THE Government should place greater emphasis on the economic importance of farmland when it allocates money for flood prevention schemes, an influential group of MPs says.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, made up of 11 Conservative, Labour and LibDem MPs, this week published a report on the devastating winter floods.
It says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) needs to revisit its funding policy, which prioritises “high-consequence” schemes that protect the greatest number of properties from flooding.
The Efra Committee’s report said: “We acknowledge the need to protect life and property adequately from the impacts of flooding but this does not mean that other imperatives, including the need to protect farmland, should be ignored.”
The report says about 49,000 hectares of agricultural land was flooded in a single week in February 2014, including about 14,000 hectares on the Somerset Levels and Moors.
It adds: “Agriculture is a major industry and an important rural employer and we remain concerned that the current method for allocating flood defence funding fails to recognise the importance and value of agricultural land.
“We recommend that Defra revisits its policy for flood and coastal risk management funding allocation to recognise the economic and social value of agricultural land.”
The report has been welcomed by the NFU, whose deputy president Minette Batters said: “Future Government policy must ensure that farmland is prioritised in flood risk management.
“We are therefore pleased that the Efra Committee has called for Defra to revisit its flood funding policy to recognise the economic and social value of farming and agricultural land and ensure there is sufficient investment in maintenance work.”
The Efra Committee report says too much money has been spent on costly flood repair schemes, and not enough is being set aside for long-term maintenance, including dredging.
It says: “Funding for maintenance is at a bare minimum and needs to increase in line with funding for new capital schemes and the increasing flood risk caused by more frequent extreme weather events."
The report also asks for reassurances there will be no reduction to frontline jobs in flood and coastal risk management at the Environment Agency.