England’s Vital Flood Defences Are Almost Useless

As we read that Lancashire Labour, via Nikki Hennessy is concerned about flooding “I want to know about your flooding issues in Ormskirk. Please would [you] fill in (and share) my survey so I can take up concerns. ‘Many thanks, County Councillor Nikki Hennessy. Ormskirk”, perhaps she hasn’t spoken to her Labour Borough councillors recently? Those in Burscough?

 Why just Ormskirk? Why not read the Burscough Residents Flooding Group website? Flooding in Labour West Lancashire, courtesy of the Tory County, in cahoots with UU, is almost permanent. We know that thousands of England’s vital flood defences were in such a state of ruin last year they would fail to protect communities from extreme weather. Why do a public survey? Oh, it’s coming up to election time. Must be seen to care!

More than 3,400 of England’s “high consequence” flood assets, defined as those where there is a high risk to life and property if they fail, were judged by the Environment Agency to be in such a bad condition they were almost useless. More than one in 20 of the country’s crucial flood defences were in disrepair in 2019-20, the highest proportion in years. This rose to nearly one in 10 in the regions battered by Storm Christoph last week.

Just check with Unearthed, part of Greenpeace UK that declares “The poor state of so many critical flood defences in England is putting thousands of people and homes at risk. This is unacceptable”. Of course it is.

The Environment Agency said the 2020 recovery programme inspected more than 20,000 assets and that they were “winter ready” either through repairs or, if not, “robust contingency plans were in place”. It said that 95% of its 78,000 flood assets, which range from embankments to culverts and tidal barriers, were in good condition and that repairs were prioritised when there was “significant threat to lives and livelihoods”.

But Unearthed analysis found that 3,460 of England’s most important flood defences were judged by the Environment Agency to be in a poor or very poor condition in 2019-20. This was 5.9% of the total, the highest proportion in years, up from 4% in 2017-18. And of the 3,460, 791 were judged “very poor”, meaning they had “severe defects resulting in complete performance failure”, essentially rendering them useless. The remaining 2.669 were in poor condition, meaning they have defects that would “significantly reduce” their performance.

And who manages this? Just under half of England’s 59,000 vital flood defences are managed by a complex array of third parties, including government departments, local authorities and private landowners. The figures show that 8% of those managed by third parties are in poor or very poor condition, compared to 4% of those overseen by the Environment Agency. And while major floods had been expected every 15 to 20 years in the last century, in the past decade this has shortened to every two to five years.

It’s all about money, or lack of it. The Environment Agency needs £1bn a year to build and maintain England’s flood defences, it’s been promised £5.2bn by the government for 2,000 new projects up to 2027.

Why not ask County Cllr David O’Toole about his “every new development means extra income” for UU specifically but the local authorities too? How can flooded West Lancashire be a great place to live, as he claimed he was campaigning for back in 2010?

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