Flood control plans inadequate says NFU
Farmers have criticised plans by the Government to control the flooding of agricultural land as both inadequate and misdirected.
With hundreds of farmers in Somerset still suffering severe financial loss from last year's deluge, which saw the Levels under water for months, the proposals simply do not come up to what is wanted and expected, says the National Farmers' Union (NFU).
The new Government plans to maintain waterways are inadequately funded, leave many areas vulnerable to flooding and do not address a number of critical questions, according to the NFU.
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Its firm and outspoken response comes following the reply from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to an all-party parliamentary committee report into managing flood risk. The NFU says Defra sidesteps key issues raised by itself and other organisations regarding watercourse maintenance and rural flooding.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: "While we are pleased to see that flood management remains a priority for Defra, we are worried that some of the key concerns about rural flooding raised by the committee's report have gone unanswered.
"Defra's reply fails to answer questions that both we and other organisations highlighted regarding the maintenance of flood defences, and particularly watercourses."
He said that in its reply, Defra emphasised the £5 million extra funding for maintenance work in 2015–2016, but neglected to mention the £45 million of cuts to the Environment Agency's revenue budget since 2010.
Mr Raymond said of the impact on waterways: "The NFU believes this will seriously undermine the Environment Agency's ability to maintain waterways which, crucially, will only have £20 million spent on maintenance – a figure that should be substantially higher and is just not enough to do the job effectively. As its revenue funding is restricted, the Environment Agency must provide increasing value for money from its maintenance activities, with less work being conducted on key watercourses in rural areas.
"The worrying truth is that the majority of main rivers in such areas are judged by the Environment Agency to be of 'minimum need', where only works for legal requirements such as health and safety are being provided on the ground."
He stressed that while the NFU welcomed river maintenance pilot schemes announced earlier in the week, the department must address the strategic long-term investment needed not just to build new defences, but to maintain the waterways to reduce the risk of flooding in a changing climate.
The Environment Agency's flood and coastal erosion revenue budget has fallen by almost £50 million since 2010, from £275 million in 2010–2011 to £226 million in 2014–2015.