Flood defence neglect puts homes at risk
Deluges across vast swathes of lowland East Anglia could become routine because of neglect of the region's flood defences, MPs warned last night.With controversial plans being considered to let the sea breach vast swathes of the region's coastline from Kelling in north Norfolk to Lowestoft, the Environment Agency is today criticised for not doing enough to protect property and businesses.
Deluges across vast swathes of lowland East Anglia could become routine because of neglect
of the region's flood defences, MPs warned last night.
With controversial plans being considered to let the sea breach a massive stretch of the region's coastline from Kelling in north Norfolk to Lowestoft, the Environment Agency is today criticised for not doing enough to protect property and businesses.
A report by the powerful spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) warns that although improvements have been made, fewer than half of the country's high-risk flood defences are up to scratch.
Last year, the Environment Agency spent £14.8m in the "Anglian" region (stretching from the Thames estuary to Northampton) on maintenance schemes.
But the NAO said more should be spent on schemes in high-risk areas.
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South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said the agency must do more to carry out improvements where the threats posed to lives and homes were greatest.
"The Environment Agency should not be taking risks with peoples' lives and property and it must focus on bringing flood defences in high-risk areas up to scratch as soon as possible," he said. "Flooding can do massive damage to homes and businesses, and the costs of clearing up afterwards can be huge," he said. "It is worrying that fewer than half of flood defences are at their target condition, meaning we simply do not know whether they could withstand a serious flood.
"I am greatly concerned by the Environment Agency's plans to give up the Norfolk shoreline," he added. "Great Britain is a relatively small island and I do not believe we should just surrender to the sea."
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb feared the report pointed at a New Orleans style flooding disaster. But he said it was unfair to put all of the blame on the Environment Agency, which had seen its budget cut by central government.
"It reminds me of a New Orleans situation where the defences weren't adequate," he said. "This has to act a very powerful warning to the Environment Agency and the importance of prioritising their work."
The report finds that only 57pc of all flood risk systems, and 46pc of high risk systems, such as those protecting urban areas, were up to standard by March 2007, with potential risks should a flood occur.
Barbara Young, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said an extra £150m of funding was needed if flood defences were to be brought up to target levels. But she defended the organisation's track record and said there had been significant improvements in the targeting of resources to tackle flooding.
"This does not mean people are at an increased risk," she said. "It simply means many of these defences are beneath our preferred condition - but this does not mean they will fail.
"In Autumn 2000, during the worst floods in recent memory, only 1pc of flooding arose from flood defences that failed."
Adrian Clarke, projector co-ordinator at the Broads Authority, said that a £100m scheme to tackle flooding in the Broads was having a positive impact.
"We are working well with the Environment Agency on its 20 year Broads flood Alleviation Project which is progressing well and bringing many benefits to our National Park. The programme is well on schedule and we are working in partnership on various enhancements linked to the flood defence works which bring added value to the Broads."
Sir John Bourn, comptroller and auditor general of the NAO said: "The agency has made progress in improving how it manages England's flood defences since I last reported in 2001. But climate change is likely to increase the number of homes and businesses at risk of flooding in the future.
"`If the Environment Agency has any chance of meeting its future targets it must now focus more consistently on improving the condition of its high risk flood defences."