A ridiculous abrogation of the responsibilities of government

Andy Newman writes: “Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, yesterday spoke to the BBC television news making it clear that plans to address flooding in the Somerset levels, including input from locals, had to be with him within six weeks. This is a ridiculous abrogation of the responsibilities of government, as the danger of flooding is not only well established in the area, but was dramatically revealed by earlier flooding in 2013. Plans should not only have already been in place, but should have been acted upon before now.

Government policy on flood prevention is in chaos, as Friends of the Earth recently revealed that David Cameron and Owen Paterson have both issued misleading statements, falsely claiming that they were spending more than the last Labour government.

David Cameron stated last week in the House of Commons: “In this current four-year period, we are spending £2.3 billion, compared with £2.1 billion in the previous period”. His beleaguered Environment Secretary has repeated the claims on numerous occasions. But a new briefing just published quietly by Defra states that the Coalition are spending less during the current 4 years (£2.34bn between 2011 and 2015) than the last government committed under the previous 4 years (£2.37bn between 2007 and 2011).

What is more, Owen Paterson has removed “prepare for and manage risk from flood “ from Defra’s key responsibilities and issued four alternate priorities which do not include flood prevention.

The Department’s priorities until Mr Paterson’s arrival were to:

  • support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production;
  • enhance the environment and biodiversity
  • to improve quality of life;
  • and support a strong and sustainable green economy, including thriving rural communities, resilient to climate change.

In addition, Defra had two other major responsibilities:

  • prepare for and manage risk from animal and plant disease; and
  • prepare for and manage risk from flood and other environmental emergencies

Owen Paterson defined new priorities, which are:

  • to grow the rural economy;
  • to improve the environment;
  • to safeguard animal health; and
  • to safeguard plant health.”

Flood prevention was explicitly removed as a target; and indeed the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee criticized the Government in July 2013 for the delays in enacting the provisions on sustainable drainage from the Flood and Water Management Act 2010

Three years after enactment of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, its provisions on sustainable drainage have yet to be implemented. We have previously criticised the Government for failure to reach agreement with key parties, such as local authorities, on how implementation is to be funded and managed, yet Defra is unable to commit to commencement before April 2014. Sustainable drainage is a key aspect of managing flood risk and it is vital that the measures are implemented without further delay.”

The BBC recently reported yet further delay:

“There is disarray over government plans to prevent new developments making flooding worse, BBC News has learned. The 2010 Flood Act states developments must be landscaped so water from roofs and drives seeps into open ground, and does not rush into the water system. But details of the law have been delayed for more than three years.”

It is tempting to ask whether Owen Paterson’s famous skepticism over the issue of climate change influences his reluctance to acknowledge the existence of elevated likelihood of year on year flooding, and therefore his unwillingness to put in place adequate defences. In Parliament Owen Paterson has refused to endorse the Prime Minister’s view that climate change is contributing to the increase in abnormal weather events.

While the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats disingenuously present themselves as friends of rural communities, their unwillingness to plan or invest for flood defence, based upon an unholy mixture of climate change skepticism, incompetence and penny pinching, is undermining both the economy and infrastructure of areas prone to flood.” (http://www.leftfutures.org/2014/01/government-chaos-over-flooding/)

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