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A house under water
Britain in 'deep water'

Four months ago, Britain suffered the worst floods in living memory. Thousands of homes were wrecked as many of Britain's flood defences failed. Panorama investigates whether underfunding and neglect are to blame.

There are about 12,000 miles of flood banks in Britain in various states of repair. This week, a National Audit Office (NAO) report revealed that 43% of flood defences in the country were not up to standard.

Last Autumn's floods caused havoc in many parts of Britain, but there was no suggestion that Government policy was at fault. Most of the blame was put on global warming.

Professor Edward Penning Rowsall
Professor Penning Rowsall believes more investment is needed
The government did promise an emergency payment of an extra 51 million pounds to cope with the crisis. But this had to be spread over 4 years. It had to cover warning systems, feasibility studies as well as improving flood defences.

For many this did not go far enough. Professor Penning Rowsall of the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University believes spending should be doubled in future. He says, "If that money isn't spent then our flood defences will continue to degrade, we'll continue to have problems."

Shared responsibility

Maintaining flood banks is the responsibility of the Environment Agency. But they rely on a complex funding system through flood defence committees.

The system was criticised in a report on last year's floods by the House of Commons Agriculture Committee. It described the current system for funding flood defences as 'Byzantine'.

David Curry MP, who was on the committee, says, "It is complicated and I have no qualms at all about looking at streamlining this, of looking at ways we can make it more effective."

The Environment Agency relies on local authorities to pass on Government funding. But in some councils flood defences have not been seen as a priority.


If more money goes into flood defence it has to come out of other services

Steve Houghton
Tom Collier was chairman of the Yorkshire Regional Flood Defence Committee for ten years. He says, "Money was made available to councils to spend on flood defence and they diverted it for other purposes."

But Steve Houghton, Chairman of the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Assembly, believes local authorities are in a no win situation. He says, "If more money goes into flood defence it has to come out of other services."

Worst in Britain

Yorkshire's flood defences are the worst in Britain. It has a thousand miles of artificially raised banks on either side of rivers, but many were built 50 years ago.

Gowdall during the floods
The village of Gowdall was under water for two weeks
The autumn floods hit Yorkshire hard. There were 240 flood warnings, but this did not save 2,500 houses.

Flood victims in Gowdall started a campaign group. They were angry that the system of government grants and local flood taxes had le them down.

Gary Emerson says, "It should be our natural right to be able to live in our own homes without the fear of flooding because of deficient flood banks."

There are victims in over 30 flooded communities in Yorkshire still waiting for flood defences. It is the failure of the system to protect them that has left many in despair.


The system needs to be changed to something which is more rational

Geoff Mance
Barry Coning from Malton has been flooded twice in two years and can't get insurance. He says "I'm at an age now when I'm having to be dipping into my pension pot to get myself out of the mire and I don't want to be doing that."

Currently there is no legal obligation on a council to accept the advice of the Environment Agency about flooding risks.

Geoff Mance of the Environment Agency says, "The system needs to be changed to something which is more rational, which actually recognise that flood defence is a long term investment issue."

David Lomax reports on the impact of last year's floods, and what can be done to protect people and their homes in future.
VideoWatch In Deep Water

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