Austerity will continue to hit frontline flood defences
One thing at least is clear from the Autumn Statement: austerity measures will continue to undermine our national response to climate change, notably our frontline flood defences.
No new money is involved in the multi-year capital programme for flood defence work, as the Committee on Climate Change confirms. The independent advisory body has warned that existing flood defences are deteriorating. There’s no new funding for over 500 other recommended schemes for new schemes. On frontline personnel, the Chancellor had nothing to offer the fire and rescue workforce, in numbers, training or equipment. The Environment Agency now has 800 fewer flood risk management staff than in 2010/11, including in asset management and incident control. The impact of these staff losses had never been explained.
The key question is whether spending ‘more than ever’ will be ‘enough’? The first Long Term Investment Strategy for flood defences argued that funding would need to increase by £20 million plus inflation annually for the next 25 years to keep pace with the combined effects of asset deterioration and climate change.
But the incoming government cut flood defence grants to the Environment Agency by £138 million. Even with the extra funding announced since, including efficiencies and the growth in money from other sources, spending this Parliament has been £500 million below the “most favourable” investment scenario presented in the 2009 LTIS
As we blogged yesterday, the CCC has set out several key questions on flood defence spending, including the need for clarity on the long term goal; an impartial assessment of whether current spending plans are right for the next six years – including maintenance ; and what is the impact of new development on future flood risk?
Inevitably, the bigger the flood defence network, the higher the annual maintenance budget. Not only are systems undermaintained and liable to be overwhelmed, but the CCC has written (Oct 2014) to the Environment Secretary expressing concern at the significant weakening of its requirements on developers to build sustainable draining systems in new housing schemes. Those on flood plains are most at risk.
Using official data, here’s a snapshot of fire and rescue work from the FBU:
- In 2012, firefighters across the UK attended 22,000 flood incidents, compared with 13,000 in 2011, representing a 73% increase.
- Heavy rain and storms December 2013 -February 2014 caused enormous upheaval across the UK, with over 7,800 homes and nearly 3,000 commercial properties flooded.
- Across the UK over the entire three months nearly seven thousand incidents fire and rescue (6,713) were recorded.
- Over 100 specialist flood rescue teams and their equipment were available during these floods.
Implementing the 2007 Pitt review would be a good starting point for a new workforce strategy. Following the 2007 floods, Pitt recommended “a duty on the fire and rescue service to respond to major floods”. This would help make the UK more resilience to flooding. As the FBU argues, “the risk of flooding is already significant and is likely to increase in future due to climate change.”
The CCC’s 2012 Progress Report considered how the UK was preparing from the risks from flooding and water scarcity. The main conclusions of that report were:
- Development within the floodplain in England has grown at a faster rate (12%) than development outside it (7%) over the past ten years.
- One in five properties built in the floodplain have been in areas of significant flood risk.
- Levels of investment in flood defences and uptake rates of protection measures for individual properties will not keep pace with the increasing risks of flooding due to climate change.
Under current standards of protection, insured losses from flooding and other severe weather are modest, on average costing around £1.5 billion each year.