Private Funding Adds Little for England’s Flood Defences

Despite the UK government’s efforts to attract alternative investment as a new source of funding to reinforce England’s flood defences, the private sector has contributed just 2% or £37m to the budget reports
The Guardian

The paper comments that the revelation will add pressure to ministers already under fire for cuts to flood defence budgets and the UK’s Environment Agency.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has been criticised after weeks of severe storms caused widespread flooding across England and ministers recently had to admit their claims to be spending more than ever before on flood defences were incorrect. Annual spending will fall by 15% in real terms under the UK’s ruling coalition government.

On entering office in 2010, the coalition cut annual flood defence spending by over a quarter but announced a partnership funding programme which would ‘use of other sources of funding to supplement money from government’ and would ‘allow local communities to have a bigger say in what is done to protect them’. According to government ministers, this meant that more flood protection schemes were likely to go ahead.

The government announced this month that £148m of partnership funding had been obtained.
The Guardian
claims that only £37m, or 25%, is coming from private sector sources, from developers or companies who will benefit from the better flood protection of at-risk land. The rest is coming from local authorities, despite their budgets having also been heavily cut by the coalition. The total spend from 2011-15 will be £2.34bn, making the £37m private sector contribution less than 2% of total funding.

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle commented: “Despite repeatedly claiming that £148m in partnership funding has been raised to help tackle flooding, ministers have been forced to admit that they have secured less than half of this amount.

“On top of cuts to flood protection budgets across this parliament, this further gaping hole in the funding that has been promised is a disaster for the communities affected and will pile more pressure on struggling local authorities.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said: “Partnership funding will bring in £148m by 2015 and is helping to deliver better protection against flooding to more communities.”

Prime minister David Cameron addressed the extreme flooding of south west England’s low-lying Somerset Levels in parliament this week. He said dredging would begin as soon as possible, although the Environment Agency has said it was ‘often not the best long-term or economic solution’.

Cameron appeared to overrule Paterson who, after being heckled by flooded-out homeowners in the Levels at the start of the week, had announced a six-week review. The government’s emergency civil contingencies committee, aka Cobra, has since met again to address flooding and has now met over 10 times since early December.

Guy Shrubsole, a campaigner for the environmental lobby group Friends at the Earth, said: “It is unforgivable that the government should cut public funding for something as vital a flood protection and rely on an unproven, private finance mechanism.

“The government’s own advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, say there is a £500m hole in the government’s funding plan. Ministers just need to get with it and provide funding on a level commensurate with the problem.”


Related reading