Truss to promise farm flood protection

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss on a recent visit to flood-hit communities in the North.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss on a recent visit to flood-hit communities in the North.

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MORE THAN a million acres of prime farmland will be better protected from flooding by 2021 through government investment in flood defences, the Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss will say today.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Miss Truss is also set to announce that, subject to parliamentary approval, there will be more control for farmers to maintain ditches on their land to mitigate flood risk.

In the past the department and its agencies have been accused of operating in silos – looking just at flood protection, just farming or just the environment. This is going to change.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss

Currently farmers are unable to remove debris, such as silt from ditches on their land, without permission, but Miss Truss is proposing that from April ditches up to 1.5km long can be managed by farmers, while more powers to internal drainage boards will also be granted.

Her conference speech will attempt to strike a resilient tone after her department accepted a cut to its day to day spending of 15 per cent.

Miss Truss will say Defra is “reshaping itself to help Britain be a global leader in farming”.

“We are making efficiency savings of 15 per cent at the same time as putting more money into capital funding - a 12 per cent increase to £2.7billion over the next five years,” Miss Truss will say.

“That means we can invest in technology and digital systems, growing our exports, world-leading science, protection against animal and plant disease and of course flood defences.

“In the past the department and its agencies have been accused of operating in silos – looking just at flood protection, just farming or just the environment. This is going to change.

“And we have been criticised for taking too much decision-making out of local hands. While it is right that we manage major national risks, it does not mean we should seek to micro-manage everything.

“In the future, we will be more integrated and less siloed. Defra and its agencies like the Environment Agency (EA), APHA, the RPA and Natural England will in the future be operating towards clear shared goals. There will be one back office so we can save money on admin and spend more on the frontline.

“From this July, EA and Natural England will work together locally using the same boundaries and the same plan. Under the leadership of Sir James Bevan and James Cross, these organisations will be more pragmatic, more responsive to local communities and deliver better value for money for taxpayers.”

Promising greater local decision-making, she will add: “We will decentralise decision-making. That’s the approach we are taking for the Somerset Rivers Authority and, most recently, the Cumbrian Floods Partnership.

“Subject to parliamentary approval, we will also allow farmers across the country to maintain their own ditches up to 1.5km long from April, so they can clear debris and manage the land. This follows the successful pilots that we started two years ago.

“And we will soon announce proposals to give more powers to internal drainage boards and other groups to maintain their local watercourses.

“It will become simpler to apply for environmental permits. We will cut thousands more inspections with the Single Farm Inspection Task Force.”

The Leeds-raised Minister will also commit to invest £65m in new centres for livestock, crop health and precision engineering to improve resilience to animal disease, and to establish a “Great British Food Unit” to drive exports.

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