The south-east of England is to receive five times more money per head for flood defences in the coming years than parts of the north which suffered some of the worst damage during last winter’s series of storms, an analysis of Government figures has revealed.
The region’s share of the £4.1 billion set aside by ministers to spend on new flood prevention schemes over the next five years and beyond is set to be much higher per person than anywhere else in England, prompting accusations that communities devastated by the recent floods have already been “forgotten”.
The south-east is to receive £167 per head on new flood defence and coastal erosion schemes, the figures show. The sum is almost double the £92 per person earmarked for Yorkshire and the Humber, and more than five times the £30 set to be spent in the North West – all of which were badly affected by the winter storms.
The apparent north-south divide appears to undermine comments made by David Cameron during a visit to flood-hit York in December, when he claimed that the Government was spending “more per head on flood defences in the north of England than we do in the south of England”.
The figures are contained within a breakdown of spending in the new national infrastructure delivery plan published by the Government last week, which outlines £4.1bn of capital investment in schemes from 2016/2017 to 2022 and beyond, including major projects in Oxford, Lincolnshire, London and the Fylde Peninsula in Lancashire.
An analysis by the Press Association of the six major projects and 23 programmes set to receive funding from next year shows that £75 per person will be spent in the East Midlands, £57 per person in the South West and £40 in Eastern England. In the North East, spending per person will be just £33.
The apparent inconsistency is likely to fuel anger among communities in the north affected by last winter’s severe flooding. In December, Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake said the floods were a “preventable disaster” exacerbated by an “unequal distribution of resources” by the Government.
Alex Cunningham, the shadow Environment Minister and Labour MP for Stockton North, said: “These figures will be of real concern to communities who feel forgotten by the Government, particularly those who have suffered several flooding incidents in recent years.”
The regional breakdown does not take into account around £700 million of the £4.1 billion described as spending in “England”, part of which is £120m earmarked for additional flood defences in areas including York, the Calder Valley and Cumbria.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the per person figures were “misleading” because they did not take into account projects where the benefits would cross different regional boundaries, proposed schemes that were still being assessed and spending on maintenance.
“Rainfall does not respect man-made regional boundaries so the Government spends money on flood defences and flood recovery where it is needed most, whether that's north, south, east or west,” she added. “We are exceeding the Government's manifesto commitment by building 1,500 flood defence schemes that will better protect 300,000 more homes.”
In Scotland, local councils are responsible for flood defence investment but many are having to cope on increasingly tight budgets. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which is responsible for flood forecasting, is having its budget cut by £2.4m in the next financial year.
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