Warning over flood defence funding
A "huge funding gap" is opening up between the money needed to maintain flood defences and the cash coming from Government, it has been warned.
A National Audit Office report said the Environment Agency estimated it needed an annual increase of £20 million, or 9% more on its budget from the Government, to maintain protection from flooding in light of climate change and ageing defences.
But Government funding for the agency, which manages flood risk, has been reduced by 10% over the current spending review period, compared to the last.
Without an increase in central funding from 2015, communities would be increasingly reliant on locally-secured money to maintain flood defences, the report warned.
The NAO said reforms which see more responsibility being handed to local authorities for managing flood risks and raising money for flood defence schemes could prove a major challenge for town halls.
The new system will see some schemes to tackle flooding part-funded by local bodies or the private sector, with the lion's share of non-Government funding expected to come from companies, such as Gatwick Airport's owners who have contributed to local flood defences.
But not only are local authorities voicing "considerable concern about securing sufficient local funds, especially in the current economic climate", the report warned, they also feel they do not have the appropriate knowledge.
Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "The annual cost of flood damage is £1.1 billion and one in six properties in England face this threat, but they are being put at risk through reduced funding and a lack of technical expertise. A huge funding gap is opening up between what is required to maintain current levels of flood defence and Government funding."
She said the Environment Department (Defra), which has responsibility for flooding, had cut funding to the Environment Agency for dealing with the issue by almost £100 million in 2011/2012.
A Defra spokesman said: "We've reformed the funding system to allow the number of flood defence schemes to be increased and give local people greater choice and control over protecting their community from flooding. Under the new partnership funding system, the most at-risk and deprived areas can receive more money for flood defence schemes with funding from the private sector whenever possible."