Row over South West flood defences


a bench surrounded by water

A new row has broken out over flood defence spending after it emerged that one of the areas worst hit by this winter's flooding had seen funding slashed in the previous years.

The South West, where parts of the Somerset Levels were inundated for weeks and coastal areas saw significant damage from storms, has seen defence spending reduced by 30% over four years, a Freedom of Information requestion by the BBC revealed.

Spending on flood and coastal risk management in the region, which includes Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire, was reduced from £45.8 million in 2010/2011 to £32.2 million in 2013/2014, the figures supplied by the Environment Agency showed.

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said: "David Cameron has been caught out by the truth.
Despite his claim that 'money was no object' when it came to flood defences, figures show his Government actually cut funding by 30% in the worst-hit areas of the country in the last three years.

"This is a major embarrassment for David Cameron. The Tory-led Government failed to prepare and
protect against climate change and it failed to learn the lessons of earlier floods.

"Ministers cut funding for flood protection when they came to power in 2010. That short-termism has cost the country dearly as they will have to spend more in the long term to protect our flood defences for decades to come."

But the Government said the figures did not include more than £25 million given to the region for repairs following the devastating floods in recent months, with more funding expected.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "We are spending more than ever before on flood management and protection from coastal erosion and continue to build flood defences where they are needed.

"The Environment Agency prioritises the areas where the need for investment is greatest."

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: "We focus our work where it delivers the greatest flood risk benefit to people and property - wherever that is in the country.

"Overall, we aim to reduce the risk of flooding for an additional 165,000 households across England in the current financial year."

It is the latest twist in the row over flood defence spending which erupted as parts of the UK were flooded in the wettest winter on record.

The coalition cut flood defence spending when it came to power, but floods in 2012 and the past winter prompted the Treasury to provide more funding.

The Government has repeatedly said it is spending more money than ever on flood protection measures, a claim challenged by campaigners, Labour and even the UK Statistics Authority because the sums include private sector finance and do not account for inflation.

Officials have warned that increasing amounts of money need to be spent on flood defences in the UK to cope with the increased risk of flooding in the face of climate change.

Places at most risk of flooding in Britain

Places at most risk of flooding in Britain