Opening the floodgates – Tory cuts have exacerbated damage of floods.

Today David Cameron was heckled in York by a member of the public when visiting the areas affecting by flooding. Large parts of northern England have been devastated by rising water levels as heavy downpours have led to rivers bursting their banks in Cumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

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Some 500 soldiers were  brought in to deal with “unprecedented” (since the last floods) flooding in Yorkshire and Lancashire. The prime minister now faces growing anger from politicians in the north of England who accused the government of creating “a north-south gap” in financial support for flood-prevention schemes.

The Prime Minister was shouted at by a woman saying: “No more cuts to public services”.

People are, understandably, very,very,very angry. The Environment Agency’s deputy chief executive said the UK’s climate was entering an era of unknown extremes, and that a complete rethink of flood protection and resilience across the country was needed. Since the floods in 2007, there has been a need for greater investment in Britain’s flood defences. Prevention & damage limitation in the short-term is cheaper than ”the cure” or in this case ”the clean-up”.

For example, in Leeds Judith Blake (leader of the city council) said a flood prevention scheme for the city was ditched by the government in 2011, and warned that there was “a very strong feeling” across the region that the north was being short-changed.

“I think there’s a real anger growing across the north about the fact that the cuts have been made to the flood defences and we’ll be having those conversations as soon as we are sure that people are safe and that we start the clean-up process and really begin the assess the scale of the damage.’

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Back in 2011 Leeds North-East MP  Fabian Hamilton warned that:

“A major flood to Leeds could set the economic recovery of the north back many years and the cost of that would far exceed the cost of the works. Spending a relatively small amount now could, however, help to prevent catastrophe in the future. With climate change making rainfall in these islands ever more unpredictable, the River Aire will burst its banks sooner or later and drown our city. Not only will thousands of homes be affected, but millions, if not billions, of pounds of business activity will be halted, and thousands of hard-working citizens will have their jobs or their lives ruined- all for the want of the flood defences that could have been built, but which the government cut because the deficit simply had to be repaid in four years, rather than five, six or even seven.”

The document ‘Flood Defence Spending in England – SN/SC/5/55’ – provides detailed analysis of the manner in which the budget for flood defences was eroded over the course of the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition government. The document explicitly illustrates that spending on flood defences was reduced:

”….in real terms over the spending review period.”

Central Government spending on flood defence in 2010-11 was cut soon after the Coalition Government was formed.

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Spending was reduced  by £30 million or 5%. In the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review (2011-12 to 2014-15), a total of £2.17 billion in central government funding was provided for flood and coastal defence. This represented a 6% cut .

The FDGiA Revenue budget was steadily decreased from £275 million in 2010-11 to £226 million in 2014-15. The Environment Agency has historically reduced  its Main River maintenance for many years but the revenue cuts brought in during by the coalition Conservative/Liberal Democrat government have accelerated this process markedly. Maintenance funding for the Environment Agency is predominantly derived from the FDGiA revenue budget.

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The Committee on Climate Change calculated that this represented a real term cut of around 20% compared to the previous spending period. Between 2010-11 and 2013-14, central government funding for flood risk management  fell, by 18% for capital and by 10% for revenue in cash terms.  In its analysis the  National Audit Office ( NAO ) summarised funding trends. It observed that, without including the necessary  & exceptional allocation of additional funding to address the 2013/14 winter floods, total funding has decreased between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

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”…if we set aside the emergency spending in response to last year’s floods, and give due credit for efficiency improvements, the underlying spending on flood defences has gone down.” – Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 5 November 2014 

The government’s own research shows increased flooding is the greatest threat posed by climate change in England. But when heavy flooding hit in the summer of 2012, the Guardian revealed that almost 300 proposed flood defences had not gone ahead as planned following the cuts. Funding has fallen by 10% in real terms, when the £270m of one-off emergency funding after the 2013-14 floods is excluded.

“Ad hoc emergency spending is less good value than sustained maintenance.”

In June 2015, the CCC recommended that the government should “develop a strategy to address the increasing number of homes in areas of high flood risk”. This can be seen to have been ignored by the Conservative government.

All this has meant that the impact of the flooding caused by increased rainfall, has been massively exacerbated & had a greater impact, causing more damage to communities, than if adequate investment had been maintained. As shown in the above diagrams from the 2005 election onwards, especially following the flooding in the summer of 2007, Labour continued to increase investment in Britain’s flood defences. It is this investment which is vital; the short-term cost dwarfs in comparison the potential long-term impact of the damage caused by flooding. The scale of the flooding over Christmas, is estimated to  have caused a staggering £6bn  in damage in the long-term, a fifth of the overall cost could fall on those with insufficient insurance. An estimated £1bn worth of  damage will not be covered by insurance policies.

PwC’s Mohammad Khan notes:

“We would give a very initial estimate of economic losses of between £900m and £1.3bn, with the insurance industry bearing between £700m to £1bn of this. If rain continues to fall in large quantities, and the areas with warnings in place do indeed flood significantly, it could well be that the total economic losses could breach £1.5bn with an additional significant increase in insurer losses from our initial estimate.”

The floods could also hamper wider economic growth, according to Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight. This is well-over double the cost of the 2007 floods, at around £3.2bn.

 

By Frederick Antonio Gallucci | International Law LLM | @gibblegbble

 

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