Defra under pressure to address the backlog of flood defence maintenance work

Funding for maintaining flood defences is at a “bare minimum” and is the first area to be cut when “budgets are tight”, according to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee.

Efra released a report on the UK winter floods yesterday that called on the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to “address the current backlog of maintenance work and accommodate the increased maintenance requirement caused by the growth in numbers of flood defence assets”.

“The avoidance of flood events that devastate communities should, as far as is possible, take priority over cost-cutting,” the report said.

Efra also urged Defra to revisit its policy for funding allocation to recognise the economic and social value of agricultural land. It said that “low-priority areas such as farmland are sacrificed in favour of urban, highly populated areas”. It also said that dredging should not be seen as an all-purpose solution.

The committee also called for clarity over which organisations are responsible for maintaining flood defences.

While maintenance responsibilities and powers are split between several bodies, including the Environment Agency, local councils, internal drainage boards and landowners, Efra called for the introduction of public sector co-operation agreements between the Environment Agency and internal drainage boards to “facilitate internal drainage boards undertaking maintenance of watercourses in their districts with the requisite funding to support their activities”.

It noted an incorrect “assumption that maintenance is solely the responsibility of the Environment Agency” and called for Defra to work with the agency to improve public awareness of the issues, such as landowners’ responsibility for watercourses.

But critics of the Efra report said that the committee focused too much on longer-term plans.

The Co-operative Insurance head of claims Jonathan Guy said: “In addition to preventative measures, the government should also focus on continuing to support those impacted by the floods earlier this year.

“We are fully supportive of resilient repair work, which not only offers peace of mind, but also minimises the damage caused if flooding were to happen again. We believe that more needs to be done to make this more accessible to those impacted by flooding.

“We launched an initiative in March where we offered advice to our affected customers and gave them free access to experts who can advise them on resilient repair work - this is something that we’d like to see other insurers adopt while wider flooding schemes take time to develop.”