Figures show 62% cut to R&D budget to improve forecasting and defences over seven years, despite calls for such evidence in the wake of winter flooding
Funding for “vital” research to improve flood forecasts, warnings and defences has been slashed by almost two-thirds since 2009, figures obtained by the Guardian show.
The annual funding for flood research and development, which the government has not published, has fallen from £4.89m in 2008-09 to £1.85m in 2015-16, a drop of 62%.
“The government says evidence is required but they have cut the R&D [research and development] budget that could have provided it,” said Prof Edmund Penning-Rowsell, at the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University and a member of a group that advises the government on its flood R&D programme, which he also previously chaired.
“David Cameron is dead keen on security in relation to the EU issue, but what about security at home, protecting people, houses and businesses from flooding?”
The news comes as homes and businesses in the Midlands brace for further disruption on Thursday as more rain is set to exacerbate severe flooding that has already caused widespread problems in the region. Forty-six flood warnings were in place in England and Wales on Wednesday and schools and hospitals have been been closed.
Severe flooding has hit the UK numerous times in recent years, causing misery for thousands of people and billions of pounds of damage to homes and businesses across the country. After repeated flood events this winter, the government announced a national flood resilience review and called for evidence.
About a quarter of the budget comes directly from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with three-quarters coming via the government-funded Environment Agency (EA). In the last year alone, Defra’s contribution fell by over 50%.
“R&D is an important part of the EA’s work to manage flood risk. Our R&D programme has led to improved flood warning and forecasting, better incident response, and improved design and maintenance of flood defences – making communities safer,” said an EA spokesman. “Since 2010, Defra and the EA have allocated over £15m for vital research into the threat of flooding.”
Kerry McCarthy, the Labour shadow environment secretary said: “These short-sighted cuts to research funding completely undermine the government’s claims to be taking an evidence-based approach to policy. To cut Defra’s funding of this crucial R&D programme by half last year, yet again demonstrates this government’s failure to prepare and protect our country against the floods.”
Daniel Johns, head of adaptation at the Climate Change Committee, the government’s official advisers, said: “This is a worrying trend, and mirrors spending reductions on so-called ‘non-asset’ flood risk management activity over the last few years. There is always considerable scrutiny of how much the government spends on building new defences and maintaining existing assets.
“But other functions are arguably just as important and all have seen spending reductions and staff cuts over the past few years. As well as R&D, such areas include the EA’s work on flood forecasting and warning, incident management, and advising on floodplain development.”
The benefits from flood R&D were set out in a February newsletter from the group overseeing the work: “The programme, in terms of the tools, guidance and wider evidence it produces, is critical to UK flood and coastal risk management. Looking forward, the challenges from an economic, social and environmental perspective are numerous and the R&D programme has a key role in ensuring risk management is founded on robust science and evidence.”
“There is a very long queue” of projects awaiting funding, said Penning-Rowsell. “The situation is serious because, with the best will in the world, government is not going to spend much more money [on flood risk management] so we need to do things more effectively. Innovation is the way we can do more with less and innovation comes from R&D.” He said, for example, R&D had “revolutionised” flood warnings in a decade.
Emma Howard Boyd, the acting chair of the EA, told the Flood and Coast 2016 conference in February that the agency was working in a “challenging financial climate which means that we must strive continually to do more for less.”
Defra declined to comment.
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: “Pledging a major rethink on flooding, while slashing funding for fresh ideas on how to tackle it, is typical of this government’s short-sighted approach to this crucial issue. The review must heed the evidence of rising flood risk and boost the budgets for making our towns and landscapes more resilient.”
You can always count on a Conservative Government to say one thing and do another.
Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum