Central government funding for existing flood infrastructure has only increased by £3m since 2009/10, according to the latest analysis from public sector procurement specialist the Scape Group.
The report comes at a time when the number of homes under threat from flooding in England is forecast to double to five million in less than 50 years, with Scape claiming that funding for flood defences urgently needs to increase by 45%.
The research finds that, while total expenditure has increased in real terms from £802m in 2009/10 to £870m in 2018/19, the majority of the £64m increase has been in capital spending, while revenue spending, which goes towards staff and office costs, as well as the vital maintenance of existing assets, has fluctuated from a low of £272m in 2013/14 to a high of £344m in 2017/18.
Even funding for capital projects, which has increased to £453m in 2018/19, equates to only a £34m annual real terms increase in central government funding since 2009/10. The research reveals that in England there is an urgent need to increase funding over the next ten years, with Scape Group recommending a 45% increase to allow sufficient prevention and protection and address the rising threat from flooding and coastal erosion.
Following their analysis, Scape Group has made a series of recommendations for the construction industry, policymakers and local government to help implement more efficient and effective ways of addressing the impact climate change is having on our inland and coastal flood defences:
- A 45% increase in flood and coastal erosion risk management funding for England;
- Increased collaboration between local authorities;
- A holistic view of flooding types to drive cohesive and robust flood protection strategies;
- Adopt innovative approaches that utilise natural flood protection methods.
Mark Robinson, Scape Group chief executive, said: “The data shows a limited real term increase over the last decade and we urgently need the amount of funding for flood protection to increase. We also need to be thinking critically about how we work together more effectively. Harnessing the knowledge and expertise of our experts and collaborating to operate across boundaries to deliver essential infrastructure needs to be a priority.
“It is especially concerning to see that revenue expenditure has barely risen over the last ten years, with real term growth of just £3m. A lot of our water infrastructure is from the Victorian era, it is hundreds of years old and desperately needs to be maintained and upgraded, but we are in the difficult, almost impossible situation of having competing pressures on the limited resources we have at our disposal.”
The report, A Climate Emergency: Flood Defences for the Future, also looks at regional variations in contributions towards flood and coastal erosion risk management.
The analysis found that, despite the area consistently experiencing extreme weather and flash flooding, spending in Yorkshire and the Humber has decreased, falling in the last few years by £7m, from a high of £21.7m in 2016/17 to £14.91m in 2018/19.
Local levy contributions to the Environment Agency from local authorities also vary across the country, with London consistently making the largest contribution at over £5.9m for each of the last four years; a similar contribution to that of the west Midlands, north east and Yorkshire and the Humber combined.
“In the 21st century, an increasing number of households are going to be living in areas at high risk of flooding, due to new homes being built on flood plains and the rapid erosion of our coastlines. In less than 50 years, the number of homes under threat in England is forecast to double to five million. Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the country today. It is one of the greatest challenges of our time and it needs our immediate and consistent attention,” said Robinson.
Dean Banks, chief executive officer of Balfour Beatty, said: “The construction and infrastructure industry mitigate flood risk by building defences and implementing resilience measures. And when extreme weather hits, we are a critical part of the response: getting the roads, buildings, bridges and other affected infrastructure back to work to ensure that communities can recover as quickly as possible.
“But there is more to do. Engaging the construction and infrastructure industry earlier and proactively before flooding happens can help reduce the risk and make the clean-up run more smoothly. We also need more partnership working between local authorities, and a more strategic, longer-term funding approach for flood and coastal risk management. The price of flooding to local communities and to the wider economy far outstrips the cost of building and maintaining effective flood defences and resilience measures.”