HC Deb 24 March 2004 vol 419 cc835-6W
Mrs. May

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what changes have been made to the criteria used by the Environment Agency to determine priorities for investment in flood defences in each of the last five years; and on what basis these changes were made. [154914]

Margaret Beckett

For grant-aided capital investment the Environment Agency uses Defra's priority scoring system, which applies to all flood and coastal defence operating authorities. The system was introduced on a pilot basis in 1997 and, following a review and wide ranging consultation, a revised system was announced in 2002 to come into effect in April 2003. The revised system ranks projects on three components in a ratio of 20:12:12 respectively: benefit:cost ratio, the number of people to be protected (as measured by number of residences over cost) and environmental assets protected. In order to be approved for grant aid from Defra proposals must meet a minimum threshold score, which is reviewed annually.

For investment in other flood management expenditure the Agency issued guidance to Regional Flood Defence Committees (RFDCs) on priorities in 1998. From 1 April 2004 Grant in Aid from Defra will replace levies on local authorities for financing the bulk of RFDC expenditure and this gives the Agency a greater direct role in deciding on priorities and distribution between regions. For 2004–05, allocations reflected the assumptions made in regional business plans for the previous levy-setting round. The Agency is now working with Defra on a more robust prioritisation system for the allocation of Grant in Aid based on new performance measures in relation to flood risk reduction, for application from 2006–07. In the meantime the Agency will be expected to meet the targets published in their 2004 Corporate Plan.

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