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The National Audit Office report ‘Flood Risk Management in England’,  on the national flood and coastal defence programme, reveals several continuing challenges, including a potential funding gap, which must be overcome in order to achieve value for money for the taxpayer

In the report, the NAO considers what progress has been made since 2007 in identifying the risk of flooding, it examines how well investment has been targeted at risk, and assesses how well the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency are supporting and managing reform.

The NAO concludes that the Agency has improved its knowledge of the condition of its flood defences, and it has targeted investment more effectively. However, reforms initiated by the Department to give greater responsibility and discretion to local authorities have introduced a number of significant challenges. Greater value for money can be achieved through these reforms, but key elements of what is required are not yet in place.
The government regards maintaining and strengthening England’s flood defence capability as a national priority. Over 5.2 million properties are at risk of flooding from rivers, the sea, or surface water, while the annual cost of flood damage is estimated to be at least £1.1 billion.

In response to the major flooding of 2007, reforms have been introduced which give local authorities the lead responsibility for managing local risks and encourage greater local engagement and decision-making on where to target spending.The Agency has effectively targeted maintenance funding on flood defences classified as high consequence if they fail. It has also improved protection to 182,000 households, against a target set by the Department of 145,000.

The Agency estimates that an increase in funding of £20 million is required on average each year between 2011 and 2035 to maintain the current level of flood protection. Levels of central government investment to the Agency have reduced by 10 per cent overall. So if central government funding does not increase after 2014-15, the necessary funding will have to be secured locally. The report identified considerable concerns among local authorities about securing sufficient local funds.

While the Department has made good progress in implementing the programme of reform, there is still uncertainty over how some key measures will be realised. For example, the new delivery arrangements will create tensions between increased local decision-making and the national accountability and performance framework. The NAO identifies the need for the Agency to take action to prevent local flood risk management arrangements undermining strategic approaches at a national level.

New legislation has clarified the responsibilities of bodies involved in local flood risk management, but effective partnership working, in practice, will be difficult. Local decision-making is also hampered by the need to cross-refer to various different plans that impact on local flood risk management.
The Agency’s support to the Regional Flood and Coastal Committees, which have a fundamental role in bringing national, sub-national and local priorities together, varies considerably across the country.

The Agency is an international pioneer in developing a national model to identify the long-term risk of flooding, which supports large-scale investment decisions. Despite this, the Agency needs to improve further the verification process of its National Flood Risk Assessment to provide greater confidence in its results.

Information  on flood risk can also be inaccessible and difficult to understand. The Agency needs to communicate in a more clear and consistent manner so that users, the public and organisations that rely on flood risk information, can make more informed decisions.
Mapping and modelling of surface and ground water flood risk is far less advanced than the Agency’s approach for rivers and the sea. In addition, it is not known how different sources of flood risk combine and interact, and the report recommends the Agency improve its understanding of interaction between different sources.

 



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Written by Sue Heard   
Monday, 07 November 2011 12:53
Last Updated on Monday, 07 November 2011 12:56
 

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