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Last Updated: Friday, 15 June 2007, 05:16 GMT 06:16 UK
Flood defences 'lack maintenance'
Submerged cars on flooded street in Cumbria
The UK is expected to face more frequent flooding
Homes and businesses in England may be at risk of flooding because the Environment Agency is not doing enough, a watchdog says.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the agency had not met its target of maintaining 63% of the country's flood defences in peak condition.

But it said improvements had been made in managing flood risk since 2001.

MPs called on the agency to explain why less than half of England's high risk defences were found in peak condition.

The watchdog found large regional differences in the proportion of defences in high risk areas which were at peak condition - from 18% in the South West to 60% in the South.

There were also big differences in the money spent on maintaining the defences.

The NAO report said the agency had taken on greater responsibility for flood risk in England, including the management of important rivers.

'Small change'

The agency had protected more people by improving the standard of flood protection for 100,000 homes between 2003/04 and 2005/06, the watchdog said.

However, it said since 2001 the general condition of defences had not improved significantly.

The all-party committee of MPs, the Public Accounts Committee, said more money should go towards "protecting towns and cities, rather than empty fields".

Chairman of the committee, Tory MP Edward Leigh, said: "Flood defences are critical to the protection of towns, cities and people's homes.

"There are significant variations on the amount spent on defences, with only small change going to the North East compared with the Midlands and Thames.

He said that although flooding was an "ever-present risk to millions of homes and businesses" the agency had not done enough to improve the condition of defences.

"No less than six years have passed since our committee asked for remedial action to be carried out as swiftly as possible," he added.

The Environment Agency has estimated that it would need an extra 150m a year to bring all flood defence systems up to their peak condition.

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