Under-investment in flood infrastructure unacceptable

Posted: Tuesday 20th March 2012

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) believes that significant levels of underinvestment in flood infrastructure as identified by the Public Accounts Committee is unacceptable even in the current economic climate.

CIWEM welcomes the report of the Public Accounts Committee, which identifies significant underinvestment in flood risk management infrastructure. The burden borne by householders and businesses exposed to flood risk can be devastating. The risk and uncertainty generated in the minds of those who live and work in areas identified as being at risk of flooding reduces their feeling of well being and restricts their potential for growth.

Public investment in infrastructure must deliver broader benefits such that flood risk management schemes reduce the risk, enhance the environment and encourage growth. The expectation that funding for such schemes should come from a range of public and private stakeholders is appropriate but there are no single beneficiaries from such schemes and the concept of “the beneficiary pays” is not valid when, as is usual, schemes benefit the wider community. Funding generated from stakeholders should be used to increase the available budget rather than replace reduced funding provided by the Treasury. The suggestion that the funding mechanism recently introduced is “fairer” cannot be sustained when two equally valid schemes are prioritised only on their ability to generate third party income.

The concerns about ongoing flood risk at unacceptable levels are shared by the ABI and their report suggests that the areas identified at greatest risk by the Environment Agency are likely to find the level of premiums to insure against flood risk will become unaffordable, even if cover is available which will not be guaranteed beyond 2013. Where uninsured communities are affected it is often the local authorities who provide the response to flooding and subsequently reclaim their expenditure from the Treasury.

The opportunity to significantly enhance the environment adjacent to our rivers, lakes and coastline is there with clear legislative drivers, the Water Framework Directive, together with specific funding. Flood risk management schemes provide a vehicle to deliver those enhancements but can only be successful with the appropriate level of government funding. The Public Accounts Committee report indicates how the current levels are insufficient.

CIWEM Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE, says:

“Budget cuts are part and parcel of all walks of life at present, but there are some areas which must be better protected. The report by the Public Accounts Committee highlights one such area where householders and businesses are being put at unacceptable risk through no fault of their own, because funding for flood defences is being cut. At the same time, the National Planning Policy Framework risks loosening restrictions within PPS25 on new development in flood plains, potentially putting even more people at risk of the often devastating life impacts of flooding. For such people to then be put in the position to potentially have to compete for private sector funding to protect their properties and businesses, and at the same time face the prospect of being unable to afford insurance verges on immoral, particularly when climate change threatens to bring increasingly extreme flood events in coming decades.”

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