Budget cuts leave region vulnerable to floods

PUBLISHED: 13:34 01 March 2007 | UPDATED: 13:51 04 May 2010

Anyone wondering what MPs do all day in the House of Commons, or who harbour doubts about the usefulness of politicians, will be interested I m sure in a recent piece of legislation that has made it on to the Statute Book. Parliament recently approved a c

Anyone wondering what MPs do all day in the House of Commons, or who harbour doubts about the usefulness of politicians, will be interested I'm sure in a recent piece of legislation that has made it on to the Statute Book.

Parliament recently approved a change in the law that will allow anyone to marry their mother-in-law. Quite how many people will take advantage of this legislation is unclear but I am sure Les Dawson must be turning in his grave. Incidentally just to ensure fair play a girl can now marry her father-in-law as well.

Something that wasn't quite so amusing was the recent announcement by the Environment Agency to cut the region's flood defence budget by a third. At a time when the weather is becoming more volatile and the threat of flooding is enhanced by climate change, I am concerned that this decision will put more people and property at risk.

The Chairman of the Anglian (Central) Regional Flood Defence Committee has acknowledged that due to the cuts, "we won't be able to do all that we would have liked to in 2007/8". It seems irresponsible to limit the work the flood defence committee believe is necessary to protect local communities when the impacts of climate change are increasing the frequency of heavy rainfall.

Anyone who has been affected by flooding will understand why. Last summer's flash-floods caused thousands of pounds of damage to homes and businesses. There are knock-on effects too: hospitals; the emergency services, schools, municipal buildings and transport infrastructure can also be disrupted.

The estimation of future flood risks is of course difficult. However, a recent government report states that, "all scenarios point to substantial increases." The same document cautions against reductions in spending on flood defence. Such stark warnings do not sit comfortably with the decision to cut the budget by £6.4m.

So why are these cuts being made? The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has recently announced budget cuts of £200 million, of which £15 million is being hived from the Environment Agency's flood management budget. These cuts are in part due to the government's bungling of single farm payments, which the National Audit Office recently confirmed was a chronicle of government incompetence.

With extreme weather conditions becoming commonplace, these cuts have been roundly condemned. One expert, Professor Robert Nicholls, said: "We need to be proactive in the management of flooding, and this is a signal that we may be going back to old ways." While Professor Penning-Rowsell said that the cuts "send a signal that flood defence is an area that's liable for volatile budgets in the future. That's quite dangerous when you have to build and plan things for the next 50 years."

This is not some theoretical exercise; we are talking about people's homes and livelihoods as well as their lives. By cutting the flood defence budget the government is ignoring this warning, and rather than protecting us from the consequences of climate change, is making us more vulnerable to them.

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