Norfolk and Suffolk devolution leaders could look to take power over flood defence spending from Environment Agency

George Nobbs(pictured), leader of the council says control over flood defences is being considered a

George Nobbs(pictured), leader of the council says control over flood defences is being considered as part of a devolutiond deal. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Local leaders could seek more power over flood defence decisions and spending as part of a devolution deal with the government.

It is one of the areas being looked at as part of a Norfolk and Suffolk joint bid to seize more control over budgets.

Details of how much of the Environment Agency budget could be handed over to a new combined authority and which new responsibilities the region's leaders would get have not yet been worked out, but it is an area which officials are currently working on.

Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs, who is part of the team meeting Whitehall officials and ministers to discuss a potential devolution deal, said they were 'ahead of the game' in wanting to take on the responsibility, and the budget, for flood defences that currently sits with the Environment Agency.

'We think that with local knowledge we can use the money to better effect in Norfolk and Suffolk.

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'We were certainly the first devolution bid to see this as important but I wouldn't be at all surprised if other local authorities now feel they could allocate resources more wisely than central government and adjust their bids accordingly,' he said.

The Environment Agency, which was set up in 1996, has regional offices across the country. Local authorities already have some responsibility to protect homes against flooding.

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But Mr Nobbs said devolution had to come with resources after environment secretary Elizabeth Truss praised a scheme in Somerset where local people are set to pay more council tax to help pay for flood defences.

Mr Nobbs said: 'I do worry that central government appears to yet again be proposing to pass on costs to local taxpayers – they've done it with adult social care and appear to be planning to do the same with vital flood defence work. There is a significant central budget for flood defences and we would absolutely expect this to be protected and transferred to local government should this form part of a devolution deal.'

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: 'We've been clear that all proposals should be bottom up and carry support – the decision to release information is for the area to decide, not government.'

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