Higher flood risk if the Environment Agency drops the use of concrete defences, an MP has warned.
The agency says it is going to cut its carbon footprint by focusing on nature-based solutions to flooding. It has drawn up plans to reduce construction of traditional concrete barriers and instead slow the flow of water off higher ground by restoring peatland, planting trees and reconnecting rivers with their natural floodplains.
And officials have conceded that means flood-prone communities may miss out on concrete flood defences.
Its aim is to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2030 — 20 years ahead of the target date for the whole of the UK.
But Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger says the decision will leave thousands of properties at much greater risk.
Large areas of his Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency suffered catastrophic flooding in 2013 and 2014.
“That was purely as a result of the Environment Agency deciding to stop doing something – in that instance dredging,” he said.
“Here they are again claiming that a normal practice isn’t actually necessary. I am afraid the agency is becoming a serial offender in dreaming up pathetically weak excuses for not doing anything.”
Mr Liddell-Grainger said he accepted that mitigation measures such as tree-planting and creating temporary reservoirs could play some role in reducing flood risk.
“But what the EA is refusing to accept – deliberately and foolishly in my opinion – is that the changes in our weather, with heavier and more localised rainfall, are now greatly increasing the flood risk to thousands of people and that that increased risk needs a more robust approach. Preferably by way of something made of concrete.
“There is something tragically ironic here in the fact that the agency accepts a need to do something to try to mitigate the effects of climate change yet refuses to acknowledge the need to respond to the greater threat that change already presents.
“I hope its staff are prepared for the task of visiting all those in flood-prone homes and telling them their properties are not going to be properly protected after all.
“Furthermore when I read that ‘restoring peatlands’ is one of its proposed alternatives; read that a non-executive director at Defra is already dismissing the flood protection programmes on the Levels as ‘ecological and economic madness’; and hear an Environment Minister dismissing dredging as not cost-effective I begin to wonder what the Government’s secret plan is for the future of the Somerset Levels.
“I should love to be informed – and so would the thousands of people who currently live there.”