MILLIONS of pounds are being spent on new temporary flood defences after a Government review, but no specific proposals have been announced to prevent further floods in the Calder Valley, despite the area being used as a “survey area” in the report.
The National Flood Resilience Review was set up after devastating floods last winter across parts of Yorkshire, to assess how the country could be better protected from future flooding and increasing extreme weather.
Storms last December inflicted misery on parts of West, South and North Yorkshire and Cumbria, where in some places flood defences did not work, forcing thousands of people from their homes over Christmas. Some have still not been able to return.
The long-awaited report outlines £12.5 million for temporary defences such as barriers and high-volume water pumps.
But York and Leeds, where some of the worst flooding occurred, are barely mentioned in today’s report, which instead focuses on a pilot project in Sheffield, which the government says will “enable the city to identify development of a type that will beautify the city-scape, unlock opportunities for urban regeneration and fit with local development priorities”.
The report includes commitments from utilities to increase protection of key local infrastructure such as phone networks and water treatment works.
It also sets out a new stress test of the risk of flooding from rivers and seas around England.
Met Office forecasts of extreme rainfall scenarios will be linked with Environment Agency modelling for the first time to assess flood risk.
The £12.5 million will see temporary defences held at seven strategic locations around the country, and will mean that by next winter the Environment Agency will have four times more temporary barriers than last year.
The Government also said it would use the evidence of the review to plan investment in flood defences after 2021.
It has already committed £2.5 billion between 2015 and 2021 to strengthen flood and coastal defences, as well as spending £1 billion on maintaining defences, officials said.
But Dr Stephen Gibbs, whose family has been flooded out twice in Carlisle and who chairs the city’s Flood Action Group, criticised the report.
The university lecturer suggested the Environment Agency was simply not equipped to do the job of tackling flooding and that the whole problem needs a re-think and change in approach.
He said: “Flooding is the biggest threat to life and limb in the UK since World War Two.
“The issue is Government statutory powers to say ‘We will defeat flooding’.
“The Environment Agency have a pattern - they have a flood, they have a review, then they get out the Elastoplast and hope for the best until the next flood.
“Temporary flood defences are part of the filibustering that the EA are having to do.
“The Dutch defeated flooding because their senior politicians sat down and said ‘How can we defeat this?’ And they defeated flooding.”
Dr Gibbs said local councils had some responsibilities for flood defences but they were “hanging on by the skin of their teeth” while the EA is responsible for everything from issuing fishing licences and boat permits and not equipped to deal with an issue needing “a large-scale strategic approach”.
He said a cross-party approach involving senior politicians was needed for a “root-and- branch” change to the way Government approaches the problem of flooding.
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom insisted the report “set out clear actions” to respond quickly in the event of future flooding.
She said: “Work is already under way towards £12.5 million of new temporary defences stationed around England, better protection for our infrastructure and new flood modelling that makes better use of data and technology.
“We are absolutely committed to reducing the risk of flooding by investing £2.5 billion up to 2021 so we can help protect families, homes and businesses this winter.”
The Government has faced pressure from councils whose communities are at risk of flooding over delays in unveiling the review, chaired by senior Tory Oliver Letwin, which was due to be published in the summer.
Parts of the UK saw dramatic amounts of rainfall in last winter’s storms, with 13.44in (34cm) falling in Honister, Cumbria, in 24 hours.
A near real-time analysis by scientists estimated the record rain during Storm Desmond was around 40% more likely because of climate change, and experts say intense rain and storms will become more common in the UK as global temperatures rise.
The new review said the Met Office has concluded that winter monthly rainfall totals could plausibly be 20% higher than recent past extremes in some parts of the country and up to 30% higher in other parts.
It warned that, in the next decade, there was a “non-negligible chance” of similar or even greater scale than the floods last year or those which left parts of Somerset under water for weeks in the winter of 2013/2014.
The Government would look at ways of managing water in the natural environment to reduce flooding, with a pilot scheme in Cumbria.
Additional funding for temporary defences, on top of the £12.5 million, will be considered as further findings from the review emerge.
And by Christmas this year, water and telecoms utilities will implement plans for short-term improvements in flood protection, including obtaining, in advance, stock piles of temporary defences and having site-specific plans for deploying them.
Where they do not already have longer term plans to protect their assets, water, telecoms and electricity utilities will develop this year and then implement measures to permanently improve the resilience of the services they provide to significant local communities, the report said.
David Behrens, Digital Editor