Flooded areas left with hundreds of crucial flood defences in poor conditions

Campaigners have urged Rishi Sunak to visit flood-hit communities and see for himself the impacts of the climate crisis as official figures show hundreds of key flood defences are in a state of disrepair in parts of England currently underwater.

Analysis of government data by Greenpeace’s investigative unit Unearthed shows that in Gloucestershire 12% (175) of the county’s defences were found to be in poor or very poor condition, following inspections by the Environment Agency (EA) in 2022. A quarter of vital defences in the Forest of Dean were found to be below required condition, while 16% of assets in Tewkesbury, which was repeatedly flooded in recent months, were also found to be sub-par.

One in ten crucial defences in Hampshire were labelled either poor or very poor, including 42% of all defences in Hart and a third of those in Basingstoke and Deane. Across Nottinghamshire, where a major incident has been declared, 6% of all assets (109) were in a poor condition, with one in six of the county’s privately maintained defences graded as poor or very poor.

Defences are classed as being in very poor conditions when they have “severe defects resulting in complete performance failure”, according to the EA.

Greenpeace UK climate campaigner Georgia Whitaker said:

“While the prime minister is on a tour to kick off the election year, thousands of people are seeing their homes, businesses and fields wrecked by rising water. This is just a glimpse of the devastation the climate crisis will bring to communities across the UK if the government carries on ignoring this existential threat.

“We’ve known for decades that the climate crisis would bring more rainfall and flooding to the UK, and yet the government completely failed to prepare for it. Thousands of flood defences are in a state of disrepair and ministers are still allowing developers to build in high-risk areas, while also pushing for more oil and gas drilling that will only make the problem worse. It’s a double failure.

“Sunak should take a break from his glad-handing tour and see for himself what the real consequences of climate inaction look like. He might learn how voters waist-deep in flood water feel about his plans to slow down climate action ahead of the election.”

Of England’s 64,000 “high consequence” flood defences, 4,200 were rated as either condition 4, meaning poor, or 5, meaning very poor, in 2022. This means that 7% of the country’s most important flood defences are deemed to be in a poor state, according to data obtained under freedom of information rules. Nearly 900 of the defences – 1.3% of the total – were judged to be in very poor condition. Only 3% of all England’s high consequence defences were deemed “very good” or condition 1 last year, while a third were classed “good”. The majority – 57% – were rated “fair”.

The EA told Unearthed that it routinely inspects flood defences and when there is danger of a flood, emergency repairs are carried out. It clarified that when an asset is below the required condition, it does not necessarily mean that it has structurally failed, or that performance in a flood is compromised. A spokesperson for the EA said the agency had invested £200 million between April 2022 and March 2023 “to ensure our assets were winter ready.”