MPs demand cash for defences to prevent repeat of Tyneside winter floods

A Commons report highlights the danger of a repeat of the floods which brought Newcastle to a standstill last year

Iain Buist The scene after a tidal surge caused the River Tyne to burst its banks on Newcastle's Quayside
The scene after a tidal surge caused the River Tyne to burst its banks on Newcastle's Quayside

Ministers have been urged to reverse cuts to flood defence spending to prevent a repeat of the chaos which bought Tyneside to a standstill last year.

MPs said they were concerned that massive cuts to budgets were putting communities at risk.

But they also warned that many landowners seemed unaware they they also had a responsibility to maintain flood defences on their property.

The warning was issued by the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, including North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, which held an inquiry following winter floods which devastated parts of the country.

John Millard Mary Glindon MP
Mary Glindon MP
 

Parts of the North East and Yorkshire were hit by floods late in 2013 while the South and South West of England were affected in early 2014.

A tidal surge caused the River Tyne to reach its highest level for 30 years in December, leaving parts of Newcastle’s Quayside under three feet of water when the river burst its banks.

Quayside workers were evacuated and the road was closed from the Law Courts to Chase bar following the tidal surge along the North East coastline, and traffic came to a standstill as the 400-metre stretch between the Tyne Bridge and the Millennium Bridge was flooded almost instantly.

Thousands of people also lost power as workers struggled to cope with power cuts.

But the Environment Agency, which is responsible for most flood defences, has been hit by major cuts, and overall funding for maintenance fell from £170m in 2012/13 to £147m in 2013/14.

 

The Environment Agency has also been forced to cut staff numbers. Paul Leinster, the agency’s chief executive, told the Committee that it had started the year with about 11,000 full-time staff and this had fallen to 10,600 full time staff by April 2, while the number was expected to be 10,250 full-time staff by October.

The MPs said: “Frontline services in flood and coastal risk management must not be reduced. It is essential that funding cuts do not lead to unintended consequences where funding is redirected to one operational area to the detriment of another.

“In its response to this report, we ask Defra to reassure us that there will be no cuts to frontline flood and coastal risk management jobs at the Environment Agency. Funding for maintenance is at a bare minimum and needs to increase in line with funding for new capital schemes and the increasing flood risk caused by more frequent extreme weather events.”

Concerns were also raised by Mrs Lewell-Buck as she questioned Ministers in the House of Commons.

She asked Environment Minister Dan Rogerson: “Despite the lessons of this winter, the Environment Agency is still set to lose hundreds of front-line staff because of DEFRA budget cuts.

“The agency’s chief executive has admitted that that will mean fewer resources for maintenance work. Does the Minister think it is responsible to cut the agency’s resources at a time when flood risk is increasing?”

Mr Rogerson said: “Front-line vital services provided by the agency are protected, and it will use the expertise of more than 10,000 staff who will be in place throughout this year to do their work.”

Responding to the winter floods report,Mr Rogerson said: “We are working to help people rebuild their lives and get back on their feet following the winter floods.

“We are spending £3.2bn over the course of this parliament on flood management and protection from coastal erosion. That is more than ever before.”

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