Facing up to flooding – pressure builds for better answers

Government is facing more questions over flood protection this week as further persistent rain exposes holes in funding.

The Commons Select Committee for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs will question Environment Agency chair Philip Dilley and chief executive James Bevan this week over flooding in Cumbria. The Prime Minister is also facing a grilling in the Commons over government's performance on flood protection after further floods across Yorkshire and a string of reports pointed to a failure to adequately fund flood defences nationally.

Downing Street has announced an additional £40m to help rebuild and improve flood defences in Yorkshire. This follows similar pledges for Cumbria and Lancashire. A total of around £200m will be spent on helping the recovery, adding to £280m being spent over six years to protect homes from flooding in Yorkshire as part of a £2.3bn national programme, government said.

Reports over the weekend revealed the Association of Drainage Authorities wrote to government at the end of November over its concern for flood defences due to cuts in maintenance spending. The Environment, Food & Affairs Committee has also warned that cuts in Defra's budget threaten flood protection work.

In a statement in December likely to be echoed this week, Committee chair Neil Parish MP said: "Defra’s budget reduced by around a quarter in the previous Parliament and the department now faces a further 15% cut by 2020. Savings have to be made, but the Department must prioritise front-line work like flood protection."

The Committee's December report on Defra's performance points out that the government's flood protection programme is heavily dependent on funding from the private sector, most of which has not yet been secured.

While flooding is an emotive subject and it's easy to get caught up in the aftermath, these events are now becoming annual, so kneejerk reactions have to be avoided, said WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff's head of water development Hamish Hall "Instead we must continue adequate funding of maintenance and capital improvements and ways of adapting to a changing climate," Hall said.

"The right response needs to be multi functional, including joined up land management, better flood warnings and consideration of how the public perceives risk. Maintenance is an essential element. Some defences are very old and have to be looked after."