Donald Trelford obviously thought up a snappy title to fit his prejudices (“Agency not fit for purpose” 13.02.14) and looked for “facts” to suit. After working as a director of a blue-chip company, I was appointed by the then government to be an advisor to the Environment Agency. For ten years until last April, I was given complete freedom to view all the Agency policies and practices, nationally and in one of the English regions, and was instrumental in making a number of improvements. Now I am free to tell it like it is.
After the 2007 floods, which particularly affected Tewksbury, Oxford and Hull and cost £3.2 billion, a far-reaching and independent review chaired by Sir Michael Pitt was published in June 2008. The Environment Agency was examined in detail and recommendations made, but there were far more changes urged on the water companies and on all agencies working together. “The Government should form a Cabinet Committee dedicated to tackling the risk of flooding” and to spend more than inflation on flood defence.
Sadly the current government cut the flood defence budget by about 20% (the £1.2 million mentioned by Mr Trelford includes all the other duties of the Agency), and said that “managed retreat” must be an option while money is scarce and the government is demanding a benefit of £8 for every £1 spent. Think of crumbling cliffs affecting homes built on the edge. I am sure that the £20 million paid out for the salt marsh in the Somerset Levels was compensation to farmers for being part of the managed retreat. Remember, the RSPB has over a million members who appreciate these things.
Despite all this, and the extraordinary weather which was far worse than 2007, the total bill for these floods is unlikely to exceed £1 billion - less than a third. Well done, Environment Agency!
Mr Trelford says the organisation “appears to have remarkably generous working conditions for its 12,000 staff”. Pay is set by the civil service and is far from generous, working conditions include spending a lot of unpaid hours in waders, and the numbers are being hit by another 1000-plus redundancies. Lastly, he calls for a full-time chairman with appropriate scientific qualifications. The chief executive is a distinguished scientist, and there are hundreds of excellent scientists in the Agency.