Ministers snub call for flood defence shake-up

The Government has been accused of letting down thousands of families and leaving businesses vulnerable to flooding after 'ignoring' cross-party calls for a radical overhaul of the way the country responds to risks.

Tuesday, 24th January 2017, 8:56 am
Updated Tuesday, 24th January 2017, 9:02 am
Mytholmroyd centre under water after the River Calder burst its banks.

Members of the influential Rural Affairs Committee published an in-depth report in November into the UK’s flood defences, calling for “immediate” action to improve a “fragmented, inefficient and ineffective” system.

It issued a series of recommendations for reform – including the introduction of a new National Floods Commissioner and a crackdown on developers who flout planning rules – to help protect the five million people currently believed to be at risk.

But in a formal response published today the Government is expected to reject the key proposals, giving rise to accusations that Ministers are “not committed” to tackling the problem.

Committee member and Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith said the decision to “ignore” the recommendations was “doubly disappointing” given the report’s cross-party support.

“People living in flood risk areas deserve much more from the Government and need to see it act quickly to improve the disjointed nature of our flood management system,” she said.

“The Secretary of State must quickly come forward with plans on how she intends to deal with all aspects of flooding, including how she intends to improve building regulations and other measures that will help with property resilience.

“Anything less will be letting down the many thousands of people who are at risk of flooding.”

The committee’s inquiry was first announced last January, in the wake of the devastating floods that hit parts of Yorkshire and Cumbria. Alongside calls for a new floods commissioner to take over flood-related responsibilities from the Environment Agency, its report also calls for the introduction of a state-backed insurance scheme for businesses in at-risk areas struggling to find affordable coverage.

Ministers believe such a scheme would be “unsuitable” and instead favour interventions from within the insurance industry. The Government will confirm this stance today, while arguing against any “substantial change” to wider flood management structures.

“Our current system has achieved notable successes including securing better protection for more than 500,000 properties since 2005,” it will say. “This Government has a clear long-term ambition for managing and funding flood risk... we are investing £2.5bn on schemes that include hard and soft engineering and natural flood management.”

Shadow Environment Secretary Rachael Maskell said the response was “disappointing” and suggested Ministers “just aren’t committed” or “engaged” with the issue. It follows confirmation of the latest round of local growth funds, including money for flood resilience projects in Leeds.