Treasury rules restricted flood defence action, Environment Agency says

10 Feb 14
Treasury rules prevented the Environment Agency from investing in river dredging in flood-hit Somerset, the organisation’s chair claimed today

 By Vivienne Russell | 10 February 2014

Treasury rules prevented the Environment Agency from investing in river dredging in flood-hit Somerset, the organisation’s chair claimed today.

The agency has come under fire from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who said it had been a mistake to follow the quango’s advice and not fund earlier dredging work, which could have alleviated the floods currently affecting the Somerset Levels.

But Lord Chris Smith told the BBC that the Environment Agency is bound by Treasury rules that govern how much it can spend on any given flood defence scheme. A cost-benefit rule of £8 of benefit to every £1 of cost applies, he said.

‘On that basis of that calculation it is determined what we can contribute to any particular flood scheme,’ Smith told the Today programme.

‘In Somerset, the maximum we were allowed under those rules to [spend] was £400,000. We put that money on the table three months ago. We said yes because of the local concern about the lack of dredging and the impact of the floods back in 2012.’

But when other funding partners did not come forward dredging work could not begin, he added.

‘The situation has now completely changed because not only has the government come up with some extra money for Somerset, but they’ve also said the Treasury rules won’t apply for the Somerset Levels.’

Speaking yesterday, following a meeting of the government emergency committee Cobra, Prime Minister David Cameron said ‘every resource’ was available to help affected communities.

‘We will keep providing whatever immediate practical support and assistance is needed, whether that is extra pumps and sandbags; military support on the ground; emergency funds from the new £7m severe weather assistance fund for local councils,’ he said.

‘In Somerset, the Environment Agency is starting a further flood alleviation plan and, as I’ve said before, when the water levels come down and it’s safe to do so, they will be dredging to make sure that these rivers and ditches can carry more water.’

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