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Environment committee questions Defra funding plans for flood defence

Flood defences in England face a £600m budget shortfall as the government has failed to attract enough private sector investment, MPs have warned.

 In response to devastating floods last year across much of the country ministers announced an ambitious programme of flood defence improvement.

More than 1,400 projects are to be carried out in Lincolnshire, Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, the Humber and on the Somerset Levels by 2021, with the aim of protecting 300,000 properties and preventing £30bn worth of economic damage.

The government has committed £2.3bn over the next six years to these schemes, but that plan relies on a further £600m coming from external contributions. However the Environment Committee is now questioning if this is an achievable amount.

“We support the principle that the private sector should help to fund new flood defence schemes, but we have repeatedly expressed concern about the relatively small amounts of private sector funding secured to date under the Partnership Funding approach, with only £40m of the £148m secured up to 2014-15 coming from sources beyond local government,” Committee chair, Anne McIntosh said.

“It is unclear how the £600m target can be met, and we want Defra to demonstrate how it intends to obtain that money and to explain the impact on its investment programme if the money does not come forward.”

Her committee was also critical of Defra for failing to explain what work it had dropped to provide the emergency flood funding, or to cope with a further £200m cut to its overall budget in 2015-16. “We are not aware of any reason why Defra could not identify which specific budgets were reduced, despite our repeated requests for this information,” said the MPs.

A Defra spokesperson said: “By the end of this financial year, the partnership funding approach we introduced in 2012 is expected to have raised £140m. This compares with just £13m in the previous four years. We are working closely with the Environment Agency to attract more investment and are introducing tax relief for business contributions to flood risk management projects from 2015 onwards to encourage more investment.

“In addition, we are making record levels of capital investment, spending £2.3bn over six years in improving defences right up to 2021. This is in line with what the Environment Agency predicts will be the optimum investment for our flood defences over the next 10 years.”

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