It is evident that the Government, its departments and the quangos are all playing a tasteless game of pass the parcel over responsibility for the crisis. The reality is that the EU, the EA and the Government must share the blame, because they all played a part, writes UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew MEP.
•The Environmental Agency (EA) took over the National Rivers Authority in 1996 and virtually stopped all dredging activity. River boards, dedicated river engineers and 240 local flood defence committees all came under EA control. The EA and its advisory body, Natural England put most of our rivers under the Sites of Special Scientific Interest, which forms part of the EU’s Habitat Directive. This is when the EA began to put the Great Crested Newt and other environmental priorities ahead of local people and their property.
The EU has left it to the member states to make their own plans for flood prevention. However, it generated major legislation, no fewer than six directives affecting flood control. None explicitly prevents the EA from undertaking flood prevention work, but this legislation seriously complicates matters and uses ambiguous language. It also encourages the EA’s environmental obsessions. All this additional bureaucracy prevents swift, practical action on flooding. The EU legislation also considerably adds to the EA’s costs.
The EU’s Waste Framework Directive also plays a major role by placing severe restrictions on the disposal of dredged spoil from the rivers and cost has become the driving force controlling dredging maintenance of the UK’s rivers. A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that the EA spent £2.4 million last year on PR but would not spend the £1.7m it would have cost to dredge the rivers Tone and Parrett in Somerset. EA Chairman, Lord Smith, has blamed the Treasury for implementing strict spending controls which only allowed his quango to spend £400,000 on dredging in Somerset.
It is evident that the Government, its departments and the quangos are all playing a tasteless game of pass the parcel over responsibility for the crisis. The reality is that the EU, the EA and the Government must share the blame, because they all played a part. However, the blame game does not help the victims of this horrendous bureaucratic logjam, many of whom have lost their homes and/or their livelihoods. It is iniquitous that the Government will pour £11.6 billion into overseas aid in 2014, while lack of funding will leave residents and businesses in Somerset flooded out for months on end.
Dredging by itself may not have prevented the Somerset floods but the EA’s own computer modelling demonstrated that, if the carrying capacity of the rivers Parrett and Tone were restored from its existing 60% to a potential of around 90%, the severity of flood events would be: ‘significantly reduced’.
An all-party inquiry is now needed, taking evidence from those who know the facts, including local people. The imposition of a legally binding mandate on the Environment Agency should follow, together with ring-fenced funding, to restore land drainage and river dredging to their proper levels.
This article appeared in the print edition of the East Anglian Daily Times, 18.02.2014