Spending on flood defences is much higher in London and the south-east


Recently published plans set out by the government reveal spending on flood defences heavily favours London and those in the south-east of England, with funding per head up to 13 times higher than in other regions.

The plans layout a spending strategy that stretches out to 2021 and, for major projects, beyond. Projects along the Thames estuary are those that benefit from the greatest investment. Up to 60% of the planned spending is allotted to London and the south-east, which is home to 32% of England’s population.

Back in December 2015, when storm Desmond ravaged areas of northern England, prime minister David Cameron rejected claims that there was a north-south divide when it came to flood defence spending. The new research, however, suggests that southern areas will receive significantly more money than their northern counterparts.

These findings were drawn by Carbon Brief who took into account the £700m influx of funding in northern projects after the 2015 floods.

Flood defence projects in the UK are funded according to a cost-benefit formula, so areas with much higher property prices, like those in the south-east, look better value for money when planning flood prevention projects. Critics say that this formula is flawed and unfair.

“All communities in all parts of the country deserve to get a fair share,” said Labour MP Mary Creagh, chair of parliament’s environmental audit select committee. “After ministers told my committee the money would be spent according to a ‘political calculation’ rather than rigorous economic criteria, we warned this risked creating unfair regional outcomes. These figures show what happens when the government puts politics ahead of protecting communities and businesses from flooding.”

This view is supported by findings by a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2012 that warned that poorer communities lack resources and would therefore suffer more from flooding, stating: “There is a north-south divide in extreme socially derived flood-vulnerability in England.”

Guy Shrubsole, at Friends of the Earth, said: “The new figures show a startling divide in flood defence spending – the wealthy south-east gets protected while poorer communities in East Anglia have to sink or swim.”

“Some of the differences are down to where flood risk is highest,” he added. “But this also raises questions about whether the government’s system for allocating flood defence funding is skewed towards wealthier regions and households. As climate change drives up rainfall and sea levels, we need to protect all Britons against flooding, not just those deemed economically important by a cold cost-benefit calculation.”