The Environment Agency requires scrutiny

Lord Smith has conceded that “some dredging” will have to be done after this year’s disaster

Share

As the residents of the waterlogged Somerset Levels watched the boats go by yesterday along what used to be dry land, they will not have been much cheered by the latest comments from the chairman of the Environment Agency. “There is no bottomless purse,” Chris Smith pointed out, in an article in Monday’s Daily Telegraph.

The former Labour cabinet minister was at pains to praise the work of his agency’s staff, emphasising that flood defences are very much better than they were 60 years ago – as if anyone would expect them not to be – but implied that some people’s homes, businesses or farms would always be vulnerable to flooding when there was heavy rain.

He did throw in one piece of good news. It was assumed that the agency was wholly opposed to spending what it regards as its scarce funds on dredging rivers.

But Lord Smith has conceded that “some dredging” will have to be done after this year’s disaster, while insisting that it is not the whole answer. Possibly not, but when the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, visited the Northmoor pumping station in Somerset the other day, he may have been told that its original outlet, constructed in the 1840s, is now said to be seven feet below the river bed, a measure of how much flotsam has piled up over the years.

The Environment Agency is an enormous quango, with an enormous budget. It employs 11,177 staff directly, and another 1,075 on temporary contracts. In 2012-13, its running costs were £1.2bn. Its capital works budget for that year was £219m, of which less than a tenth –£20.3m – went on improving channels for the free flow of water.

Large sums went on other forms of flood management, but the figure illustrates how little dredging rivers features on the agency’s priorities.

The purse may not be “bottomless” but if the agency does not want public anger directed at its own huge establishment, it will need to have more convincing answers next time there is rain like there has been this year.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)