Flooding funding drops by £7m in Yorkshire despite major rise in extreme weather

Flooding funding has gone up only £3m in a decade across England, despite the increasing severity of floods, analysis of official stats shows.

The Environment Agency’s budget should be urgently increased by 45 per cent over the next six years to prevent the “physical and mental devastation extreme weather causes for people in affected communities”, said a report by public body Scape, which looks at getting the best value out of infrastructure in the UK.

The analysis found that spending in Yorkshire and The Humber has decreased, falling in the last few years by £7m, from a high of £21.7m in 2016/17 to £14.91m in 2018/19, despite the area consistently experiencing extreme weather and flash flooding.

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The organisation added that most of our water infrastructure is from the Victorian era and desperately needs upgrading and maintaining, however most of the budget is spent on new projects.

Despite a huge increase in flooding, funding has risen only 3m.

While total expenditure has increased in real terms from £802m in 2009/10 to £870m in 2018/19, the majority of the £64m increase has been in capital spending, while revenue spending, which goes towards staff and office costs, as well as maintenance, has fluctuated from a low of £272m in 2013/14 to a high of £344m in 2017/18.

Part of the flood defences budget comes from council levy payments, which are calculated based on the land mass, flood risk and number of people in the area for each local authority.

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Local levy contributions to the Environment Agency from local authorities vary across the country, with London consistently making the largest contribution at over £5.9m for each of the last four years; a similar contribution to that of the West Midlands, North East and Yorkshire and The Humber combined.

The report said: “As the impact of climate change becomes increasingly evident, we need to be responding with more innovative approaches and solutions, sharing best practice and taking a lesson learned approach from the flood protection strategies implemented in other countries. The reality is that storm surges and flash flooding are only going to increase, and we need to learn to live with the water, rather than fighting against it.”

Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, added: “The data shows a limited real term increase over the last decade and we urgently need the amount of funding for flood protection to increase. We also need to be thinking critically about how we work together more effectively.

“It is especially concerning to see that revenue expenditure has barely risen over the last ten years, with real term growth of just £3m. A lot of our water infrastructure is from the Victorian era, it is hundreds of years old and desperately needs to be maintained and upgraded, but we are in the difficult, almost impossible situation of having competing pressures on the limited resources we have at our disposal.”

Dean Banks, chief executive of Balfour Beatty said: “The construction and infrastructure industry mitigate flood risk by building defences and implementing resilience measures. And when extreme weather hits, we are a critical part of the response: getting the roads, buildings, bridges and other affected infrastructure back to work to ensure that communities can recover as quickly as possible.

“But there is more to do. Engaging the construction and infrastructure industry earlier and proactively before flooding happens can help reduce the risk and make the clean-up run more smoothly. We also need more partnership working between local authorities, and a more strategic, longer-term funding approach for flood and coastal risk management. The price of flooding to local communities – and to the wider economy – far outstrips the cost of building and maintaining effective flood defences and resilience measures.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said the £3m figure was incorrect as it "does not include the substantial capital investment made over the same period".

The department added: “The Government is investing a record £2.6 billion to better protect the country from flooding. This is funding over 1,000 flood defence schemes, which will better protect 300,000 homes by 2021. The Government’s manifesto also committed an additional £4 billion for flood defences over the next five years.”