Defra has announced today that 93 new flood defences have been given the go ahead for 2013 but more flexibility is needed to fund a broader variety of projects that will help to protect people's livelihoods as well as their homes, say council leaders.
The Environment Agency's partnership funding model has successfully raised £148 million to finance desperately needed flood defences but rigid guidelines on the types of projects this money can be spent on means councils are unable to maximise the investment by focusing on local priorities, whether it be introducing schemes to protect badly hit yet more sparsely populated areas or providing businesses with the confidence to invest in areas that have previously been affected.
It is positive that government has provided an additional £60 million for flood projects designed specifically to unlock economic growth, but giving local authorities more freedom over where to spend flood defence money rather than providing separate pots for different priorities would make it easier for councils to target those communities most in need.
2012 was the wettest year on record in England, yet despite the torrential rains flood defences were able to help protect an estimated 205,000 homes from the devastating effects of flooding. But for the 7,800 who were hit by the floods, this offers little comfort. The Local Government Association will therefore continue to work with Defra to improve the funding model and help relieve the suffering of thousands of people.
Cllr Mike Jones, Chair of the Local Government Association's Environment and Housing Board, said:
"In a world of budget cuts and austerity measures the extra investment by government to help with flooding and its impact on economic regeneration is appreciated, but to really get to grips with the problem and bring an end to the unnecessary suffering of thousands of residents and businesses across England and Wales, councils urgently need more flexibility to invest in flood defences to tackle the causes of flooding at a local level.
"While the funding partnership model has improved the process of financing flood defences, the majority of the money is still coming from the public purse, whether it be from central or local government. According to Defra's own figures the private sector has contributed £38 million, just over a quarter of the money raised so far. More needs to be done to encourage the private sector to invest in flood defences which will help to drive economic growth.
"From speaking with residents we know that it can take anywhere between nine months and two years for those affected by floods to get their lives back on track. As well as funding defences the Government also needs to get a move on and ensure that agreements with the insurance companies are in place as soon as possible to guarantee affordable cover for flood victims. Many home owners and business have already received renewal letters quoting excesses of £10,000 which simply isn't realistic.
"Whenever floods hit, council teams are on hand ready to provide support for the emergency services, deliver thousands of sandbags and set up rescue centres. And when the waters recede we help communities get back on their feet by deploying water pumps, cleaning streets and repairing roads. But the issue of flooding is not going to go away, so we need the freedom to develop long-term solutions rather than a short-term fix."