WDP comment: Why are flood defences still not a priority?
Flood prevention costs come in two major forms – the capital cost of providing the defences in the first place and the ongoing cost of maintaining those defences as they are weathered over time.
Given the generally agreed likelihood of more intense and damaging weather in the years to come, reducing the spending on both investment in new defences and maintaining those that are already in place seems like folly.
Yet that is what is happening. And there are now fears that deep cuts to maintenance grants could expose more homes to flooding in the years ahead.
Just at the time that investment in flood defences should be going up, cuts of 25 per cent are planned. Translated into actual work on the ground, that means channels that carry flood water away will be cleared less often, screens used to catch debris that could block drains will not be cleaned and flood defences could fail more often.
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Although Labour’s Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw – a former environment minister in the last Government – might be expected to make political capital from the situation, he is not alone in sounding a warning.
The Environment Agency’s Ben Johnstone, flood and coastal erosion risk programme manager, is also predicting more property damage as a result of cuts – unless more cash can be found locally to make up for cuts in Government grant locally for flood defence work.
The cuts are part of a pattern being repeated right across the public sector. As Mr Johnstone puts it, money will have to be concentrated on meeting legal, statutory requirements and what are called “minimum needs” – in other words the very least that is now required.
While a period of doing all but the bare minimum may be appropriate in some areas of public spending when there is desperate need to reduce the deficit, in flood prevention, it looks like the worst kind of folly, especially when the problems are getting worse.
Using ever-limited public funds in an effective way is all about priorities.
You have to cut back where the damage will be felt least but continue to invest in those areas where to cut too deep would have real, long-term and costly impacts on people and property.
It is clear, after the year just gone and the forecast for the future, that flood defence is an area where reducing investment and maintenance is asking for trouble. There needs to be an urgent re-think before real damage is caused.