The Emergency Planning Society has welcomed the £2.3 billion announced by the Government for major flood defence improvements – but has called for a more co-ordinated approach to UK resilience.
The EPS – the professional association for those working in the resilience and emergency response sector – says that while the big projects make good headlines, the routine work to make the UK more resilient continues to decline.
Helen Hinds, chair of the EPS, said: “The announcement for the flood defence projects around the country is to be welcomed. These projects are part of the solution and vitally important for the flood defences of the country.
“We have two main concerns however. Firstly it may be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. For example, Surrey County Council has said that the £196 million being directed towards the Thames Estuary will leave the seven local authorities in the area now needing to find a further £120 million for other general flood defence projects.
“We have seen the general denigration of the UK’s resilience structure since 2010. The Autumn Statement announcement is only part of the solution. “
The EPS point out that the resilience sector has been under constant economic pressure over the past four years, explaining:
- Membership of the EPS has halved, reflecting the level of job losses in Emergency Planning Units around the country, as local government faces a 40 per cent cut in its revenue from central Government.
- The Environment Agency has seen 800 flood risk management posts be cut.
- The Climate Change Committee – the independent body that advises the UK government – reports that only a quarter of flood defences are being fully maintained, with the remainder degrading which will eventually need replacing.
- There has been the removal of the regional tier of resilience organisation which previously played a key role in co-ordinating local resources and warning and informing the public during a major incident.
Helen Hinds said:
“The second concern is that we need a more co-ordinated approach and better forward planning. For example, we are investing this £2.3 billion in these huge projects, yet still allow 4,000 new homes to be built in areas of significant flood risk every year.
“Also, the projects focus on river and coastal defences, when the new threat has been identified as the need to combat surface water flooding, as the UK experiences increasing short burst, violent downpours. As the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management have identified, it has been this element which has been causing havoc in recent years.”
“Of course, it is understood that there is no finite recall on resources and not everything can be done at once. While big public sector projects such as the ones outlined in the Autumn Statement are vital, what would also be beneficial would be engaging with flood communities to assist them understanding what basic steps they can undertake for themselves.”