OVERWORKED flood defences could fail with Government cash to maintain them dropping to “bare minimum” levels and private sector funding drying up, it is claimed today.
The influential House of Commons Environment Select Committee has revealed concerns that the Government is finding it “difficult” to bring in the £600m it predicted the private sector would invest in defences.
Committee chair Anne McIntosh told The Yorkshire Post she fears maintenance of flood defences is “slipping down the agenda” and called on the Government to do more than just respond as “each emergency arrives”.
The coalition has pledged £2.3bn in capital funding for flood defences to protect an extra 300,000 properties and cut flood risk by five per cent by 2021.
But success relies on £600m funding from external sources, as well as ten per cent efficiency savings in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the committee said .
With “relatively small amounts” of funding coming from the private sector so far, the committee warned it was unclear how the £600m target would be met.
MPs also warned that funding for maintaining existing flood defences was at a “bare minimum” and called on Defra to draw up “fully funded plans” for tackling a backlog of repairs.
In recent years Yorkshire and the Humber has witnessed first-hand the destructive impact of flooding, with around 1,100 properties and 7,000 hectares of agricultural land hit in the 2013 tidal surge.
The committee’s report makes it clear that that number could increase in the event of another surge if funding is not made available.
Ms McIntosh, the Tory MP for Thirsk and Malton, said: “There is no long-term funding system for flood defence maintenance, and that means it is quite likely that those defences which just about held in parts of Yorkshire and Humber in say 2013-14 might not do so again the next time.
“All too often money is announced for new flood defences but not for the upkeep of defences, and we need to change how money is allocated.”
Ms McIntosh said she had spoken to firms keen to invest pension funds in infrastructure projects which said there had been little attempt by Government to attract them to flood schemes.
The National Farmers’ Union backed the need for better protection in Yorkshire and elsewhere, with chief environment adviser Diane Mitchell saying it is now “imperative that the Government commits to increasing spending on flood management”.
A Defra spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with the Environment Agency to attract more investment and are introducing tax relief for business contributions to flood risk management projects.
“In addition, we are making record levels of capital investment, spending £2.3bn over six years. This is in line with what the Environment Agency predicts will be the optimum investment for our flood defences.”