Monday, 10 February 2014

In the Firing Line ~ The Environment Agency

The extensive flooding since December 2013 in Somerset has placed the Environment Agency at the centre of a political storm.  The agency is a non-departmental public body (NDPB).  Legally, the Board constitutes the Environment Agency and is directly responsible to Government Ministers for all aspects of its organisation and performance.  The agency is accountable to Parliament through Ministers.  It has a Board of 11 members (including the Chairman and Chief Executive) and all are appointed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Ministers expect the Board to ensure that the agency's statutory duties are fulfilled in the light of the guidance and directions which they provide, and to ensure that the organisation operates with propriety, regularity, economy, efficiency and effectiveness.  (See Ministerial direction and guidance.)

The functions of the agency are stated to be:

  • regulation of major industry
  • flood and coastal risk management
  • water quality and resources
  • waste regulation
  • climate change 
  • fisheries
  • contaminated land
  • conservation and ecology
  • navigation
The agency is a Category 1 Responder under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.   The priorities of the agency are said to be:

  • act to reduce climate change and its consequences
  • protect and improve water, land and air by tackling pollution
  • work with people and communities to create better places
  • work with businesses and other organisations to use resources wisely
  • be the best we can

POLICY (and detail) for Reducing the threats of flooding and coastal change are set out on the Gov.UK website  where it is noted that sea levels will rise and there will be more intensive rain.  It is also stated that a sum of  £2 billion was allocated for the period April 2011 to March 2015 to address flooding risks.  AS the Gov.UK website notes:

"The latest climate projections indicate that sea levels will rise, and there will be increasingly severe and frequent rainstorms. This means the risk of floods will increase."

It is the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) which is responsible for national emergency planning for flooding. To make sure all relevant agencies and organisations are properly prepared to deal with flooding, Defra:
(Read more at Defra -  plan for and deal with flood emergencies).

The Somerset levels could be papered over with the law relating to flood and water management including the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 (not yet fully implemented) and the Flood Risk Regulations 2009 (which implement Floods Directive (Directive 2007/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the assessment and management of flood risks).  All the planning and law in the world will not prevent or reduce the impact of water unless the proper actions are physically taken and it perhaps worth noting that the risk of flooding in Somerset is not new as the paragraph on Flooding in  this Wikipedia Entry shows.

The Pitt Review looked at flooding back in 2007 with a view to learning lessons.  It was not until January 2012 that the government published its Final Report on implementation of the Pitt Review.     

The Prime Minister is facing criticism over flood defence cash  and it has been claimed that massive cuts risk England's ability to deal with floods (The Guardian 7th January 2014).  Nevertheless, in the face of a mountain water of "biblical proportions", Ministers have sought to defend the cuts.  Unsurprisingly, official claims relating to "no money" are not received well by those with inundated homes who are suffering from this and there have been calls for the overseas aid budget to be cut to provide more funding for necessary work at home.  Certainly, some re-appraisal of expenditure seems to be needed.

The Environment Agency makes for an easy scapegoat in all of this.  Whether that is deserved is debatable.  I do not intend to try to analyse "fault" here but it is likely that much more than the Agency ought to be in the public's firing line.

Somerset levels from Glastonbury

Additional Links:

Floods on the Somerset Levels - a sad tale of ignorance and neglect 

Climate Change Explained 

Guardian 9th February - Eric Pickles apologises over floods and blames Environment Ageny advice

Telegraph 11th February - UK Flooding - Home Owners knew the risk, says Environment Agency Chairman

Belfast Telegraph 11th February - Is this Owen Paterson's Waterloo?   

2007 United Kingdom Floods

1 comment:

  1. Interesting ...

    NDPBs are a legally untested area AIUI for the 2010 Constitutional Reform & Governance Act which reputedly places all civil servants under a legal obligation to behave as outlined in the formal Civil Servants Code of Conduct - the scope is considerable.

    We have had issues with The Environment Agency not adhering to even their own watered down in house Codes of Conduct but Operations Director David Jordan said to us 18 months back "The EA are civil servants"..

    So are NDPBs within the scope or not? - they are NOT specifically excluded....