Cornwall floods will be more frequent and severe following cuts to defences

The overnight flooding in Cornwall, which police have called a “major incident”, was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions today. Mr Cameron described it as “a very difficult night” (though thankfully there are no reports of any casualties), praised the police and coastal services for doing a “fantastic job” and said the government “stand ready to help in any way that we can”.

The overnight flooding in Cornwall, which police have called a “major incident”, was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions today. Mr Cameron described it as “a very difficult night” (though thankfully there are no reports of any casualties), praised the police and coastal services for doing a “fantastic job” and said the government “stand ready to help in any way that we can”.


Flooding  is not an uncommon phenomenon during the winter period. Heavy rain and gale-force winds inevitably lead to floods that cause an average damage of over £1 billion per year – yet the economic costs look likely to increase substantially over the coming years due to a number of factors:

• Climate change, which is expected to cause larger amounts of rain and rising sea levels;

• An ageing drainage system and flood defence infrastructure;

• A higher intensity of buildings in flood-prone areas; and

• More areas being paved over that cannot soak up the necessary amounts of water anymore.

All in all, the Office of Science and Technology calculates that annual flood damage costs may well exceed £27 billion across the UK by 2080. This, however, was an estimate conducted prior to the announcement by the Chancellor of cutting the department responsible for flood defences, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, by around 30 per cent.

In a more recent report, the Environment Agency estimated that if spending on asset maintenance and construction for flooding does not increase by £20 million plus inflation per year to 2035, the economy will suffer a total of £180bn in costs derived directly from damage caused by floods.

In a recent research report conducted by the House of Commons Library, instead of reducing government spending on flood defence by more than £1bn per year within the next 25 years, it is actually being decreased by £236m over the next four years.

This comes despite environment secretary Caroline Spelman claiming the reduction will actually mean 145,000 homes will be better protected by 2015; she seems to further ignore the fact that it has actually been the local authorities who have played the greatest role in tackling flood risk – and have now been asked to cut their spending by billions.

In these austere times, the only possible sources to enable them to increase or at least maintain local funding includes a council tax levy, voluntary contributions from businesses or individuals and community funding.

Looking at who is affected by flooding, the House of Commons Library reveals that, although some areas close to rivers or seas are logically more susceptible to flooding, “pretty much everyone” is under threat due to surface water flooding which is caused when areas that usually soak up water cannot do so any longer because of having been paved over.

Due to the local authorities and the government reducing their spending on flood defences, the flood protection infrastructure ageing rapidly and climate change beginning to take its toll, floods like that in Cornwall look like becoming more frequent, more severe and more widespread.

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