Year of extremes shows cuts to flood fund were short-sighted, say critics
Almost 8,000 homes and businesses were flooded in 2012, as the UK was battered by repeated heavy rain, storms and floods.
Defences protected almost 200,000 properties, but with spending on such measures falling at a time when floods are predicted to get worse with climate change, the Government has come under fire for cutting the flooding budget.
England and Wales experienced ten separate flooding events between April and December after widespread drought gave way to the wettest summer in a century, with unusually high rainfall totals and river levels around the country.
Parts of Devon and Cornwall saw more than 24 hours of continuous rain at the end of April.
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In late June, Honister in Cumbria saw eight inches (200mm) of rainfall in one day, the Environment Agency said.
The River Axe at Weycroft Bridge in Devon was 11.7ft (3.58m) high in July, its highest level on record, and in September the River Ouse in York reached its second highest recorded level, as the most intense September low pressure system for 30 years moved slowly across the UK.
Coastal flooding hit Weston-super-Mare in October and Cornwall in December.
Through the year, nearly 200,000 homes received a flood warning from the Environment Agency's free service, and the agency said 199,632 homes were protected from floods by defences.
But spending on flood protection measures fell in the last financial year – the first full year since the spending review – from £354 million on new projects in 2010-2011 to £259 million in 2011-2012.
The amount spent on maintenance also fell, from £172 million to £156 million last year.
The devastation repeatedly wrought on the country prompted the Treasury to provide another £120 million in November for defences over the next couple of years, focusing on places where they would have the greatest economic benefit.
But in the summer, the Government's advisory body on adapting to climate change warned there was a funding gap of almost £1 billion opening up between what is needed to keep properties protected and what is planned for the next few years.
Flood defence spending is 12 per cent below what it was in the last spending review period, with a gap of £860 million between what has been pledged for 2011-2015 and what is needed to keep the same number of properties safe from flood damage.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: "This year's floods have shown how short-sighted the Government was to cut investment in flood defences by £95 million a year, leaving homes and businesses unprotected.
"Flooding is the biggest threat the UK faces from climate change, yet even after a mini U-turn in the Autumn Statement the Government will still be spending less on flood defences next year than in 2008.
"Every £1 invested in flood defences saves £8 later and provides much-needed construction work.
"What a shame ministers have wasted two years looking for shovel-ready infrastructure projects while 294 flood schemes have been postponed or cancelled."