Flood defence spending ‘biased towards South'
The allocation of flood defence spending in the UK has been described as biased towards the south of England because it favours areas with high house prices.
The analysis by the Press Association found that the value of assets protected is a key element in the economic formula for deciding where taxpayers money should be spent, skewing the system towards wealthier areas where property prices are higher. The South East has received the majority of investment in flood defence infrastructure as a result, the report suggested.
To secure Government funding, a flood protection scheme has to demonstrate that it provides more in benefits than it costs to implement and maintain the defences. This involves calculating the economic losses avoided through the scheme, which includes potential damage to homes and other buildings and their contents.
Homes are divided into 28 categories based on their age, size and type, according to the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management manual, with larger properties given a higher value. The likely value for the contents of a house are also estimated based on housing type, while Treasury guidelines are to cap potential losses at the market value of the house; both of these mechanisms can be viewed as favouring schemes which protect wealthier areas.
“This capping at market values creates regional distribution issues (as houses within the M25 are significantly more expensive than comparable houses in the north of England) for which there is, at present, no official counter-mechanism,” reads the flood manual.
The Government has recognised the potential distortion and has set aside a proportion of funding for schemes that reduce flood risk for homes in deprived areas. Moreover, the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review Report (published in September 2016) includes a commitment to focus on Core Cities in England, starting with a pilot project in Sheffield, with the ultimate aim of delivering flood defence levels similar to that of London. If the pilot approach proves to be successful, the intention is to broaden it out to those other cities where the level of flood protection is below that of London.
Around 5.4M properties are at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea, surface water or both in England. Annual flood damage costs for the whole of the UK are estimated to be in the region of £1.1BN.
Responding to the report, an Environment Agency spokesman said: “We know the devastating impact that flooding has on lives and livelihoods. We invest in flood defences where the risk is highest, wherever it is across the country and wherever it will benefit the most people and property. We give each scheme careful consideration – and this includes additional weighting for regional economic differences.”
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