Flood defences come under fire

15 Mar 01
The weather may have relented after what seems like the wettest winter since Noah, but Britain is ill-prepared for the next inundation. Its flood defences are still leaking like a sieve, according to the National Audit Office.

16 March 2001

Almost half in England and Wales are not up to scratch, says the public spending watchdog's report, published this week.

A survey conducted last year by engineers from the Environment Agency found that 43% of defence structures and 36% of linear barriers were 'in less than a good condition', being categorised as fair, poor or very poor.

These figures also revealed wide regional variations, with 18% of defence structures falling into the poor categories in the Northwest, compared with 50% in the southern region.

The NAO has called for a full assessment of defences managed by local flood defence committees (FDCs) to be 'completed urgently, so that remedial action can identified and prioritised'.

However, its report does not discuss the financial implications of such a repair programme. Some £400m is spent each year on maintaining defences, much of which is provided by local authorities in the form of a levy on council tax bills that is passed over to the FDCs. A programme to tackle the backlog of repairs would require substantial additional investment.

Derek Bateman of the Local Government Association chairs the flood defence working group, set up in tandem with the Environment Agency.

He said that, although concerted efforts were being made to reorganise the arrangements for funding and maintaining flood defences, the system was still chaotic.

And he warned that there was a limit to the amount of money that could be raised through the council tax to fund repairs.

'The government made new funds available last year, but the current regime is not very helpful,' Bateman said. 'It needs to be tidied up.'

Some authorities had not even been properly compensated for the clean-up operations they had mounted in the wake of previous floods, he added.

NAO chief Sir John Bourn called for more 'joined-up' working from the various agencies involved in flood defence.


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