Friday May 27, 2016

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The Angling Trust has joined forces with environmental campaigners to warn that government policies are likely to make flood damage more likely and limit the ability of the Environment Agency to offer help, warning and support to flood-hit communities.

Both the Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary have claimed that flood defence work was being protected from planned cuts but it is now clear this is not the case. It has just been announced that some 90 lock and weir keeper posts on the River Thames alone now face the axe. These staff play a crucial role in regulating flows during flood events.

Many of the 1,700 EA staff whose jobs are set to disappear in the next year are either working directly in flood defence, or have been seconded in from other parts of the Agency such as Fisheries, Planning, Waste Control or Mapping during the recent floods to help out. If their jobs are cut, there will be fewer staff to provide back up in future floods and other functions – such as pollution prevention and enforcement – will struggle to deliver their statutory duties effectively.

Furthermore, attempts by the government to deregulate dredging in water meadows, vital for storing flood water, could contribute to an increase in flood risk further downstream by creating higher flood peaks. The Environment Agency has also warned against increasing dredging in the floodplain with a study published last year which concluded that far from reducing flood risk dredging can "speed up flows and potentially increase the risk of flooding downstream."

Finally, the Trust has reacted with alarm to reports that the coalition is preparing to mount a fresh assault on planning laws by giving developers the power to push though applications without the need for council approval or environmental assessments, including the requirements to incorporate flood defences and to protect important water meadows.

Reading in Berkshire, home of Angling Trust campaigns chief Martin Salter and where he served as a local MP, is one Thames Valley town that escaped the worst of the floods despite being located on the junction of the Thames and the Kennet. Mr Salter joined up with some of the campaigners who worked with him and defeated plans to build on Kennet water meadows over the last three decades to repeat the message that the Kennet flood plain must be protected at all costs along with functional water meadows everywhere. There is renewed developer interest in building on the floodplain as the housing market begins to recover which will be further fuelled by any government relaxation in the planning process.

Martin Salter said: "Rather than paddling around in the floodplain crying crocodile tears for the victims of the floods, politicians of all parties should start unwinding policies and plans that will make a bad situation many times worse. It is crassly irresponsible to be axing any posts in the already over-stretched Environment Agency when we know climate change is going to make extreme flood events more, not less likely. Relaxing planning consents and deregulating dredging on the floodplain is downright stupid and flies in the face of evidence and advice from the government's own experts and advisors. And to be even considering removing lock and weir keepers from the Thames while it is a lethal mass of swirling floodwater will appear incomprehensible to everyone who knows what a vital job these guys do in looking after the river and helping keep people safe."

He added: "As anglers we know how dangerous rivers can be and how important it is to avoid situations where water is running off the floodplain and into already overloaded river channels. We can't dredge our way out of flooding but we can call a halt to policies that prevent the water meadows from doing their job and operating as natural reservoirs. Functioning water meadows are good for the environment, good for fish and wildlife and are the best flood defences we can have."

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