NuGen Properties

Campaigners expose flood defence neglect

A study of Environment Agency data for Greenpeace’s Unearthed journalism project has found that more than 4,000 flood defences are categorised as being in a poor or very poor condition.

These defences range from flood walls and embankments to outfall pipes and culverts.

England has 64,000 “high consequence” flood defences, of which 4,200 were rated last year as either condition four, meaning poor, or five, meaning very poor.

This means that 7% of the country’s most important flood defences are deemed to be in a poor state, according to data obtained under freedom of information rules. Nearly 900 of the defences – 1.3% of the total – were judged to be in very poor condition.

Only 3% were deemed to be “very good” or condition one last year, while a third were classed “good”. The majority – 57% – were rated “fair”.

The Environment Agency told Unearthed that it routinely inspects flood defences and when there is danger of a flood, emergency repairs are carried out. It clarified that when an asset is below the required condition, it does not necessarily mean that it has structurally failed, or that performance in a flood is compromised.

A spokesperson said that the agency had invested £200m between April 2022 and March 2023 “to ensure our assets were winter ready”.

While most of England’s flood defences are maintained by the Environment Agency, more than a quarter are privately owned and maintained by unnamed third parties. The data shows that privately owned defences are nearly twice as likely to be in poor condition: 1,500 of privately owned defences – 9% of the total – were in a poor or very poor condition last year, compared with just 5% of assets maintained by the Environment Agency.

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