Public Accounts committee reports on flood risk management

The Public Accounts Committee has published a report into Strategic Flood Risk Management. Of particular interest from a CLA perspective is reference in the report to the responsibilities of private landowners for flood defence maintenance – the report states that the Environment Agency is directly responsible for the maintenance of only 45% of all flood defences and the rest is the responsibility of local authorities, internal drainage boards and private landowners.

CLA President Henry Robinson said: “As the Public Accounts Committee’s report underlines, landowners have a critical role to play in maintaining flood defences to protect their local communities, as well as agricultural land, from the risk of flooding.This is why the CLA has been calling on Government to extend current tax relief proposals, which would enable more landowners to increase flood defence work by offsetting their investment against tax. This would be a low cost way for Government to boost private funding for significant public benefit.”

“Under current plans, the tax relief will only apply for businesses that part-fund flood defence schemes which are already in receipt of Environment Agency funding. This should be extended to private individuals as well as businesses, and should be applicable for all approved flood defence schemes as well as those which have already been allocated funding. We are pressing Ministers to rethink their current proposal as it would be extremely frustrating if Government were to miss this opportunity to boost the much-needed flood defence work across the countryside.”

“We welcome the Public Accounts Committee’s recognition that the budget for maintaining flood defences is inadequate and this is putting properties at risk. It is important that HM Treasury considers how the Environment Agency can make longer term flood prevention plans.”

Summary of the Public Accounts Committee report on Strategic Flood Risk Management:

· The Agency will need to make difficult decisions about how it prioritises its maintenance budget, including some defences where it will need to reduce or stop maintenance

· DEFRA should work with HM Treasury on lengthening the budget settlements for revenue funding, so that the Environment Agency and others can plan for the longer term.

· The Environment Agency should review what impact its decisions on reducing or stopping maintenance will have on longer term value for money

· There is a lack of transparency around the consequences of allowing some defences to fail

· Local authority flood strategies are crucial to the success of flood risk management, but a significant number are incomplete

· The Agency should consider how to improve the understanding of third parties who have responsibilities for flood defences. It should be more explicit about the realities of flooding and the impact of the choices that are made in removing flood defence

· The Environment Agency has identified around 60 areas where it hopes to relinquish its maintenance responsibilities. In 10 areas it has come to an agreement with local authorities, landowners or farmers to take on the maintenance of those defences and is currently in discussions in the remaining 50 locations

· DEFRA believes that partnership funding has helped bring forward more flood defence projects and that it may have helped increase the total number of projects by up to 25%.

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