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Government urged to rethink floods strategy after 'Elastoplast' review

Published 08/09/2016

Flooding in York last year, as the National Flood Resilience Review is published
Flooding in York last year, as the National Flood Resilience Review is published

A new long-term strategy for tackling flooding is needed, the Government has been told after unveiling measures dismissed as an "Elastoplast".

Ministers have published a long-awaited review, set up after devastating floods last winter across parts of northern England, assessing how the country could be better protected from future flooding and increasing extreme weather.

The National Flood Resilience Review outlines £12.5 million for temporary defences such as barriers and high-volume water pumps, to be held at seven strategic locations around the country.

There are some 530 sites around the country where key local infrastructure, such as water, electricity and telecoms sites, is still vulnerable to flooding, the report highlighted.

The review includes commitments from utilities to increase protection of such sites, including short-term plans to stockpile and deploy temporary defences.

It also sets out a new stress test of the risk of flooding from rivers and seas around England, linking Met Office forecasts of extreme rainfall scenarios with Environment Agency modelling for the first time.

The Government said it would use the evidence of the review to plan investment in flood defences after 2021.

It has already committed £2.5 billion between 2015 and 2021 to strengthen flood and coastal defences, as well as spending £1 billion on maintaining defences, officials said.

But those hit by floods after storms and record rainfall last year accused authorities of an "Elastoplast" approach and of barely mentioning in the review severely flood-hit communities, or measures which they believe could improve the situation.

Dr Stephen Gibbs, chairman of the Carlisle Flood Action Group, said: "The Environment Agency have a pattern - they have a flood, they have a review, then they get out the Elastoplast and hope for the best until the next flood.

"Temporary flood defences are part of the filibustering that the EA are having to do."

And there were demands for the Government to do more to tackle the rising risk of flooding due to climate change, after the review found winter monthly rainfall totals could be 20%-30% higher than recent past extremes in some parts of the country.

The Government's climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), said the report ignored its calls for a new and comprehensive, long-term strategy to address the risk of flooding.

It also ignored the risks of flooding caused by heavy rainfall overwhelming sewers and did not spell out how the £700 million extra for flood risk management in the 2016 Budget will be spent, the committee said.

Committee chairman Lord Deben said: " As well as implementing short-term measures, such as better protecting key sites before flooding hits, we need a new and comprehensive, long-term strategy to address flood risk in this country.

"Further flood events on the scale seen last winter can be expected, and the situation is set to get worse with climate change.

"There is still much work to do to protect our homes and communities from the risks that flooding poses, now and in the future."

Local Government Association environment spokesman Martin Tett said: "The extra £12.5 million announced today for temporary flood defences and the commitment from utility companies to better protect vital water, electricity and telecoms services are steps in the right direction.

"However, councils will need significantly more support from Government to help prepare for the possibility of further flooding this winter and recover from any damage."

He called for future flood defence funding to be devolved to local areas to allow councils, communities and businesses to ensure money goes to projects which serve local needs.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: " This review sets out clear actions so we are better prepared to respond quickly in the event of future flooding and can strengthen the nation's flood defences."

And she added: " We are absolutely committed to reducing the risk of flooding by investing £2.5 billion up to 2021 so we can help protect families, homes and businesses this winter."

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: " The extra funding will help us to do even more for local communities so that we can better protect homes and businesses and respond even more rapidly and flexibly when extreme weather strikes."

Brenda Pollack, campaigner at Rewilding Britain, which wants to restore natural habitats and wildlife, said the Government had missed an opportunity to take action on projects that worked with nature to reduce flood risk.

She said: "The case for rewilding as an effective way of managing flood risk is undeniable. Restoring natural, varied landscapes helps absorb flood waters and is more cost effective than expensive flood barriers and defences.

"An approach based on rewilding is better for people and wildlife and can actively contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK's economy."

Shadow environment secretary Rachael Maskell said: " The Government's weak strategy has failed to acknowledge the human cost of flooding, with no reference made to dealing with problems of damp and shortage of accommodation, and no reference made to the cost of flooding to businesses. "This strategy has made no new announcements and is simply an attempt to divert responsibility to local authorities without providing the necessary resources or oversight."

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