Flood-defence plans are submerged by Whitehall cutbacks

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The Independent Online

Several new flood-relief schemes designed to protect thousands of properties have been put on hold, because the Environment Agency's flood-defence budget was slashed by £95m, or 27 per cent, for next year.

Schemes in the North of England are particularly hard hit. Among those postponed are important flood-defence projects in Leeds, York, Thirsk and Morpeth.

The Leeds scheme has the highest profile. It is designed to prevent the city centre from being flooded by the River Aire. And at an estimated cost of £200m, it would have been the most expensive inland flood-defence project ever carried out. Another major project currently shelved is at Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire, a small town on the River Great Ouse, which was to cost £1m and protect 660 properties.

However, 39 new flood-defence projects are going ahead, 21 of which will provide extra protection to more than 13,000 households, the Government announced, with the remainder providing "vital repairs and safety enhancements" to existing defences.

No list of the postponed projects was made available and news of them slowly filtered out yesterday, a situation which led to sharp exchanges in the House of Commons between the Environment Minister Richard Benyon and the Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh, who said that "many schemes" had been cancelled.

Mr Benyon said: "I understand the concerns of people and honourable members who are worried that a particular scheme is not on the indicative list for funding.

"I should stress however that this does not amount to the Government cancelling schemes or saying that any particular scheme cannot go ahead in the future. The method of Government funding for schemes starting 2012-13 and beyond is currently under review."

Among the new schemes given the go-ahead are a £5.7m project to protect 180 properties from the River Derwent at Keswick in Cumbria, which was devastated by flood waters in November 2009, as well as an £8m scheme to reduce the risk of coastal erosion and flooding to more than 1,600 homes and businesses in parts of Suffolk, including the Port of Felixstowe.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed that capital funding for flood defence was dropping from £354m to £259m in the next financial year, a decrease of 27 per cent.