Flood defence spending 'faces 27% cut'United Kingdom
As Cornwall counts the cost of last week's widespread flooding, the government faces a storm of criticism over cuts to flood defence spending.
The department for the environment has said that funding over the next four years would be "just 8% less than our average yearly spend".
But Lord Smith, the chairman of the Environment Agency, told the Observer that flood defence spending would be "cut in cash terms [by] about 27% and that will happen immediately".
Smith said: "There will be communities that would – if funding had remained in place as at present – be starting flood defence work in a year or two years' time that will now be delayed”.
Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, said: "The devastation and anxiety that flooding causes is absolutely huge. We need the government to spell out which schemes are going to be postponed or cancelled as a result of this reduction”.
"I am very angry”, said Mary Dhonau, the chief executive of the National Flood Forum, a charity that represents more than 200 community flood prevention groups around the country. "Because of government cuts there could be more people dying as a result of floods. I don't think I am being alarmist, I'm just thinking of the worst-case scenario”.
Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, rejected Labour's attack: "Labour pencilled in massive cuts of 50% in capital spending across government, with the risk of devastating consequences for flood protection. The 8% reduction is a much better settlement than this. Until Labour care to share with us what they would cut, their attacks lack any credibility”.
Scientists at the Met Office and Cardiff University have said that global warming would increase the need for flood defences. In 2008, David Cameron, speaking in parliament about flood which had affected his constituency said: "Most people accept that, with climate change, [floods] are likely to be more frequent”. He added: "My concern is that, even if the Environment Agency wanted to do more, it is not clear that it has the resources or the people to do it”.
There were two parallel sets of challenges, said Smith. "One is [that] we are going to have less money to spend on either protecting the environment or defending people from flooding and at the same time, the environmental needs, especially driven by climate change and increasingly erratic weather patterns, are increasing. So with less money we have to face greater environmental challenges”.
Smith revealed that the Environment Agency, described by the prime minister as the "fourth emergency service”, was taking a cut of between 25% and 28% to its overall budget. He said efficiency measures over the past year included the loss of 900 jobs, but he expected another 2,000 to go. "We have to deal with what we get and make the best of it”, he said.
Mike Childs, of Friends of the Earth, said the cuts were a false economy. He said: "It's a short-term saving, but will cost more than it saves”.The Institution of Civil Engineers calculated last month that the government cuts could cost the public about £4.8bn in the future.
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