Flood defence spending decisions must give East Anglian farm land more value

Flood season in the Waveney Valley between Beccles and Bungay.; Photo: Andy Darnell

Flood season in the Waveney Valley between Beccles and Bungay.; Photo: Andy Darnell

Archant © 2011

Flood defence spending fails to recognise the importance and value of farm land, an influential committee of MPs has said in a far reaching report following the winter floods.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commons select committee has called for the Government to revisit its policy on how it hands out cash for flood defences to take more account of the “economic and social value of agricultural land”.

The report also said that funding for clearing rivers, routine dredging and maintaining existing flood defences was at a “bare minimum”.

While the committee commended the relief effort for the floods, which saw 7,000 properties flooded as the UK was hit by repeated storms and the wettest winter on record, they said investment in flood prevention was preferable to spending on clean-up. Work to shore up East Anglia’s battered coastline defences – which will leave a £10m dent in Environment Agency coffers – will be completed in time for winter.

A total of 130 defence repair projects have been earmarked in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, but area manager Charles Beardall insists work will be done in time for the onset of any storms this winter.

National Farmers’ Union East Anglia environment adviser Rob Wise said 2,700 hectares of farmland was flooded as a result of December’s east coast tidal surge, and many sea defences were breached.

“As the committee says, the economic and social value of farming and agricultural land must be recognised to ensure there is sufficient investment in maintenance work. With 350,000 hectares of prime farmland in the Fens alone at risk of flooding, plus further land alone the coast, our defences must be adequately maintained.

He urged the government to accept the committee’s recommendations, adding: “The evidence is clear. Now it’s time to act”.

The committee also highlighted that £130 million of money described as extra cash had, in fact, been “reallocated” from elsewhere in Defra’s budget.

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said: “In February, David Cameron said ‘money was no object’ when it came to flood defence funding, yet today the select committee says that the funding the Government describe as additional is actually only reallocated. David Cameron’s ‘promise’ has, predictably, proved totally false.”

Ms Eagle added: “The Tory-led Government’s response to the winter floods was slow and chaotic. Ministers cut the funding Labour provided in government and the select committee says they are now unable to deal with the long-term flood risk.”

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