Thames barrier and other defences to be sold to cut budget

Britain’s flood defence network, including the Thames Barrier and defences on the Ouse and Severn rivers, could be sold to the private sector to cut the £713m annual flood defence bill, the Times reports.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has named Defra, which oversees the Environment Agency, as one of the departments likely to be worst hit by the spending cuts aimed at reducing the budget deficit. The institute estimates that Defra’s £3bn budget could be reduced by a third.

Water companies interested

Treasury proposals would allow private companies to acquire and operate the assets, with the charges passed on to consumers — either directly or through a levy on the council tax. Water companies, which ran flood defences before privatisation, could take over.

The Environment Agency says more than half a million British homes remain at significant risk of flooding and the cost of protecting them will be £1bn a year by 2035.

It estimates that £20bn needs to be spent on flood defences over the next 20 years and its chief executive said last month that new sources of funding would need to be found.