East Anglia: Long term solution needed to tackle effects of extreme weather, says enviornment secretary

Lord Deben, John Gummer, stands in a field near his Winston home

Lord Deben, John Gummer, stands in a field near his Winston home

Successive governments have failed to make the UK more resilient to floods with a Whitehall shake up needed as extreme weather becomes more frequent, former Environment Secretary Lord Deben has said.

The chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) hit out at the Westminster 'blame game' after Tory ministers waded in over the future of Lord Smith.

Defending the under-fire chairman of the Environment Agency, former Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said the Labour peer had been a good boss of the quango.

But said that going forward planning and flood defences should be brought under one roof as there were 'too many fingers in the pie'.

'We need a long term plan. There should be no short term blame. These floods have not been so disastrous because of a particular minister, because of a particular agency, because of not dredging the rivers. All that is nonsense. The reason why the floods have been so bad is because we have not had a long term plan where every year we have made ourselves more resilient.'

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He said Mr Pickles' Department for Communities and Local Government should lose responsibility for planning, with a new minister for planning and land use installed at Defra responsible for 'long term resilience'.

He said Defra would be responsible for coastal protection and for the role of Local Authorities and the Environment Agency, with local authorities like Suffolk Coastal used as the 'agent'.

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'In the department you would have the expertise, but the actual business of dealing with it would be the Local Authority.'

'If you take Suffolk. There are bits of (coastal protection) run by Suffolk Coastal District Council, and bits run by the Environment Agency. It doesn't make sense.'

He hit out at suggestions that money for flood-hit communities should be taken from the international aid budget, saying: 'The idea that you would steal from people who are starving, have no hospitals, the idea that you would steal from them in order to provide what you should be providing is an absolute outrage. It is absolutely disgraceful.'

'We have to pay for it ourselves. There are other things you can take the money from, you have to do it.

'One of the things. We might have to ask if we can find ways of using money from planning to alleviate this. There are lots of ways you can do this. The idea of stealing money from the poorest is an affront.'

He also said that changes needed to be made to the way the 'cost benefit analysis' was made over whether to replace sea defences.

'I think there is a balance. I'm not suggesting we defend every single inch. We need to feed our people. I think agricultural land has got to be more valuable in that cost benefit analysis. It is going to be more important for feeding people.'

He also said that landowners should be much freer to defend their land themselves and that regulations which prevented farmers from defending their land should be looked at.

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