The long-term recovery costs after the recent storms in the Westcountry could soar to £16million, the region’s flood and coastal committee has been told.
Concerns have also emerged that flood defence staff have been so preoccupied with clearing out muck and debris this winter that routine maintenance work is building up and defence schemes could soon miss Government reliability targets.
Councils across the region have voted to up their levy contributions by 10% to help cope with the damage amid claims that the severe weather has “blown out of the water” any Environment Agency revenue budget plans.
The revelations came as Government claims that it is spending more than ever before on flood defences were labelled “misleading” after figures showed that Defra funding had actually reduced.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s claims of a four-year increase from £2.1billion to £2.3billion included the last year of Labours financial commitments, when spending reached a high of £670 million.
Leading councillors and flood defence experts were briefed today as to the “stark” reality of the damage to defence “assets” such as breakwaters, piers and harbour walls.
Although less than 200 properties were flooded, compared to almost 1,500 in winter 2012, the cost of rebuilding structures such as Portreath’s grade-two listed finger pier will be considerable.
Robert Van de Noort, chairman of the South West Regional Flood Defence Committee, told the Western Morning News “a lot of assets had been seriously damaged”.
He said so many Environment Agency staff had been busy “cleaning screens and keeping things going” that essential maintenance was not being done.
“I think we can just about make it (within the budget) this year but the backlog of maintenance can increase over time,” he added.
Philip Rees, who represents coastal issues on the group, told the meeting in Exeter that the issue of overspend on maintenance was a ticking “time bomb”.
Operations manager at the Environment Agency Steve Douglas said without further investment the region would soon drop below the Government’s 97% target for the success of flood defence assets.
“We are not taking about immediate failure of assets because they are well managed but we are creeping towards that target,” he added.
The five local authorities in Devon and Cornwall voted to increase their levy contribution by £75,000 this year to a total of £850,000.
Councils believe it could produce up to £400,000 in new flood defence schemes, calling the rise a “no brainer”.
Meanwhile, the national row over flood defence funding intensified with critics calling for an apology from the Prime Minister and his Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson.
Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: “They must apologise, but most of all they need to get serious about defending the country from increasing flooding as climate change worsens.
“This means greater investment in flood defences and reversing damaging cuts to the Environment Agency.”
Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said the contradiction was “humiliating for David Cameron and Owen Paterson.
“The Prime Minister must now stop repeating his misleading claim that more is being spent in the current four year period than in the previous four years, when these new figures reveal that is simply not true” she added.