Environment Agency chair says it faces “difficult decisions” over spending
Chair of the Environment Agency, Chris Smith, has warned that there are “difficult decisions” to be made regarding spending on flood prevention.
The floods and gales which have recently battered Britain have left 250,000 homes without power, as well as causing major disruption to public transport services and causing roads to be impassable after the wettest January on record since 1910.
The Environment Agency currently has drainage pumps in place in the worst affected areas such as the Somerset Levels, an area of wetland in the South West, which have been under water for more than a month. Parts of the area can only be accessed by boat.
Smith warned that limits on environmental spending were going to force the Environment Agency to make potentially unpopular decisions. He said: “Rules from successive governments give the highest priority to lives and homes; and I think most people would agree that this is the right approach, but this involves tricky issues of policy and priority: town or country, front rooms or farmland?”
The comments come at a time when environment minister Owen Paterson has come under fire from the opposition for his reluctance to spend money to prevent flooding. Paterson, however, praised the Environment Agency and promised that all possible action to help flood victims was being taken.
“Everything possible is being done…. to help those affected by flooding and to prepare for the further bad weather and high tides forecast ,” he said.
“The Environment Agency continues to work hard to protect communities from flooding and alert them to the risks. 71,000 properties are currently being protected and the government is offering full assistance to the local authorities and emergency services. All requests for support have been met,” he continued.
Lord Smith also praised the work of the environment agency, but suggested that there was more that could be done. “More than a million homes have been defended, up and down the country, over the past couple of months…. I’m proud of what the Environment Agency and its staff have done. We now need to try to do even better, especially for Somerset,” he concluded.