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Plans to better protect 336,000 homes from flooding have been cut by 40 per cent because of the huge rise in inflation caused partly by former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s budget that spooked the markets, the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals in a report today.
Now only 200,000 will get new flood protection by 2027 as 500 of 2000 planned flood protection schemes have been axed from the scheme announced in 2020. The NAO say up to two-thirds of the cuts are caused by the huge rise in inflation which has caused the “cost of living crisis”.
The scheme saw money allocated to flood protection in 2020 doubled to £5.2 billion over six years as the UK faced a big rise in heavy rainfall caused by climate change.
But now there is no more money available the Environment Agency has had to cut the programme.
The situation was made worse by Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor in 2021 when he cut the money given to the Environment Agency to maintain existing flood protection schemes. He reduced the agency’s budget by £34 million to £201 million and £194 million the following year. As a result another 200,000 homes already covered by schemes will not get extra protection.
The number of homes at risk from flooding has been revised upwards from 5.2 million to 5.7 million following a new reassessment by the agency. Some 2.8 million are at risk from sea and river flooding, while 3.4 million are at risk from surface water flooding.
The report says that in February 2022, the country experienced three named storms (Dudley, Eunice and Franklin) in one week for the first time. More than 370 properties were affected, mainly by river flooding. In July 2021, parts of London received a month’s rain within a couple of hours. More than 1,500 properties suffered from surface water flooding as a result.
“More recently, heavy, persistent and widespread rain affected much of England when Storms Babet and Ciaran struck in October and November 2023. The Met Office reported that 18th to 20th October was the third wettest independent three-day period for England and Wales in a series dating back to 1891. The Environment Agency (EA) reported that, by the end of October, Storm Babet alone had caused 2,200 homes to be flooded.”
The report also reveals that the new flood schemes require partnership arrangements with businesses and local councils to start work. This meant they have been slow to start because money has not been forthcoming from cash-strapped councils or businesses. This led to an underspend of £310 million which was returned to the Treasury for use as deferred spending on schemes in the future. The NAO is critical that neither the Treasury nor the agency thought of using the money to alleviate the cuts on maintenance imposed by Rishi Sunak.
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:
“The capital funding is forecast to better protect only 60% of properties that were promised when the programme was launched in 2020, while inflation and other programme risks mean the Environment Agency (EA) could deliver even fewer than that. If there are further delays to the capital programme, Defra must work with HM Treasury to make sure it is in a position to switch money quickly into maintenance, where this would provide value for money.
“EA will have to manage a record level of capital investment in flood defences for the remaining four years of the programme. In doing so, it must resist pressure to accelerate projects or initiate new ones too quickly, if this is likely to lead to cost overruns and delays and put value for money at risk.”