200000 properties at risk because of deteriorating flood defences say MPs
A committee is criticising the government for failing to adequately fund the Environment Agency
Deteriorating flood defences are putting more than 200,000 properties at increased risk of inundation, with MPs criticising the Government for failing to adequately fund the Environment Agency.
The agency has failed to meet its target of maintaining 98% of “high consequence” flood defences – the most common type – and has had to downgrade the number of properties it aims to protect by 2027 from 336,000 to 200,000.
A lack of resources also means that new developments are being built in flood plains without the Environment Agency or Local Planning Authorities ensuring there are flood risk mitigation measures, which the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) described as “unforgivable”.
The Government’s aim is to create “a nation more resilient to future flood and coastal erosion risk”, but the PAC, in their report on flood resilience, said there is no numerical target in place so the Government cannot know whether it is making any progress on this ambition.
The PAC found that 203,000 properties are at risk of deteriorating defences, higher than the amount the Government is aiming to protect with new infrastructure.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it has invested £1.5 billion of its flood defence programme which has improved protection for over 67,000 properties.
Around 5.7 million properties were at risk of flooding in England across 2022-23 and this number is set to increase as climate change brings more intense downpours more often.
A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, leading to heavier rainfalls during storms.
Nearly 2,000 properties were flooded in the latest bout of downpours in early January, with eight named storms having hit the UK since September.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, deputy chair of the committee, said: “With the reality of climate change and increasing rainfall, robust flood resilience must of course become an ever-increasing priority.
“As we have recently seen once again, the depredations caused by such disasters are a matter of life and death for communities up and down the country.
“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, not least in the continuing development of new housing in areas of high flood risk without appropriate mitigations.”
The PAC said the Government should set a net measure of how many properties are protected from flooding that takes into account the number suffering from poor defences as well as those with new constructions.
It should also ensure that smaller projects are easier to get approval so that rural villages have the same right of protection as others.
There is also not enough leadership or funding from central Government in helping local authorities build sustainable drainage systems and other measures to ease surface water flooding on paved streets and the Government should plug these gaps, the PAC said.
Sir Geoffrey said: “The number of properties at risk of flooding from deteriorating defences eclipsing those benefiting from new ones is another case in point.
“This is emblematic both of the Government’s failure to strike the right balance between maintenance and construction, and of not considering the net number of properties at risk.
“One of the first steps in delivering any successful policy is clearly defining what success looks like. We hope the recommendations in our report help the Government to do so.”
Defra said it would consider the PAC’s recommendations and that it is investing £5.2 billion between 2021 and 2027 which will go towards protecting thousands of properties across England.
A spokesperson said: “Since 2010, we have invested over £6 billion to better protect over 600,000 properties from flooding and coastal erosion.
“Thanks to this significant investment, 381,000 homes have been protected since 2015, with over 102,000 protected during Storm Henk.”
A Local Government Association spokesperson said it has called on ministers to accelerate local adaption to flooding, adding: “Councils will always seek to minimise flood risk when considering new housing and follow the Environment Agency’s flood risk advice on planning applications.”
Liberal Democrat Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson Helen Morgan said: “Areas like mine in Shropshire have had to face year after year of inundation with virtually no support, and what there is, is only set to dwindle, ruining more lives.
“Under this Conservative government, flood protection plans have been shamefully neglected – and ordinary people’s homes and businesses are being turned upside down as a result.
“Enough is enough. The Conservatives must get a grip and give communities like mine the support we deserve.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub