A lack of cash for flood defences is increasing the risk of serious problems in many areas if winter storms hit, a spending watchdog has warned.
The National Audit Office (NAO) says half of the country’s flood defences – more than 1,300 schemes – are only being maintained to a “minimal level”.
But the Government insists there has been a real-term increase in flood defence funding.
Somerset was particularly hard-hit by the winter floods
Whitehall made an extra £270m available following the winter storms last year, which saw widespread flooding during the wettest winter on record, including an additional £35m in each of the next two years for maintaining defences.
The NAO report said the additional money restored funding for maintaining defences to 2010-11 levels in cash terms.
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But in real terms – adjusted for inflation – the report found it represented a 6% drop in spending for maintenance since the Tory-led coalition took office.
Without the extra cash from the Government following the winter floods, total funding for flood protection has fallen by 10% since 2010.
While the Environment Agency has improved efficiency, the increased risk of extreme weather events as a result of climate change means current budgets will be under pressure, the NAO said.
Responding to the report, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge, said: “I am deeply concerned that current levels of spending are not enough to maintain flood protection, with five million homes at risk of flooding and people’s livelihoods in jeopardy.
“It is alarming that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has cut spending on flood protection by 10% between 2011-12 and 2014-15 and it had to react with an emergency bailout of £270m following the winter floods in 2013.”
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The agency, as it recognises, will need to make difficult decisions about whether to continue maintaining assets in some areas or let them lapse, increasing in future both the risk of floods and the potential need for more expensive ad-hoc emergency solutions.”
But Floods Minister Dan Rogerson said: “The NAO has drawn conclusions on funding based on inappropriate comparisons.
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“We have invested £3.2bn in flood management and defences over the course of this parliament which is a real term increase and half a billion more than in the previous parliament.
“Not only are we spending more than ever before, but we are also ensuring that our investment strategy will deliver long-term value for money.”