A lot of our water infrastructure is from the Victorian era, it is hundreds of years old and desperately needs to be maintained and upgraded, but we are in the difficult, almost impossible situation of having competing pressures on the limited resources we have at our disposal.”

Luke Pollard, shadow environment secretary, said: "We know that austerity is making the fight against the climate crisis more difficult. And nowhere is that clearer than when it comes to flooding.

"The Environment Agency has been crying out for more funding for years.

"We need to invest properly in flood defences, so we can stop lives and homes being destroyed by flooding which is going to become increasingly common if we don’t act.”

It comes as Jeremy Corbyn accused Me Johnson of "turning his back" on those affected by recent flooding and "sulking in his grace and favour mansion at Chevening" during a clash at prime mnister's questions.

Mr Johnson rejected his criticism, saying he was "very proud" of the government's response to the crisis, with a "constant stream of ministerial activity".

He added: "And never forget that in spite of the flooding, and no-one should underestimate the anguish that flooding causes and of course it's an absolute shock to the households that are affected, but it is thanks to the measures that this government has put in that 200,000 households have been protected from flooding."

Earlier, the new environment secretary George Eustice said there was no need for a public inquiry into recent flooding in the wake of Storms Ciara and Dennis.

He said the government had spent £2.5 billion on flood defences, some of which were "soft defences" upstream, but much of it was hard defences in urban areas.

"But we do recognise there is more to do, because climate change is here to stay - we are seeing more of this extreme weather," he added.

More than £4 billion would be spent over the next five years, and a "big part of our focus is going to be nature-based solutions upstream", he said.

A Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs spokesperson disputed the figures, saying it did not include “substantial” capital investment made over the same period.

The spokesman said: “The government is investing a record £2.6 billion to better protect the country from flooding. This is funding over 1,000 flood defence schemes, which will better protect 300,000 homes by 2021.

”The government manifesto also committed an additional £4 billion for flood defences over the next five years.”

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