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  • by Karma Loveday

Spending watchdog finds floods budget will protect fewer homes

Inflationary pressures are eating into the Environment Agency’s plans to protect properties from flooding. This was among the conclusions of a National Audit Office (NAO) report on Resilience to flooding, published last week. The NAO pointed out that the EA has reduced by 40% its forecast of the number of properties it will be able to better protect by 2027 – from 336,000 to 200,000. Inflation accounts for between a half and two-thirds of this reduction.

In addition, the EA is removing 500 of the 2,000 new flood defence projects that were originally included in its programme, despite government doubling its capital funding in England in the six years to 2027 to £5.2bn to combat the danger of flooding.

Elsewhere the NAO highlighted that shortfalls in funding were affecting planned maintenance spending; that higher levels of partner funding would be needed; that a slow start to the capital programme will mean the EA spending record levels of almost £1bn a year over the remaining four years of the programme; and that no assessment has been made of using the capital underspend to meet the maintenance shortfall.

The Office recommended that Defra, the EA, and HMT should work together to ensure that decisions on the current capital programme are not influenced by short-term funding periods and targets and are focused on maximising value for money, and that decisions can be taken quickly to switch money from the capital programme into the maintenance budget where this provides value for money.

The report concluded that, in the absence of a target or concrete plans for the level of flood resilience the EA expects to achieve, it will be difficult for the government to make rational and informed decisions about its priorities, measure its progress or plan effective investment for the long-term.

Professor Jim Hall of the National Infrastructure Commission said the NAO’s findings echo its own National Infrastructure Assessment concerns. He urged: “Government must set clear and measurable targets to reduce the likelihood of property flooding in urban and rural areas in line with Commission recommendations, to help quantify and target necessary investment.”

Hall added: “The current focus on short term funding settlements will also do little to bolster efforts to properly maintain flood defences over the longer term and ensure they remain fit for purpose in the face of an evolving climate threat. The need for the EA to have greater certainty over its long term funding is clear.”

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