February 29, 2024

Ministers have been told they will be “punished” by voters after analysis revealed the decline of vital flood defenses England.

The proportion of critical assets falling into disrepair has almost tripled in the West Midlands and the East of England since 2018, leaving thousands of homes and businesses more vulnerable to storms.

Critical assets are defined as those where there is a high risk to life and property if they fail.

The east of England, spanning the Conservative heartlands of Suffolk to Bedfordshire and Essex, has one of the highest percentages of dilapidated flood defenses in England, with nearly one in 11 – more than 850 assets – rated as “poor” or “very poor”. ” be considered. by Environment Agency inspectors.

Chart showing percentage decline in condition of flood defenses classified as poor or very poor in English regions

Steve Reed, the shadow environment secretary, said: “The Conservatives’ patchwork approach to flooding has devastated communities and cost the economy billions of pounds.”

Using Environment Agency data obtained by Greenpeace’s investigative arm, Unearthed, the Guardian tracked the state of England’s vital flood defenses from 2018 to 2022.

The analysis revealed a sharp rise in the proportion of critical assets falling into disrepair in many parts of the country.

In the eastern Midlands, which was inundated by Storm Babet in October, the proportion of flood weather in the worst conditions has almost doubled in the past five years.

Along with the east of England, the north west has the highest rate of flood defenses damaged to the point of being almost useless, with one in 11 defenses considered to be in disrepair in 2022 – up from 815 – up from one in 16 in 2018.

In the West Midlands, the rate of damaged assets rose from one in 44 in 2018 to one in 14 last year.

The number of damaged flood defenses has increased in the last five years across all regions. However, the analysis looked at the proportion of flood weather that has fallen into disrepair rather than the number because thousands more assets have been built since 2018.

Experts said the picture of decay was likely to worsen after higher costs and budget shortfalls forced the Environment Agency to to procure a quarter of its new flood defense projects.

Georgia Whitaker, Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner, said the analysis painted a “grim and desperate picture”.

Chart showing state of district flood defenses v level of flood risk

She said there was “absolutely no excuse for this lack of preparation” from the government, adding: “If politicians fail to commit to decisive climate action, they risk being punished at the ballot box.”

In total, 4,204 of England’s main flood defenses were in a poor or very poor condition in 2022. This accounts for approximately one in 15 of the total, compared to the one in 25 registered four years ago.

Of these, 856 were rated as very poor, meaning they had “severe defects leading to total performance failure”, rendering them essentially useless.

The remaining 3,348 were in poor condition, meaning they have defects that “significantly reduce” their performance.

The Government’s Environment Department (Defra) claimed that more than 61,500 flood defenses met the required condition and that 2,400 did not, but the Guardian was unable to verify this data.

A spokesman said mitigating measures, such as increased inspections, would be introduced when assets were not found to be up to standard.

Defra said: “Flooding can be devastating for communities – that’s why we’re investing a record £5.2bn between 2021 and 2027 to better protect hundreds of thousands of properties, including more than £200m a year for flood defense maintenance. “

The Environment Agency has reduced the number of homes it expects to protect from flooding over the next five years as higher costs have forced it to scale back projects.

A National Audit Office report said last month that the agency had promised to protect 336,000 properties from the risk of flooding by 2027 – but that this had been reduced to 200,000 – a 40% reduction.

The Environment Agency has also removed 500 of the 2,000 new flood defense projects originally included in its six-year flood and coastal erosion programme.

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