GIVEN that infrastructure improvements and, specifically, flood defences are the third element of Theresa May’s 10-point Industrial Strategy, it’s unfortunate that yesterday’s launch by the Prime Minister preceded publication of another report accusing the Government of not doing enough to protect those properties most at risk from rapidly rising water.
Yet, while Ministers and local authorities will always disagree on whether enough money is being spent, and the extent to which Yorkshire has paid the price for extra money made available for the Thames Valley and Home Counties, it’s disappointing that Defra and the Environment Agency – the Whitehall bodies responsible for policy – are not doing enough to spend existing funds more effectively. It is their public duty to do so.
They should be giving the Environment Agency the right to veto planning applications proposed for flood-risk areas; they should be ensuring that all new homes and business premises are flood-proofed from the outset; they should be making sure that developers are financially liable if they breach planning conditions and the powers-that-be should be appointing a National Floods Commissioner to ensure that the EA works in tandem with regional bodies. None of these recommendations from the Environment Select Committee need bankrupt the Defra budget – the only significant outlay will be giving fire and rescue services additional responsibilities when flooding occurs. If Ministers and officials can’t recognise that these measures are basic common sense, they shouldn’t be in the job.