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Flood and coastal defence works are provided to protect human life as well as important economic and environmental assets. Many urban areas with key infrastructure - businesses, jobs, transport links and homes - are defended against flooding and coastal erosion. So too is much land of environmental, agricultural and recreational importance. The benefits provided by these works can extend for many miles and be shared by thousands, or even millions, of people, and are for the good of both local and national economies.
MAFF has policy responsibility for flood and coastal defence in England and administers the legislation which enables such works to be carried out. (The National Assembly for Wales has similar responsibility in Wales.) MAFF organises an annual conference for professionals involved in this area of work to share best practice and disseminate research and policy developments. The aim of MAFF's flood and coastal defence programme is to reduce risks to people and to the developed and natural environment from flooding and coastal erosion in England. MAFF pursues this aim in three main ways:
First, MAFF gives financial support to the flood and coastal defence operating authorities in England (local authorities, the Environment Agency and Internal Drainage boards) for between 35% and 75% of the value of capital projects to provide sound and sustainable flood and coastal defences and warning systems. In total, MAFF provides over 50% of the annual eligible expenditure on capital schemes.
Second, MAFF provides published advice and guidance to the operating authorities to encourage proper consideration of technical, economic and environmental issues when flood and coastal defence schemes are being planned, designed and implemented.
Third, MAFF funds a research programme aimed at improving understanding of the natural processes involved in flooding and coastal erosion, examining techniques for the design and management of defences, and furthering environmental interests.
The Government recognises the importance of sustaining flood and coastal defences, and has increased spending plans in both of its Spending Reviews. In November a further increase of £51 million was announced as part of the response to the severe flooding events in Autumn 2000. In all MAFF funding is set to increase by 50% from £76 million in 2000-01 to £114 million in 2003-04. A primary objective is to make a real difference to the speed at which the capital programme for river defences is carried forward, with rates of grant increased by 20%, and progress being made with a number of large and important schemes - see the booklet Flood and Coastal Defence, and the Flood and Coastal Defence Countryside Matters leaflet. In June 2000 MAFF distributed a National appraisal of assets at risk of flooding and coastal erosion in England which is the first attempt at a comprehensive estimate of risks on a national basis.
Since 1995 MAFF has promoted preparation of shoreline management plans by coastal defence authorities. These plans are intended to strengthen coastal defence policy by ensuring a strategic approach is taken so that potential effects elsewhere on the coast are addressed, and by fostering closer partnership between the authorities involved in coastal issues. The 1995 Guidance is being updated to reflect latest understanding and help produce a second generation of plans.
Future plans for flood defence and coast protection schemes will continue to give priority to protecting densely populated areas. The Government also supplies significant sums of Revenue Support Grant to the local authorities to support the non-grant aided part of the flood and coastal defence programme including the levies that the local authorities pay to the Environment Agency and Internal Drainage Boards, as well as their own spend on flood and coastal defence.