The private sector has contributed just 2% to flood defences in England, or £37m, despite government efforts to attract such investment as a new source of funding. The revelation will add pressure to ministers already under fire for cuts to flood defence budgets and the Environment Agency.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson has been criticised after weeks of severe storms caused widespread flooding and ministers recently had to admit their claims to be spending more than ever before on flood defences were incorrect. Annual spending will fall by 15% in real termsunder the coalition.
On entering office in 2010, the coalition cut annual flood defence spending by over a quarter but announced a partnership funding programme which would “use of other sources of funding to supplement money from government” and would “allow local communities to have a bigger say in what is done to protect them.” Ministers said: “As a result, more schemes are likely to go ahead.”
Ministers said earlier in January that £148m of partnership funding had been obtained. But the Guardian has learned that only 25% – £37m – is coming from private sector sources, from developers or companies who will benefit from the better flood protection of at-risk land. The rest is coming from local authorities, despite their budgets also having been heavily cut by the coalition. The total spend from 2011-2015 will be £2.34bn, making the £37m private sector funding less than 2% of the total.
Furthermore, flooding minister Dan Rogerson acknowledged that only£67.6m of the partnership funding had been delivered by the end of 2013.
Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said: “Despite repeatedly claiming that £148m in partnership funding has been raised to help tackle flooding, minsters have been forced to admit that they have secured less than half of this amount. David Cameron must stop trying to take credit for flood protection funding when it simply does not exist.”
She said: “On top of cuts to flood protection budgets across this parliament, this further gaping hole in the funding that has been promised is a disaster for the communities affected and will pile more pressure on struggling local authorities. It is now even more urgent that Owen Paterson produces the review of flood protection funding by the end of January as the prime minister promised.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Partnership funding will bring in £148m by 2015 and is helping to deliver better protection against flooding to more communities.”
Cameron addressed the extreme flooding of the low-lying Somerset Levels in parliament on Wednesday. He said dredging would begin as soon as possible, although the Environment Agency has said it was “often not the best long-term or economic solution”. Cameron appeared to overrule Paterson who, after being heckled by flooded-out homeowners in the Levels on Monday, had announced a six-week review. The government’s emergency Cobra committee met again on Wednesday to address flooding and has now met over 10 times since early December.
Guy Shrubsole, at Friends at the Earth, said: “It is unforgivable that the government should cut public funding for something as vital a flood protection and rely on an unproven, private finance mechanism. The government’s own advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, say there is a £500m hole in the government’s funding plan. Ministers just need to get with it and provide funding on a level commensurate with the problem.”
Government scientists have identified rising flood risk as the greatest impact of climate change in the UK.