A FLOOD guru has hit out at Environment Agency job cuts which she says will hamper the fight against the "biggest peril" facing our country and make it harder to maintain Worcestershire's existing defences.
It may be tempting to think the people of Worcestershire secured their flood defences just in time as the Environment Agency reveals dramatic cutbacks with more than 1,500 people to lose their jobs by October. But community flood consultant Mary Dhonau of Worcester says these cuts will not only jeopardise the creation of new defences but could affect the maintenance of existing ones like those in Worcester, Kempsey, Upton, Uckinghall, Pershore and Powick.
Upton benefited from a £4.4 million scheme which includes a glass-topped wall on Waterside and an earth embankment, flood wall and flood gate to protect New Street. Worcester got a £650,000 flood alleviation scheme which opened in June 2009, consisting of a 560-metre man-made barrier.
The £1.7 million Kempsey flood defences proved their worth this Christmas and New Year, protecting homes from the Hatfield Brook. But Mrs Dhonau says it was only because ongoing work was carried out by the "amazing" EA staff that homes were protected. A sensor failed in Kempsey in November 2012, preventing the pumps from kicking in, which meant people were flooded, necessitating extra work by the EA. She said the Kempsey defence was a good example of the importance of ongoing maintenance of existing defences.
The EA budget from government for 2014/15 was confirmed before Christmas. A spokesperson said: "We are now focusing on how available resources will be applied across the Agency’s work areas, including managing flood risk and incidents. However, we are likely to reduce staff numbers from the previous forecast of around 11,250 at the end of March 2014 to around 9,700 by October 2014. We will then aim to keep numbers broadly at that level through to March 2015 dependent of course on future funding."
Mrs Dhonau's call for more funding, not cuts, comes following a backlash against the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson over flooding of the Somerset levels. In January alone the EA protected 240,000 properties from flooding while 240 homes in Worcester have been protected since the floods of 2007.
Mrs Dhonau said: "Some of these cuts will affect maintenance which inhibits the ability of the EA to do things like dredging rivers. There are to be a huge number of staff cuts, 580 in flood risk management. Flooding hasn't stopped since the beginning of December. It is the biggest natural threat, the biggest natural peril, this country faces. We are building more and more defences but the budget for maintenance is being reduced. Unless we can maintain the flood defences they are building, what is the point of them?" She said the EA had done amazing work but had been incredibly stretched since the beginning of December and had "Christmas cancelled" for a second year running as they tackled flooding. She said the EA had done sterling work but, from speaking to workers, she understood morale was low. She said for every £1 spent on flood risk management it saved £8 which was "money well spent".
An EA spokesman said: "There will never be enough money to completely eradicate the risk of flooding. Our priority is to do as much as we can with every pound of funding, and we are in the fortunate position that the new partnership funding approach is bringing in new money for flood defences that would have not otherwise been built."
Partnership funding has secured an extra £148 million of external funding on top of the £2.17 billion the Government in investing in flood prevention through to 2015.
She said: "We now expect to exceed our goal to better protect 145,000 homes from flooding and coastal erosion by 2015."