What the Today programme should have asked the Environment Agency

 

          Yesterday morning I heard a patsy interview of a senior manager of the Environment Agency. It started with sympathy for the difficult time they are experiencing, went on to ask them if they needed more money to do their job, and ended with the usual invitation to express the helplessness of the Agency before the force of climate change.  I can only assume the BBC are  colluding with this body, as I know they can give tough interviews if they wish. You would have thought they would pick up the public anger. Don’t they think it unacceptable that people have flooded homes and businesses?  Isn’t the main point of the Agency to do what it takes to protect us from floods and ensure we are supplied with clean water and a good waste water service? Where did the £1200 million spent last year go?

          What should they have asked?

          They should first have explored the issue of whether it is a deliberate policy of the Agency to allow large parts of the country to be flooded, as they seem to wish to restore old landscape prior to the draining of the land to create homes and farms for people. It appears from various EA statements that they do hanker after more wetlands and fewer farms and homes in certain areas. It also appears from the Chairman’s recent article that they think they can only protect urban areas, and will sacrifice rural ones. Clearly it is government policy to protect people and farms from flooding wherever possible. The Agency may be at variance with this aim.

          They should have asked where all the £1200 million spent last year went. Why was only £20 m spent on maintaining ditches and culverts? Why so little on dredging? Have dredging machines been sold off for scrap or allowed to rust without use in some places as has been alleged?  Why did the INCREASE in the staff budget, £30m, exceed the total spend on essential maintenance?

           They should have asked why the Agency seems to think it is sufficient to warn people of impending floods, rather than putting in place the bunds, barriers, pumps and other methods to divert the water from homes and businesses?

             I want Ministers to bring  this quango to account. It will probably need a new Chairman to give it a sense of urgency, to sharpen its priorities in the way most people want, and get value out of the huge sums its spends.

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110 Comments

  1. Lifelogic
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    “Why did the INCREASE in the staff budget, £30m, exceed the total spend on essential maintenance?”

    Well, like most of government it is run by the staff, for the benefit of the staff and to create jobs for friends of politicians. Almost the only input from the public (to get what the public actually wants and needs) is once every five years via MPs, then via government, in practice virtually no input. Clearly we need a body that responds to the real local needs and demands.

    Also we have the green religion, nature is best, catastrophic global warming religion, quack medicine, anti science and engineering, herbal remedies, BBC think, Prince Charles, Tim Yeo, EU think, types. This gives the Environment Agency the perfect excuses to spend so much of the money on themselves and do so little of any substance. Then blame it all on “Climate Change”.

    With an ex-labour politician, with a degree in English and a PhD with a thesis on Coleridge and Wordsworth as chairman.

    Did the Cameron/Yeo/Huhne types ever even want it to do anything constructive on drainage, flood and land management or did they just want it to be another cheerleader for the Catastrophic Global Warming religion.This with lots of flood line warning and expensive phone lines, like the BBC and so much of government.

    Most of government is interested in nice offices, phone line income, good pensions, fee, fine and licence fee income from the public, political PR and publicity for the government and avoiding having to do anything constructive.

    • Hope
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      They are also building an urban extension within two miles of the flooding taking place. Now where is all this water going to go? How are people going to travel about? HS2- I think not. There is no private organisation where more is spent on back room staff than service delivery.

      Why was the sluice gate left open? Why does the EA think it is contrary to EU directive to put silt on embankments? Why is there always enough staff and resource so to check if farmers are being compliant with EU directives? It would not make any difference to the public if the EA were scrapped.

      Like Cameron abstaining on the Raab’s amendment last week. The politicos have accept that the EU is the sovereign law making body. If not, why could Cameron be advised it was illegal? I understand the Lisbon says where there is a conflict national and EU law the latter will prevail. Time to get out of the EU mess. Is the EA’s costs added tot he Eau debt burden for the taxpayer?

      • uanime5
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

        Why is there always enough staff and resource so to check if farmers are being compliant with EU directives?

        Well the latter does require fewer resources and people than dealing with a flood.

        Like Cameron abstaining on the Raab’s amendment last week. The politicos have accept that the EU is the sovereign law making body. If not, why could Cameron be advised it was illegal?

        The ECHR isn’t part of the EU.

        • Hope
          Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

          You have to be a member so do not pretend they are not linked. Even green Prince Charles thought the position shocking.

          Look at the figures JR produced it is not hard to work out, even for a socialist like yourself. Once more, it transpires EU directives have an impact in causing the Somerset levels to flood. Everything the EU infests has a detrimental impact on our country.

          Smith should be sacked. Barker reported in the DT saying solar panels provides better investment than a pension, he too should be sacked for his green religion views. Now we have a German Foreign minister telling us who we should vote for in his protection of the EU dictatorship!

    • me
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Spot on.

      We need a revolution.

    • Timaction
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      The Government is simply not fit for purpose. The Chair of the Environment Agency is a former Labour Cabinet Minister. Most quangos are littered with such left wing unqualified people. Yet there’s a hue and cry after Mr Gove wants to replace the left wing head of Ofsted with another person having completed her extended contract!
      How could someone like Mr Smith occupy such a position without any qualifications? At best cronyism. It’s time that appointments to these bodies were removed from political control. When they touch things, it goes wrong!
      We need root and branch reform to remove those in Westminster and their mandarins who are so out of touch with public opinion, least qualified to lead us and against the national interest.
      Now back to global warming/climate change. Let us pray.

      • uanime5
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        Yet there’s a hue and cry after Mr Gove wants to replace the left wing head of Ofsted with another person having completed her extended contract!

        Well Gove is trying to replace her with a Conservative party donor who had benefited financially from free schools. So there’s a major conflict of interests.

        How could someone like Mr Smith occupy such a position without any qualifications? At best cronyism.

        Wasn’t he reappointed by the Conservatives?

        • Hope
          Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

          That is not a reason why he should not be sacked. We need the bonfire of quangos particularly those run by socialists with a fanatical Europhile outlook.

    • arschloch
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      LL just to get you even more annoyed the EA office in Bristol is bang next door to the UK HQ of the Dutch bank that funds most of the windmills in the UK!

      • lifelogic
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        They should stop paying the subsidy on wind completely or perhaps just put a pole tax on each wind turbine (to compensate for the noise and uglyness of them) roughly equal to the subsidy. That would cause the bank some pain hopefully.

        • lifelogic
          Posted February 4, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          Also a £1000 fine for each bird and bat killed or exploded by them.

        • A different Simon
          Posted February 4, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

          If renewables were as good as the govt keep telling us they would be taxing it .

          They might even ban such equipment or at the very least insist people paid for a license to own it .

          Solar , wind , tidal can make a contribution but those greenies who think a 100% renewables future is inevitable are going to be disappointed , even if they live to 150 .

          There is no point in being a premature adopter of renewables either as current solar installations look like early1990’s cellphones and prices are falling .

          Tidal schemes which generate a meaningful amount of electricity will have a devastating effect on the marine environment . I’m not saying they shouldn’t be built , just that people need to be honest and admit they are not a free lunch .

  2. lifelogic
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    The problem as usually is Cameron’s defective compass. Having endlessly taken the Huhne, Yeo, Davey, Libdem line on “vote blue get greenest government ever” it is rather hard for him now to take on the BBC, the environment agency, the powerful & rich “charities” and actually get the daft religion and greencrap out of government and these absurd agencies.

    • Hope
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Many families farming on the Somerset levels have been there for hundreds of years, the urban extension is being built for the mass immigration problem. The EA will not help those who have lived years but willing help those who have not contributed and are being provided with homes for free, you know the Boles tenet build on any green land.

      I suspect the people from rural communities will remember when it comes to vote.

      JR should press harder for Smith to be questioned about the vast amount of money wasted in the EA and the poor service delivery, in any other industry would lead him to be sacked.t he performance of the Advertising Standards Agency is equally a waste of money, low standards of performance with politically correct socialist bias.

  3. lifelogic
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Does the BBC/met office ever get paid for the endless & tedious adverts (usually on the weather forecasts) for the flood warning expensive phone lines, or is it just a symbiotic relationship between the interested parties and phone companies?

  4. Arschloch
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    John are you a real conservative? Do you believe in personal responsibility? Should these people, before they bought their homes, have asked the solicitor to check the envirosearch to see if the place they were planning to buy was prone to flooding? If they then knew their home was likely to be flooded. Why did they not buy some of the defences that are easily available to protect their property? Why are some people demonised for not pulling their socks up and others misfortune is purely the fault of the government?

    • alan jutson
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      arschloch

      Many people purchased years ago when there was no known flood risk.

      Since then because ditches and rivers and streams have had no work done on them, they are by defauilt now in a possible flood risk area.

    • Mark
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      From what I have read, the EU’s new rules were generated in 2007 and implemented in 2008/9 by the Environment Agency in their own fashion. Perhaps you could tell us what those who acquired their homes and farms before then should have done about it?

    • On the Levels
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Arschloch – Many of the farmers & familes that are effected by these floods have been living & working on the Somerset levels for generations. We aren’t a quaint little seaside village where rich townies move to for a bit of peace & quiet we are a hard working agricultural area. We rely on this land for our livelihood. 100 years ago when my family bought our property do you think they could check ‘envirosearch’? There are areas being flooded this year that haven’t been flooded before. Please get your facts right.

      • arschloch
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        I am up in Cumbria where we know a bit about flooding too. In our village, knowing that we cannot trust the council to do otherwise, we ensure that the culverts etc are free of weeds at our own cost. Despite all the Pravda articles JR likes to put out about how great the “recovery” is. You will suffer less in future if you become less reliant on the state. It must be obvious to you now that it neither has the resources or inclination to help you.

        • arschloch
          Posted February 4, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

          Sorry if it sounds heartless and I grieve for you if you are messed up at the moment. However I am really pessimistic about the future of the UK. I just hope nobody will ever post again the Ronald Reagan quote about the most fearful phrase in the English language being ” I am from the federal government and I am here to help you”

      • stred
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Presumably, when the EA took over policy for the levels, the handover was compulsary?

      • John Wrexham
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:09 am | Permalink

        People appear to have forgotten that we have had the wettest January since records began and that somehow this will have no consequences. The debate has become very dogmatic and people are grinding the usual axes without bothering themselves with the facts. It is quite clear that those who are knowledgeable about river management, flooding, changing weather patterns and changes in land use and agricultural practice over the past seventy or so years are very divided on what are the causes of the flooding and the best medium to long term solutions. I am rather distrustful of politicians who claim to have the solutions when really they are more concerned with being seen to ‘do something’. politicians ‘doing something’ should be an anathema to any right thinking Conservative or conservative. The PM, the Sec of State and their opposite numbers aren’t helping anybody save themselves. it would be brilliant if we could come up with local solutions in different parts of the country and then learn from each other, but whether this is possible in our centralized country/continent is open to doubt, sadly.

        • Robert Christopher
          Posted February 10, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          “… come up with local solutions …”

          Have you checked that this allowed?

  5. Steve Cox
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Slightly off topic, but I would like to express my appreciation to the members of the South Suffolk Conservative Association for deselecting the (various unflattering adjectives ed) Tim Yeo. Well done, chaps!

    Once again Mr. Cameron has showed us his appalling lack of ability to judge people’s character (as well as the prevailing public mood) by giving Yeo his full backing. And yet again Prince Charles has shown us exactly why he is unfit to ever be King when he blatantly and childishly insults climate change sceptics. And this from a man who is not exactly noted for his academic abilities or his deep scientific training. Perhaps he shoudl learn to shut up on subjects that he is not qualified to understand properly.

    Mr. Cameron has succeeded in just a few short years in destroying my lifelong Conservative tribal loyalty, and if Charles were ever to become King then my lifelong support for the monarchy would quickly be replaced by a desire for the UK to become a republic. Well done, chaps!

    • Lifellogic
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      I tend to agree with most of that, certainly on Tim Yeo, Prince Charles and compass lacking Cameron. Though it was John Major who really started the rot.

      I hear Prince Charles is off to the Somerset Levels. Will he arrive in a helicopter, an Aston Martin or in a hand made leather and willow coracle, with an outboard motor – perhaps powered from cow pat derived methane? We shall have to wait and see.

    • John Wrexham
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      Prince Charles has shown more sense and done more for the environment in this country and elsewhere than any currently elected politician in this country, if not Europe. Considering the fact that many country folk have few academic or scientific qualifications yet manage to be great guardians of the countryside and our environment, the whole basis for your pouring scorn on the prince’s comments is open to some doubt.

      I can’t believe someone would actually see tribal loyalty to a political party as a quality. Unthinking tribal tories are as misguided as those folk who would vote for a monkey if it sported a red rosette ‘because i have always voted labour, just as my father and grandfather did’

  6. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Thank you for a very sensible article which – at last – throws the deeply embarrassed BBC into the limelight. For far too long, they have gone with the climate change myth, and now they are being forced to see the terrible human cost.

    As someone who lives in the Fens, I am worried! The town of Wisbech has been very well protected recently and, although the water came within inches of the top of the new wall, it did not go over. Whittlesea which, couple of hundred years ago was a “sea” or “mere” is now under water in places.

    I do apologise that I may have posted twice, but the machine in charge seems to think I am a robot! I can assure you to the contrary.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Indeed the BBC is still hugely pushing the quack science of Catastrophic AGW even now it is so hugely discredited among real scientists and by real measurements.

      When will the BBC grow up. They are biased on the size of the state, pro EU, anti science, pro ECHR, pro over regulation, daft on business and economics too. They are wrong on almost everything, but then so was Lord Patten but Cameron still appointed him.

      • uanime5
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

        Indeed the BBC is still hugely pushing the quack science of Catastrophic AGW even now it is so hugely discredited among real scientists and by real measurements.

        Despite your claims that it’s been discredited you’ve never been able to provide any evidence to support this claim. I guess that means it hasn’t been discredited after all.

        • Hope
          Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

          Your claim of evidence is hardly worth reading is it. Climate has changed since the world began, before man created CO2. No evidence Uni only from those with an interest to say so and are willing to change their evidence after editing from the politicos. You must ry harder.

    • John Wrexham
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      The clue is in the name – the Fens!!

  7. Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    It is deliberate policy to flood parts of the country. Political direction comes from climate change committee (http://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/ASC-2013-Chap5_singles_2.pdf). There seem to be 2 drivers. 1) saving money. 2) attempting to comply with eu habitats directive

    There appears to be nothing in Chris Smith’s background which would lead one to thing he knows anything about countryside or flooding.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Smith,_Baron_Smith_of_Finsbury).

    You say “Clearly it is government policy to protect people and farms from flooding wherever possible.” Yet EA say “In the UK there is no statutory responsibility on anyone to provide or maintain flood and erosion defences.” (Page 17 smp2 region 8 – http://publications.environment-agency.gov.uk/PDF/GEAN0310BRVA-E-E.pdf). Page 18 of same document states “On the exposed coast, capital replacement of coastal defences can cost in the order of £1 Million per hundred metres.” This is true and the money will be completely wasted if you believe, like EA do, groynes don’t work so you let them decay. This ignores the fact groynes do work, an example of groupthink in action.

    EA DEFRA and Natural England are obsessed with recreating saltmarsh which they say is being killed by rising sealevels. This is despite EA and NE conducting surveys which shows saltmarsh is growing back.

    Worse some locations which EA want to flood in order to try and recreate saltmarsh are protected by treaty. EA and NE reckon it is cheaper to relocate these sites.

    So in summary the reason EA are focusing on their core business is they’re spending a fortune on trying to comply with EU habitats directive. They also claim habitats directive is the reason they don’t dredge (save the water vole). This another example of groupthink in action – they ignore dredging used to work.

    In addition there appears to be a huge amount of waste. Have a peek at insidetheenvironmentagency.co.uk

    Finally BBC like all media seems to be obsessed with labels, so if you’re the head of EA – you must know what you’re talking about.

    • Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Whoops when I said

      So in summary the reason EA are focusing on their core business

      I meant

      So in summary the reason EA AREN’T focusing on their core business

      • APL
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        Jeremy Shiers: “the reason EA are focusing”

        Actually Jeremy, I think they are doing very well at their core business, mutual back scratching and graft.

    • ken from glos
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      At last a man who understands what is happening. All down to the E.U and our ruling class obeying Brussels.

      • cosmic
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        It’s more subtle than that.

        It’s not quite so simple as Brussels dictating and UK authorities reluctantly going along. It’s all part of the same governmental system and there’s reason to believe the UK authorities have gone along with this enthusiastically, because it was something they wanted to do anyway.

        Is this policy being followed as enthusiastically in Holland? I very much doubt it.

        I’m not saying that the influence of the EU isn’t there and isn’t malign, just that it’s more nuanced and you can’t forget the home grown element.

        There also appears to be a lot of left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing and plain incompetence.

        • Jagman 84
          Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          “There also appears to be a lot of left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing and plain incompetence”.

          I think that is the definition of Socialism. Ultimately it is the source of all the UK’s problems.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      How exactly is what’s happening on the coast resulting in flooding inland? Especially when most of the flood water is coming from the rain rather than the sea.

      • Hope
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

        Try reading his blog again Uni.

      • stred
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:59 am | Permalink

        In areas nearer to the sea, when the tide is high, the water backs up and can’t escape. This can be eased by having tidal barriers like the Thames or usually smaller, which allow the build up to be sluiced out at low tide.

  8. Andyvan
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    An absolutely textbook example of government at work. Huge costs (mostly spent on staff benefits), total incompetence, an agenda at odds with other parts of government and a complete disinterest in the people it is supposed to protect.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Precisely.

    • M Davis
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      An absolutely textbook example of government at work. …

      Sums it up in one!

  9. lifelogic
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Chris Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury on BBC1 just now “dredging may be part of the answer”. So even now he thinks only that it “may be” part of the answer.

    Does he not have any sensible engineers in the agency? Does he ever speak to them? How else is the water going to be removed? A giant hair dryer perhaps or a fleet of helicopters to blow it away?

    You slow the water going in and you speed it up going out with dredging and pumps what else can you do unless you want a large lake there?

    • uanime5
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      Does he not have any sensible engineers in the agency? Does he ever speak to them? How else is the water going to be removed?

      Any good engineer would say “why do we need to remove the water”, then propose several ways to increase the height of the riverbanks using sand bags.

      There’s almost always multiple solutions to a problem, so one solution is only ever part of the answer.

      • alan jutson
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        Uni

        Clearly you are not an engineer, otherwise you would not make such silly statements.

        But you are right there is usually more than one way to provide a solution.

        The problem is the present agency cannot even recognise a problem let alone a solution.

      • APL
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        uanime5: “then propose several ways to increase the height of the riverbanks using sand bags.”

        Preparing for the next round of hand wringing ‘al la New Orleans, are we?

        Who in their right mind would build up the banks of the river – which by defination is silting up? when the simplest sensible answer is to lower the river bed?

        • John Wrexham
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:28 am | Permalink

          The long term answer might be to slow up all the water that is pouring into the Somerset levels so you don’t have to spend so much time and effort trying to rush it out to the sea. More tree planting and more hedges on upland areas.

          It may be the case that certain parts of the Levels should be used to store water at this time of year. I leave that decision to the experts, whoever and wherever they are.

          Meanwhile, all development should be designed so it doesn’t just shoot off all the surface water onto other people and land as has been happening all too often. We can’t go around replacing fields with concrete and tarmac and presuming there will be no consequences. there are for people in the countryside who end up paying the price.

          • APL
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

            John Wrexham: “might be to slow up all the water that is pouring”

            I imagine if you ‘slow up’ the water, running through the rivers, although how you do that short of turning the whole somerset levels into a huge estuary, if you ‘slow up’ the water, it will deposit more of the silt it is carrying, and the river bed will rise faster, leading to more flooding.

  10. Richard1
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    The performance of the Environment Agency is a scandal, it is excellent that you and hopefully other MPs will force it to account for itself. The Labour chairman Lord Smith must be sacked as he has already said, absurdly, that there is a choice between saving urban and rural areas. The attempts to blame the Somerset fiasco on ‘climate change’ are ludicrous. You almost get the feeling global warming alarmist bodies such as the EA and the BBC welcome a new opportunity to point to an ‘extreme weather event’. Flooding of the Somerset flats was records in the Doomsday Book. The Dutch managed to dredge land the majority of which is below sea level in the 17th century. We are presented with an opportunity to save some public money by cutting the bureaucrats in the EA as well as re-channeling the money towards useful work such as dredging.

  11. Paul Cohen
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Well, I could hardly believe what I was reading (Feb 2 letter), and it makes for a lot of anger! Who make these appointments? – Lord Smith has apparently nine jobs and has shown his lack of focus by the banal interviews he has given ( my people have worked their socks off)! Get him out now, someone give him a shovel and tell him to start digging until told to stop.

    • John Wrexham
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:31 am | Permalink

      One of the strange facts of life is that the higher the position in a public body or PLC someone holds, the more likely it is that they hold several such positions. When the average Jo and Joe work flat out to hold down one full time job, how come people doing these ‘demanding’ top jobs, can manage two, three or more of them. Please can they share their time management skills with the rest of us!!

  12. APL
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    JR: “I heard a patsy interview of a senior manager of the Environment Agency. [snip] I can only assume the BBC are colluding with this body, ”

    Well, yes!

    The only solution for the BBC, is to close the whole thing down, sell the assets off, and nationalise the archive, which the people of the UK have already paid for.

    The Environment agency? Close it down, level the buildings it occupies and surcharge the senior management, largely because they have been paid far in excess of any contribution they have made to the economy. But mostly because they are incompetent.

  13. stred
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    It would be difficult for the BBC to ask why the EA scrapped the dredging equipment on the day when their management were being asked by MPs why they scrapped a £100m digital storage system which was working, but not what they wanted.

    The BBC takes EU money and the EA staff can employ 20x as many staff as other EU countries because they choose to follow EU directives in detail, while presumably other countries do not. In the area where my house is in France, after floods 20 years ago, they have built culverts, widened rivers and dredged gullies and ditches in order to discharge floods quickly into the sea- and it seems to work.

  14. Denis Cooper
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    They could have asked how much of the Agency’s work is controlled or influenced by the EU, and in particular they could have brought up this allegation:

    http://eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84683

    “EU policy: deliberately flooding the Somerset Levels”

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      I don’t suppose any MP will have the courage or inititaive to ask about this at tomorrow’s PMQs.

    • Chris
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      My fourth attempt at replying to you Denis:
      Delighted that you have got that link posted, Denis. I have been trying for several days to post links to articles on the Defra and EU websites about the various EU Directives that are governing the action, or rather the inaction, with regard to the Somerset flooding. It would appear that the emphasis is on environmental protection rather than protecting people, homes and livelihoods, hence the relative ease with which £31 million could be found to create a bird sanctuary in the Somerset Levels region, yet no money for dredging and routine maintenance.

      In an article from information daily, 7 January, it refers to river basins being designated as Sites of Scientific or Special Scientific Interest, (with all the multitude of regulations/restrictions) where the focus is on protecting the flora and fauna as well as taking steps to develop that flora and fauna e.g. creation of wetlands. Dredging is apparently anathema to those promoting the habitat protection approach, and it is indeed governed by all manner of regulations with regard to amount per metre of river bank that can be dredged, what can be done with the material as it is classified as a type of waste and has to be treated in a certain way – it can’t be spread on the land, and so on. Various organisations/departments are closely linked with this flora/fauna habitat protection, e.g.the Environment Agency, Defra, Natural England, RSPB, to name but a few.

      I believe that common sense must prevail and power has to be brought back to enable the key issues of protecting homes and livelihoods to be addressed. This should not be a matter of urban versus rural, nor should the debate be fanned by the extreme weather brigade. The Levels have always had the potential for flooding and it is only the “engineering work” that has been carried out over the years that has transformed it into a habitable area, all the year round. That hard work has all been sacrificed as we seem to be in the hands of individuals/organisations who do not comprehend some basics about land and drainage management, and who are intent on pursuing another agenda entirely, focused on preserving habitats for water voles, kingfishers and pondweeds, rather than dealing with vital issues of protecting lives and homes and livelihoods. Much as I like kingfishers, they should not take priority.

      There was a debate in the H of C yesterday, and not one MP made any reference to the role of the EU Directives. If the fundamental cause of the “new” approach to river basin management i.e. the EU, is not even acknowledged, what hope is there for real solutions to be found?

  15. NickW
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    There would appear to be a cosy personal relationship between the Senior Management of the Environment Agency and someone in Senior management at the BBC. If that is the case, that relationship (is unacceptable ed).

    If the head of the Environment Agency was a Tory sympathiser, would they have got such benign treatment from the interviewer? Like hell they would.

    It is not Clegg’s sabotage of the boundary changes which make a Conservative victory at the next election an impossibility; it is the BBC’s determination to support the Labour party and brief against Conservative people and policies at every opportunity.

  16. David Price
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    With their top priority as – “act to reduce climate change and its consequences” why are we surprised these people are so against the human inhabitants and determined to return rural land to nature.

    In any case what will bringing the quango to account mean – The taxpayer funding compensation while a few senior types get paid vast redundancy payments to reflect the “big jobs” they have done or moved sideways?

    Isn’t deliberate property damage a criminal offence?

  17. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    It’s not just the BBC which is giving ” patsy interviews” to the EA. Channel4 News last night had Lord Smith allowed to make a statement rather than be interrogated – Jon Snow at his grovelling worst.
    You rightly say: “I want Ministers to bring this quango to account. It will probably need a new Chairman to give it a sense of urgency”. Change the “probably” to ‘definitely’ and make sure it is not a political placeman or woman on the gravy train. It is hard to think of anyone less suitable than Lord Smith and, after his period of silence, he has proved his unsuitability by his writings and utterings of the last few days. Better still question why we need this quango? After all didn’t your party promise a bonfire of the quangos?

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      They promised all sorts of thinks but I think they only delivered on the M4 bus lane.

    • Anonymous
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      Channel 4 recently put volcanic activity down to climate change.

  18. alan jutson
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    More commonsense from you John.

    It will never catch on, as it seems to be limited to the lower orders who have to live life in the real World.

    How exactly do these people in charge get these top jobs with absolutely no practical experience at all.

    Ah got it, they are interviewed by the same sort of people, with the same views and a similar lack of knowledge.
    How else could there be an explanation.

    It seems to me we need a total clear out of most goverment agencies senior management, and to replace them wth people with practical experience.
    That or we scrap them entirely and manage things on a far more local basis using local knowledge and local people.

    • JoeSoap
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Agreed, but can’t you see that with the Tories we are just getting more of the same?
      The only serious way to deal with these cosy arrangements between Liblabcon politicians is seriously to ditch the lot.
      Until people posting on here and our host realises that belonging to liblabcon means you are part of the problem, not part of the solution not a lot will change.

  19. Peter Richmond
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I cannot help but think if Somerset were in the US, the President would have declared the Somerset floods a national emergency many weeks ago. It’s just the right thing to do. David Cameron has failed on this. He needs to get his moral compass properly sorted. As for agency Chair, Chris Smith who spoke yesterday on TV…pathetic! He should be fired immediately along with the CEO who seems incapable of managing his budget to ensure a sensible ratio between staff and capital expenditure.
    As for the BBC I have long since held the view that they should be privatised and left to compete with Sky. Much of what they put out is no different to commercial stations and it is hard if not impossible to understand why the BBC should have special ‘public’ standing supported by the license ‘tax’. Quite frequently one gets a more balanced picture of news and politics from Al Jazerra, RT today, Sky and yes, sometimes even Euro-news!

  20. rick hamilton
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I really would like to hear from Dr Redwood what formal redress we have against blatantly biased reporting by our ‘public service broadcaster’. There is plenty of outrage here and in many other blogs about the BBC behaving like the broadcast edition of The Guardian.

    Why does no Conservative senior minister have the guts to challenge them? Is it because they believe the BBC is so loved by voters that it can’t be called to account? Sure, much of its entertainment output is world-class but its news and comment and so-called comedy are riddled with leftie bias.

    Of course you can argue that we are not forced to listen to it but this isn’t the issue. The point is how many poorly informed voters accept BBC-speak as gospel truth.

    • Neil craig
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      The BBC Charter has a specific requirement that coverage be “balanced”. That Charter is a legal document. The Attorney General has a legal duty to enforce the law (but then he had one over criminal wars too).

      A private organisation would have to have deep pockets to bring a private prosecution but the case seems undeniable. Or am I being overly trusting about the honesty of the courts.

  21. Man of Kent
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    The BBC theme is always ‘public expenditure -good’ then anything to do with deficit
    reduction , savings , cuts ,efficiency , reduced headcount ,alternative strategies is ‘bad’.

    I have yet to see a BBC in-depth assessment of how we can make any part of the public sector more efficient and productive.

    Support for more money and public sector jobs for the Environment Agency is just par for the course.

    Very depressing.

    • lifelogic
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      “I have yet to see a BBC in-depth assessment of how we can make any part of the public sector more efficient and productive.”

      The BBC conclusion is always that the public sector needs more money, more tax, more powers, higher paid staff and more regulations.

  22. Bert Young
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    All Government Departments are beneath the eye and control of the Cabinet and its decisions ; Lord Smith is not alone in being able to get away with mismanagement and poor use of resources . The flak being experienced by the Enviroment Agency is very understandable and justified , but , the accusing finger of the public should not be distracted from the the poor leadership and direction and control from the centre . Valid experience and strong leadership is required to point the ship in the right direction and to keep it on course ; this is , sadly , lacking . There is little point in looking at the bottom to put things right , you have to start at the top .
    On another matter , I wish responders would keep to the subject and not use this blog for all sorts of other items . Responders should only be permitted one reply .

  23. forthurst
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    “I can only assume the BBC are colluding with [the EA]”

    One dysfunctional quangocracy colluding with another; where’s the logic?

    On a more serious note, the farmers and others whose livlihoods have been devastated to the point of bankrupcy must be compensated from the EA budget by the simple expedient of sacking without compensation all those starting with Lord Smith of Finsbury whose deliberate non-performance has lead to the flooding of the Somerset Levels. We do not need experts in the recreation of landscapes that have not existed for at least a thousand years.
    The English lanscape has been adapted by English people for eons better to serve the needs of local communities. To take away local responsibility for maintaining the landscape and to give it to a body that deliberately sets out to ignore that function is despicable.

    • uanime5
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      On a more serious note, the farmers and others whose livlihoods have been devastated to the point of bankrupcy must be compensated from the EA budget by the simple expedient of sacking without compensation all those starting with Lord Smith of Finsbury whose deliberate non-performance has lead to the flooding of the Somerset Levels.

      Surely the minister in charge of this quango should also be sacked for failing to supervise it.

      • forthurst
        Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

        “Surely the minister in charge of this quango should also be sacked for failing to supervise it.”

        A quango is a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation; the Environment Agency is not part of Defra and is not under the direct supervision of the Minister.

    • John Wrexham
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      Perhaps we could transfer the powers to manage local river systems back to the local drainage boards with a broad mix of people represented on each board. i think they are about to be abolished in wales. not sure what is happening in england?

  24. Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    If the media is to be believed, it seems that the Environment Agency has a deliberate policy of allowing such areas as the Somerset Levels to return to their natural state. It would appear that this has never been discussed in public, nor have those who have invested their life savings in property or land in that area ever been consulted or told about the plans.
    Normally, if the state is proposing to take someone’s land or property, there has to be full public consultation and the land has to be compulsorily purchases at valuation, as in the case of the proposed HS2 rail link.
    There is something totally wrong with a system that allows a government agency to achieve its objective by default, without any consultation or compensation to those affected. It is the people and their elected representatives who should be making these decisions, not a so-called “Agency” which appears to be running amok in pursuit of its own objectives. It is time our Ministers took back full control and set policies rather than allowing some political placeman to pursue his own objectives

    • Posted February 4, 2014 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Hi EnglishPensioner

      The policy has been discussed in public (sort of) try googling ‘Shoreline Management Plan’ and also have a look at Natural England and EU Habitats Directive.

      Seems EA and DEFRA have been capture by RSPB WWF and others who seem to want to eradicate humans for the benefit of birds and animals

      bit of shame for animals when land floods though
      bit of shame for birds which drink fresh water when sea floods land

    • John Wrexham
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:39 am | Permalink

      Doesn’t anyone remember that all the agencies were created under Mrs T because she and the no.10 policy unit felt running everything from Whitehall using the old fashioned Civil Service was failing. These new agencies were to be at arms length and to be more dynamic and business like. If you recall Michael Howard was very keen to emphasize that the Prison Service was at arms length from the Home Office when he was sec of state. Now the tide has turned and the right are calling for the agencies to be brought back under control of the centre. I reckon neither was a solution – just one more example of how right wing ideology can be as hopeless as its opposite on the left.

      Reply When I ran the Policy Unit we did not favour large transfers of activity to Quangoes.

  25. Roger Farmer
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    The EA spend around £1.2 Billion. As only one example France spends less than half of this sum for a larger population and a much larger country.
    Of the total spend, just short of £420 million is on staff and pensions. It would be interesting to know what the division of staff is between those who dredge and ditch and those who administer. Whatever it is they only managed to spend just short of £223 million on actual works but managed just short of £405 million on other expenditure. whatever that was. Some of it must have been on vehicles, their running, and maintenance as it appears that they have a vehicle for every two employees of whom there are around 10,000.
    I would like to see the whole organisation audited by the account department of any profitable company in the private sector with a possible reorientation towards those that do, and away from those who administer. I suspect the EA is a mere symptom of the whole way government operate across all departments. It is mostly because those who run government have never sold oranges from a barrow on a wet Saturday to describe the problem figuratively.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      It is not so much that they can not run a whelk stall that would be bad enough. It is that they are not remotely interested in running it efficiently – it is not their money it is their job, pension and milk cow. Efficiency is the last thing they want.

  26. acorn
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Talk about quoting out of context JR, is there an election coming? The Environment Agency was created by your mob (when you were Secretary for Wales), via the Environment Act 1995. A rambling shambles of a piece of legislation, typical of the Major government. Hence the Environment Agency is a rambling shambles that has a remit that covers four ministries and functions from nuclear waste to fly tipping and everything you can think of inbetween.

    BTW. Did you know that the last commencement order (SI) to start up various bits of that 1995 Act, wasn’t issued till 2006; eleven years later. Some sections of Acts never get a commencement order (Easter Act 1928). As Lord Norton said “Why pass an Act of Parliament if its provisions are never given effect?”.

  27. Edward2
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    EA policies are what they are because well over twenty years ago the predictions were for much higher temperatures and droughts.
    Additionally, nearly all scientists were predicting that after 2000 there would be even more rapidly rising temperatures and greatly reduced rainfall.
    It is only more recently that the experts predictions have shifted to saying that climate change driven by global warming will bring more rain.
    Spending on river management and was cut right back as a result of this advice decades ago and this expert opinion changed decisions on investments made by the EA ever since.
    For example, we are told that dredging has not happened since 1994 and the equipment was sold off around this time.
    Additionally, driven by EU policies on the environment, the EA created a policy of non-intervention in nature, allowing river banks and coastal erosion to take its natural course.
    The combinations of these misguided policies, based as they are on a false consensus of expert opinion, has led us to where we are today.

  28. ian wragg
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    If I was the insurers, I would refuse to pay out and suggest the claimants sue the EA as it is a deliberate policy to flood the levels.
    This would shine the spotlight squarely on the government and the interference from Brussels.
    I would love to know what the Dutch are doing to flood the country in accordance with EU directives or is it just intended to destroy English agriculture. No doubt cheered on by the French and Germans.
    You just don’t deserve to be in government after the next election. I hop Farage is busy making hay on all the disclosures.

    • Chris
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      See the Wetlands trust article with regard to the Dutch – excerpt below on the restoration of flood plains as Space for Water. Rather an anti farming stance, and all tied in with the doctrine of climate change:
      http://www.wetlands.org/News/Pressreleases/tabid/60/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/3391/Default.aspx
      “While many things contributed to the recent floods, the loss of floodplains is an overwhelming factor. According to the European Environmental Agency, “conversion of floodplains for farming and other development has dramatically reduced the size of the Danube system floodplains.” 95% of the Upper Danube and 75% of the Lower Danube floodplains are cut off by dikes. “This has increased the risk of floods and pollution in the region, threats that are expected to rise with climate change.”
      Instead of rushing to build even higher dikes, the rest of Europe should take notice of Room for the River and other examples where green infrastructure is being used to reduce the risk of floods. Restoring the natural functions of floodplains and wetlands offers important lessons for strengthening resilience to floods while coping with a changing climate.
      Now is the time to act. In the coming months, EU countries will have several opportunities to put in place guidance and policies that restore floodplains and wetlands by implementing a green infrastructure strategy and developing guidance on natural water retention measures as a part of the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources….”

      See also the links below for more about the Dutch:
      http://www.restorerivers.eu/RiverRestoration/Floodriskmanagement/tabid/2615/Default.aspx
      http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/publications/lifepublications/lifefocus/documents/wetlands.pdf (e.g. page 74)

  29. Alte Fritz
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    The Environment Agency is headed by a former cabinet minister and another quango in the news, Ofsted, was headed by a former New Labour full time employee who was sent to the Lords.

    I can see that anyone who must answer for a public body needs to be familiar with the culture but is that not a skill which should come with the job and the job is, first and foremost, expertise in the body you head. I think it might not be a bad idea if the EA were headed by a civil engineer who understands water and how we “manage” to it and understands how to manage a service.

  30. Mark
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Spot on criticism of the BBC, who are at it again today. Cuadrilla have announced their plans for new exploration wells in the Bowland shale. Of course, the BBC goes into its ritual litany about “controversial shale gas” and gives space to Friends of the Earth for comment.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      Is it not time to get rid of tax relief for most of these “charitable” activity. Restricting it to what most people actually think is actual charitable activity.

  31. Bob
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Did I hear right? Is the EA suggesting that we can protect town or country but not both?
    Is this another divide and rule tactic?

    As for the BBC:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2550968/Scrap-TV-licence-public-support-BBC-fall-cliff-warns-ex-Crimewatch-host-Nick-Ross.html

    The standard of output from the BBC, whether news, current affairs, comedy or drama is dross. The main support seems to come from lefties and strictly come dancing and/or soap addicts – hardly sufficient justification to socialise the running costs.

  32. Bernard Otway
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    commenting for the first time in more than a year,I am now even more convinced i did the right thing and relocated for ever more than 7000 miles away,at age 68 nearly 69 I am utterly convinced that my country has gone stark raving bonkers,save a few like John and other commenters here.I note also no comment taking the contrary side to you john,that shows they have no argument and are scared to say so.Please note I did not need editing like in the past,i still get great solace in reading the weekly piece by ‘fred on everything” and let
    him say the Unsayable and upset everybody with the truth,i recommend all to google him.

    • Bob
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      @Bernard
      Thanks for the recommendation.

      I particularly like his comment about the “No Child Left Behind” act.
      Perhaps it would be more accurately called “No Child Gets Ahead”.

  33. Roger Farmer
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    The EA spent £1.2 Billion in their last years accounts. Staff costs and pensions run at £419.9 Million. Other expenditure at £404.9 Million, raising the total spent to £824.8 Million. This is all before they dredge a bucket of mud, which seems to be defined as works, on which they spent a mere £222.8 Million. I can only guess at how much of this found it’s way to Somerset.
    They have a staff of 10,000 plus and a vehicle for every two people they employ. From where I sit it would seem to be yet another example of government department empire building. Value for money would seem to be their last thought, and you dear taxpayer are being screwed for it.
    I would suggest a 50% cull of staff, and the money saved be used to dredge the rivers and raise their banks. The minister should end the useless quango and find a small group of professional civil engineering management to sort the problem.
    I suspect you will find this level of gross mismanagement in every government department, and it all happens because the leadership is not fit for purpose. Parties in breweries comes to mind.

    • Roger Farmer
      Posted February 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      The above is a second submission because the site indicated that the first was unacceptable in a technical sense. However I see it somehow got published.

    • John Wrexham
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:43 am | Permalink

      It would be great if we could find some solution to this problem without trashing all our rivers. People talk about dredging as if they were cleaning out the gutter, but rivers are one of our most important environments and we shouldn’t just treat them as drain pipes to be abused and our interests made paramount to all others at all times.

  34. formula57
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    “Clearly it is government policy to protect people and farms from flooding wherever possible. The Agency may be at variance with this aim.”

    Indeed! If only the Government had any say over the Agency, scrutinized its activities and could direct its affairs as need be.

    As it is, there is only O. Paterson and his huge staff, none of whom would seem to have any rights to challenge and are as surprised and disappointed as the rerst of us. Ho hum.

  35. Vanessa
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    John, you should know by now that the BBC is SO biased towards global warming and the EU that it NEVER does a decent interview where these two topics are involved.

    I am surprised they did not interview Prince Charles while he was there as he is on their side because he makes SO much money out of windmills that global warming is the answer to everything.

    If I want the truth, I never watch or listen to the BBC – it really is as simple as that.

  36. Chris Rose
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    I am very much hope that a consequence of the hardship suffered in Somerset will be a comprehensive assessment of the performance of the EA. For years, it seems to me, they have been bone idle about maintaining our rivers and riverbanks. I have personal experience of the River Wear, but have heard similar stories from people who live elsewhere.

    I would like all quangos to be accountable to Parliament for their budgets and their performance.

  37. Credible
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Good to have a flood isn’t it, then there’s an excuse to bash another public body.

    Does it matter anyway since this is a 1 in 100+ year event and the probability will not change since people on this blog know categorically that AGW is a socialist fantasy.
    In that case there is no need to dredge or do anything, because it probably won’t happen again for ages.

    Dredging rivers is very expensive, generally pointless, and would be pretty ineffective in this situation with so much rain. If it was started again, it would just be stopped again after a few dry years to save money.

    I don’t hear any mention on this blog about private energy companies ripping off people who don’t pay by direct debit.

  38. Iain Gill
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m upset with the National Trust allowing beauty spots which have been defended from the sea for centruries decay and fall into the sea based on their interpretation of whats best for the rest of us. A view that nobody I know supports.

  39. Charlie de Pelet
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Lord Smith seems to be actively following an agenda which seems at variance from the wishes of the people.

    He needs to be held to account.

  40. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Are you crediting people with selfless organisational abilities? No amount of money would correct the wrongs of the selfish whoever they are employed by.Surely the floods will be blamed on’ An act of God.’

  41. uanime5
    Posted February 4, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Don’t they think it unacceptable that people have flooded homes and businesses? Isn’t the main point of the Agency to do what it takes to protect us from floods and ensure we are supplied with clean water and a good waste water service? Where did the £1200 million spent last year go?

    Well if the EA answered these questions if might make the minister in charge look bad for failing to prevent these floods or account for how this money was spent.

    They should first have explored the issue of whether it is a deliberate policy of the Agency to allow large parts of the country to be flooded, as they seem to wish to restore old landscape prior to the draining of the land to create homes and farms for people. It appears from various EA statements that they do hanker after more wetlands and fewer farms and homes in certain areas. It also appears from the Chairman’s recent article that they think they can only protect urban areas, and will sacrifice rural ones. Clearly it is government policy to protect people and farms from flooding wherever possible. The Agency may be at variance with this aim.

    Well given that there’s currently nothing the EA can do to prevent flooding their only option is to sacrifice one area in order to protect another area. Unless you know of something the EA can do right now that won’t result in anywhere else being flooded.

    Why did the INCREASE in the staff budget, £30m, exceed the total spend on essential maintenance?

    Could this increase be due to this quango being merged with another body or being given more responsibilities?

    They should have asked why the Agency seems to think it is sufficient to warn people of impending floods, rather than putting in place the bunds, barriers, pumps and other methods to divert the water from homes and businesses?

    Is this the responsibility of the EA? If so has the government given them the resources and manpower to accomplish this?

    I want Ministers to bring this quango to account.

    That can only be done if the minister didn’t tell the EA to spend less on flood defences. It may also be problematic for the minister if he was responsible for staff or budget cuts to the EA which reduced its ability to deal with floods.

    • Mark
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:51 am | Permalink

      If you think the Minister should be responsible for how the Environment Agency is run, then there is no point in having Lord Smith running it. Since he seems to have done a poor job of running it – allowing it to become very inefficient, as well as failing to protect adequately against floods, there is a very good point in not having Lord Smith in charge.

      Personally, I do not think the Minister should have to concern himself with the day-to-day management of such an organisation. He ought to be focused on ensuring that legislation is appropriate, both by arguing in Brussels for more sensible measures, and by ensuring his department don’t go around gold plating EU measures to create inefficient bureaucracy in place of action on the ground.

      • APL
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        Mark: ” then there is no point in having Lord Smith running it.”

        And it seems, if Patten at the BBC is anything to go by, as a ‘Lord’, he can refuse to appear before any inquiry instigated in the Commons.

        For that reason alone, he should be fired, and replaced by someone who can be held accountable!

  42. Chris
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Fifth attempt to post with spambot and the like:
    I have been trying for several days to post links to articles on the Defra and EU websites about the various EU Directives that are governing the action, or rather the inaction, with regard to the Somerset flooding. At least Denis Cooper has been able to post above the link to the R North blog which gives a rigorous analysis of the true situation and the link with the EU. It would appear that the emphasis is on environmental protection rather than protecting people, homes and livelihoods, hence the relative ease with which £31 million could be found to create a bird sanctuary in the Somerset Levels region, yet no money for dredging and routine maintenance.

    In an article from information daily, 7 January, it refers to river basins being designated as Sites of Scientific or Special Scientific Interest, (with all the multitude of regulations/restrictions) where the focus is on protecting the flora and fauna as well as taking steps to develop that flora and fauna e.g. creation of wetlands. Dredging is apparently anathema to those promoting the habitat protection approach, and it is indeed governed by all manner of regulations with regard to amount per metre of river bank that can be dredged, what can be done with the material as it is classified as a type of waste and has to be treated in a certain way – it can’t be spread on the land, and so on. Various organisations/departments are closely linked with this flora/fauna habitat protection, e.g.the Environment Agency, Defra, Natural England, RSPB, to name but a few.

    I believe that common sense must prevail and power has to be brought back to enable the key issues of protecting homes and livelihoods to be addressed. This should not be a matter of urban versus rural, nor should the debate be fanned by the extreme weather brigade. The Levels have always had the potential for flooding and it is only the “engineering work” that has been carried out over the years that has transformed it into a habitable area, all the year round. That hard work has all been sacrificed as we seem to be in the hands of individuals/organisations who do not comprehend some basics about land and drainage management, and who are intent on pursuing another agenda entirely, focused on preserving habitats for water voles, kingfishers and pondweeds, rather than dealing with vital issues of protecting lives and homes and livelihoods. Much as I like kingfishers, they should not take priority.

    There was a H of C debate/questions on flooding a couple of days ago, and not one MP made any reference to the role of the EU Directives. If the fundamental cause of the “new” approach to river basin management i.e. the EU, is not even acknowledged, what hope is there for real solutions to be found?

  43. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    How about a House of Commons committee authorised to get both the Environment Agency and the BBC to account for how they spend their money, and to set out what grants and subsidies they receive from the EC.

  44. Mike Wilson
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    What I don’t understand is why the facts about the Environment Agency that Mr. Redwood revealed yesterday (or the day before) are not on the front page of every newspaper in the country, every day, in headlines 6″ high demanding action.

  45. Duyfken
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Rather late with comment (far away abroad) I suggest Smith should honourably fall on his sword , or dishonourably be made to do so.

  46. John Dakin
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I think that the appropriate Select Committee should hold the Environment Agency to account–as has happened with the BBC; then at least the holding to account would be done publicly.

  47. David
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    John

    Your article displays an astounding ignorance of government policy on flood risk management and on the mechanisms of flooding. You ask if the EA have a policy of allowing farmland to flood and protecting towns, in fact the EA do not have a policy, it is the Government (a Tory one at the last count) who have the policy and their Agencies are tasked with implementing it. The rules on where flood defence monies are spent are clearly set out by DEFRA, they have very detailed economic assessments that set out the costs and benefits of flood protection measures. Unfortunately the cost of protecting isolated rural properties and farmland simply do not deliver the benefit that a similar spend in an urban area, where homes and businesses are closer together, can deliver. The EA have protected many thousands of properties from flooding in the last few weeks, unfortunately there are a few tens of homes in rural areas badly affected by flooding but don’t hide the facts of the great flood prevention measures the EA has delivered.

    You talk of the large amounts of capital money raised by the EA for flood defence, but you know that government rules say that money must be spent on building new capital schemes, not on maintaining existing ones. The budgets for maintenance work are being cut, around 20% cut by DEFRA for next year – at least it was until a few farms in the Tory heartland flooded and the Government suddenly found some more cash.

    As for your comments on dredging, again there are vast amounts of scientific research on hydraulics and drainage and most of it agrees that dredging rivers can deliver some benefit in a limited set of circumstances – usually in steeper catchments around pinch points such as bridges or culverts. In flat, low lying drains and ditches it does not deliver any significant benefit and costs a fortune. Perhaps if farmers want their land to drain better they should improve their farming practices to keep the soil in their fields instead of letting it wash away into the streams, and perhaps they should invest in their internal drainage boards to provide pumping stations to take water away. When land is below sea level, pumping is the only way to achieve this. Maybe the landowners should pay for this instead of expecting millions of tax payers to pay for their privilege of living in a beautiful part of the English countryside.

    Maybe the public will take you to account at the next election and vote you out of office.

    Reply Ministers have made very clear their policy is to protect areas like the Somerset levels and for the Agency to pump and dredge as necessary to achieve this. The Agency belatedly says it will now do this. My constituents wish me to stand up for better flood prevention in my more urban area, which is exactly what I am doing.

  48. T Ward
    Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Total COMPLACENCY. We are affiliated with Holland. From the earliest footsteps of man in this country we have discovered “Where flooding occurs” Including the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. Now if they flooded there would be a “BIG STINK”
    From as early as Henry VIII who introduced a sewage and drainage Act. We have been draining land . (probably even before).
    In 1607 the Bristol Channel floods. —–A famous Dutch Drainage engineer Sir Cornelius Vermuyden came to The Somerset Levels. The rest you could say is history.
    1953 The East coast floods. Since then 100s of miles of sea walls have been built including the Thames Barrier.
    Somewhere in between we have lost the plot. Thinking probably “Only the East Coast Floods”?
    Considering most of our West and South coast sea walls have basically lasted since Victorian times, they have not done badly.
    Who payed for them? Who built them?
    The maintenance of “The Country” is critical.
    I wonder if we really have THE right caliber of people now who understands what is required to solve our present situation.
    I mean, The maintenance, REAL maintenance. I ask the question. Why are going abroad for advice. ie Holland. Do we now not have our own Knowledge of these skills.
    Our biggest problem is that with every change in government we have a change in policy.
    The first law in physics. Reaction is equal and opposite. Take something away, what happens?

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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