Major risks emerge as Government cuts funding for flood defence maintenance

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Five million English homes and businesses face an uncertain future as “major risks” in flood defence funding emerge.

A total of one in six properties are at risk of flooding from coastal, river and surface water with a Commons committee today saying that a Government focus on announcing major projects has overlooked day to day maintenance costs.

Regular maintenance can prevent future flood, and it is vital because there are many threats from costal and river water, and now also surface water flooding.

The Public Accounts Committee has warned of a “false economy “ in cutting flood defences after budgets fell by 10 per cent in four years despite a one off £750m spending increase

Ministers have repeatedly announced multi-million pound solutions for flood-hit areas only to quietly reduce the money available for maintenance in routine departmental budget cuts.

Yorkshire has been at the forefront of flood battlegrounds in recent years. A tidal surge in 2013 brought chaos to thousands, while Sheffield alone faced a £30m clean up costs after flooding in 2007.

Thirsk MP Anne McIntosh said “game changing” floods in 2007 showed more had to be done to strengthen defences during the time between floods.

The environment select committee chair said: “As Sir Michael Pitt, originally from East Yorkshire, said in his Government review of flooding, more needs to be done between floods.

“Regular maintenance can prevent future flood, and it is vital because there are many threats from costal and river water, and now also surface water flooding.”

The MP added: “Ideally we would like to see a six year announcement of maintenance funding.”

While the budget for spending on new defences has been agreed for the next six years, allowing longer term planning, funding for maintenance is only settled annually, the Public Accounts Committee said.

This prevents the Environment Agency from taking a long-term approach on maintaining existing flood protection and secure savings on its spending, MPs on the committee said, and urged the Treasury to agree longer budgets for maintenance spending.

Committee member Richard Bacon said: “There are major risks to the sustainability of current levels of flood protection, which could impact on long term value for money.”

Barry Gardiner, Labour’s Shadow Environment Minister, said the report “exposes the major risks of this Government’s flood defence plans”. He promised Labour would focus on the flood issue as part of its national infrastructure plan.

A spokesman for the Environment Department said: “We thank the Public Accounts Committee for their time and deliberations. Their report raises a number of issues which we will consider carefully.

“However, it should be noted we have spent half a billion pounds more on maintaining and improving flood defences over this Parliament, compared to the previous five years and we will also be investing a record £2.3 billion in new flood defences over the next six years.”