There could be “dozens” of flood measures among the casualties of the spending round including a £100m flood prevention scheme in Leeds.
Caroline Spelman, secretary of state for the environment, said on Wednesday that although the floods budget would be cut by 20 per cent much of this would be found through efficiencies. But Defra has since admitted that proposed flood defence projects would be cancelled, although it has not yet offered any details.
The budget for building new flood defences and upgrading existing defences has been reduced from an average of £335m a year to £261m a year for the next four years.
You could say this is unsurprising in the context of wider cuts to almost all parts of government. But it flies in the face of comments by ministers: such as Ms Spelman’s insistence during the summer that she would ensure the protection of vital spending on the key areas of animal health and flood prevention.
Sky News asked Ms Spelman earlier this month if flood spending would be cut. Her reply seemed categoric: ”No, those are all the sorts of things that I will try and protect. The maintenance of our flood defences is very important.”
George Osborne also sought to give the same impression in Wednesday’s spending review when he promised a ”major improvement” in flood defences.
The Environment Agency, which looks after flood defences, said that while schemes that were already under way would be completed, it was too early to say for definite which of the schemes not yet started would be cancelled.
However, FT Westminster understands that the Leeds scheme is one of more than 70 that are now under review.
A major flood in Leeds would cause at least £400m in damages, according to an Environment Agency report, and affect 4,500 commercial and residential properties. At present, the city has no flood defences, though twice in the last five years it has come close to serious flooding.
Ahead of the CSR, the Association of British Insurers urged the government not to cut flood defences, warning it would be a “false economy”.
The Institution of Civil Engineers has has today warned that these cuts could end up costing more than they save:
According to the Environment Agency, for every pound spent on flood defences we save eight in the future in terms of reduced damage. By this argument, and in the worst case scenario, a reduction of £150m in the budget over the next four years could cost the public circa £4.8bn in the future.
(Capital spending on flood defences is falling by 34 per cent with £2bn allocated to coastal and flood defences over the four year review period, 2011 to 2015. This compares with the £2.15bn commitment made in the previous three year period, 2008-2011.)