MP’s make sense on Floods

I won’t pretend that any House of Commons Committee could be described as “eagerly anticipated” but the report of House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on the Winter Floods probably comes as close as it gets. In Somerset at any rate.

Like most Commons Committees this is a cross party affair made up of 5 Conservative,  4 Labour, 1 LibDem and 1 SDLP MP’s. In other words it is not a bunch of Tories representing rural England. And that is an important point to note. The MP’s musings make encouraging reading. Time and again they return to themes that have been voiced across the Levels to the point of tedium, yet appear to have been ignored in the corridors of power.

Of particular concern has been the way the Environment Agency has deprioritised agriculture and agricultural land when looking at the allocation of funding for flood defence and drainage maintenance. So when I read that “Agriculture is a major industry and an important rural employer and we remain concerned that the current method for allocating flood defence funding fails to

recognise the importance and value of agricultural land…” I am tempted to shout Halleluiah. An entire chapter of the report is devoted to agriculture and how rural areas have had a raw deal from the EA.

The report is interesting not that it contains surprises for people who live on the Levels, but because for the first time government appears to be singing from the same hymn sheet. This is not to say that DEFRA nor Secretary of State Owen Paterson will accept the report. There is a process before that can happen. But I have to say that noises from Owen Paterson have of late been much more encouraging.

The MP’s acknowledge the importance of flood defence but time and time again we see reference to the importance of maintenance “Where dredging is appropriate, the benefits need to be sustained through routine maintenance. Too often work is neglected until a need is created for costly one-off capital investment” and the need for more of a long term view “Repairing and replacing damaged flood defence assets following the winter storms is an immediate concern, but longer-term issues such as improving resilience to withstand future flooding events must not be overlooked.”

And there is a lot of talk about co-operation between the drainage boards, the EA and local authorities, the so called Lincolnshire Model, and the possibility of giving the Drainage Boards overall control of the river system. Something that readers will know this paper has advocated for.

And of course critically they acknowledge that the maintenance of our river systems has been woefully neglected. Well, this is formal so such strong language would not do but when they say “Funding for maintenance is at a bare minimum and needs to increase in line with funding for new capital schemes and the increasing flood risk caused by more frequent extreme weather events” then I think we know what they mean.

The overarching conclusion of this report is that it is better to pay for regular maintenance than to be left with the enormous cost of a clear up after a winter of catastrophic funding.  MP’s get a lot of bad press these days, in this instance they have done sterling service.

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