Wednesday, July 11, 2007

UK flood official hits back at criticism As the country counts the cost of the flood devastation the Environment Agency has hit back at criticism of its performance by MPs. Chief executive Baroness Barbara Young faced calls for her resignation when she appeared before the committee of public accounts last Wednesday (June 27) following a critical National Audit Office (NAO) report on the country's flood defences. The committee said the agency had "not delivered protection for the British people".

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said: "In view of the fact that you have manifestly failed to carry out the promises given to this committee, do you think the time has come to consider your own position?" Baroness Young replied it was not and that she was "immensely proud of what we have achieved for flood risk management over the last seven years". She added: "If we have one major problem, it is simply that there is much more we could do if we had adequate funding."

The committee grilling on the NAO report entitled Building and Maintaining River and Coastal Defences in England published last month coincided with the worst flooding disaster for years. The report noted the Environment Agency had made flood risk management improvements, including better protection for 100,000 households. But it had failed to maintain almost two thirds of flood defence systems in target condition and that since 2001 the general conditions of assets had not improved significantly. It concluded the agency could reduce the need for extra funding by improving cost effectiveness.

After the hearing, the Environment Agency released a strong statement, in which Baroness Young said: "We reject the charge that the Environment Agency has massively failed, as alleged in the commons public accounts committee." "In the last seven years, we have created defences that protect 100,000 homes in floodplains, as well as dramatically increased those receiving flood warnings and greatly improved flood mapping and forecasting. "The current floods result from extreme weather events with flooding mostly from surface water drainage and defences being overtopped by the sheer amount of water - which has been more than a 1 in 150 year events in many places. "In many situations in the current floods no amount of defences would have protected communities against the overwhelming weight of water that fell in an incredibly short period on already saturated catchments."

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