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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 August 2006, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Flood defence spending to be cut
Clean-up operation in Boscastle
The scheme will see the River Valency widened
Efforts to prevent floods are under threat as the government's environment department is forced to cut 200m in the next six months.

The Environment Agency, which runs flood defences, is among those being hit by cutbacks at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The cuts are at least partly being made to make up for losses from the failures in the new subsidy system for farmers.

The department says it will try to ensure key services are not at risk.

Delays forecast

The Environment Agency in England is one of the worst affected, losing 14.9m for flood defences, 8.5m from spending on environmental protection and another 300,000 from business waste recycling schemes.

The agency was told it had to cut 4.4m in April but late last month was told to cut another 23.7m.

Agency chief executive Dame Barbara Young told BBC News 24 the cuts would mean delays to some projects, including mapping for floods and improving warning systems.

Capital funds for building flood defences would not be cut but regional officials were being asked to reduce their maintenance budgets.

This is an incredibly foolish false economy when we know flood risk is increasing
Chris Huhne
Lib Dem spokesman

She said flood defences were one of the agency's highest priorities and she did not want to see floods claiming lives this winter.

"Everyone is very much aware that even in the middle of a drought floods are never too far away and climate change is making that worse," she said.

Lady Young said she wanted to see the 500m currently spent on flood defences rise to 1bn over time.

'Ongoing review'

Natural England, the new conservation organisation which is due to take over from the Countryside Agency this autumn, is also reportedly facing cuts of 12m, according to the Guardian newspaper.

In a letter seen by the newspaper, chairman Sir Richard Doughty told Environment Secretary David Miliband: "The scale of these cuts risks the wheels coming off the organisation even before it reaches October's launch pad."

A Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: "It is sensible for all government departments to review spending on a regular basis to ensure that public money is being used in the most effective way.

"Recently Defra has experienced a number of pressures including funding avian influenza incidents and the introduction of a new payment scheme for farmers.

"We are doing our outmost to avoid cuts that will jeopardise important environmental projects."

'Cock up'

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne said people in areas at risk from flooding would pay for the "incompetence" over farm subsidies.

"This is an incredibly foolish false economy when we know that storms are becoming more extreme and flood risk is increasing due to global warming," he said.

Mr Huhne blamed the "cock up" on Margaret Beckett, who has now left Defra to become foreign secretary.

The subsidies failures should be covered from government emergency funds, not budgets for other environment work, he argued.

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