Comment: Flood defence cuts are no solution to a growing crisis
With Defra offering no care and no responsibility on the dangers of flooding, who will pick up the pieces when reality hits?
By Gavin Shuker MP
The past week has seen a string of announcements relating to the UK's preparedness to deal will flooding. What has been most starkly highlighted is the government's lack of planning and preparation – and their lack of coordination to pick up the pieces when the inevitable hits.
Last Thursday the Climate Change Risk Assessment was published. It's a landmark document – issued, by statute, just once every five years. And it outlines the hundred most acute national risks that will face the UK as our climate changes. Top of the list, by far? Flooding.
According to the Environment Agency the risk of flooding has become increasingly serious, with around 5.3 million properties in England at risk. The Risk Assessment indicated that flooding events will become an increasingly frequent occurrence.
And we know from past experiences the impact flooding can have on our communities. In recent years we've seen the devastation of the 2007 summer floods which affected many areas across England, and Morpeth in 2008 and Cockermouth in 2009.
Yet we seem to have a ministerial team who are throwing up their hands, and putting flood management, prevention, and the cost of paying for the clean-up in the 'too hard' basket.
So far, this Tory-led government has failed to negotiate a solution to ensure that homes across the UK have access to flooding insurance. From mid-2013 with the current arrangements will come to an end, and from this summer, the industry has warned households may find themselves uninsurable.
The Association of British Insurers, frustrated by government intransigence have published the location of 200,000 homes at most extreme flood risk, and least likely to get assistance if this government doesn't get a grip.
So what is the bottom line for your home – are you at risk of losing it? In Boston and Skegness 7,500 homes are at risk; in Vale of Clwyd 7,300; and in Windsor 7,100 homes to name but a few.
If the government is not willing to ensure families are able to access an affordable insurance scheme, what is it doing to prevent floods from happening? Very little it seems.
Currently, the Environment Agency is responsible for delivering flood risk management, with the policy and funding coming from Defra.
At a time of ever-growing risk of flooding, and an insurance industry about to walk away, this David Cameron's government is cutting the flood defence budget. In England the budget has been by 27%. Meanwhile the Environment Agency has said that just to maintain existing levels of flood defence, spending needs to increase by £20 million a year.
In the place of government funding, Defra looks to local government and private bodies will increasingly have to meet the gap.
As the public accounts committee has made clear, there is wilful ambiguity about who is responsible for flood prevention and management, with Defra and the Environment Agency pushing more and more responsibility onto local authorities.
As committee chair Margaret Hodge has said: "It is not acceptable that local people should be left in doubt about where responsibility and accountability lie."
Unfortunately, when a catastrophic event does happen, the community will know exactly who the buck will stops with: David Cameron.
Gavin Shuker MP is the shadow flooding minister
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