Not a good time to pull the plug on flood protection.

Environment Agency pulls £50m scheme to protect homes in England from flooding

A £50m scheme to protect thousands of homes from flooding by the autumn has been pulled by the Environment Agency.

Sandra Laville 

Businesses that put together bids for the scheme to provide homes in England with flood defences including flood doors, non-return valves and waterproof floors, say they have spent tens of thousands preparing their bids.

But on Tuesday the EA said the tender process was being pulled. In an email to companies, the EA said: “Following careful consideration the Environment Agency has decided to discontinue the current procurement of a new property flood resilience (PFR) framework that was commenced earlier this year.

“We have written directly to the suppliers who have submitted bids to advise them of this decision and the grounds for this decision.”

The EA said they were pulling the scheme because they had not received enough competent tenders to provide value for money. But Simon Crowther, who runs one of the companies that bid for the work, said the EA had made the process so complicated and costly it had put people off bidding.

Crowther, a civil engineer and chartered water and environmental manager, said his company had spent tens of thousands of pounds over the past six weeks preparing its bid. He said the failure of the agency would impact on climate emergency resilience, and leave an increased number of communities exposed to flooding.

“I feel I have to speak out about this. The actions of the Environment Agency will delay the protection of thousands of homes. Flood victims do not have a voice and they will not know that these protections were coming or that they are now being delayed because of the actions of the EA. So I feel I need to raise awareness about this failure.”

Crowther, whose firm bid to carry out surveys of homes in the north-east, the Midlands, London and Kent as part of the scheme, said the timetable provided to the company showed the protections for homes could have been in place by the autumn. “That will now all be delayed,” he said.

Mary Dhonau OBE, who was awarded an OBE for work on reducing flood risk, said the companies bidding for the work were all small businesses who had spent thousands preparing their bids.

She said: “I know all those who tendered were proud with the high standard of the tenders they submitted. The Environment Agency has now discontinued the procurement process and intend to invite tenders for a new procurement shortly.

“The property flood resilience industry is expected to go through the whole process again. I have explained the state of the marketplace. Over the last few days, I’ve talked to quite a few companies. One of them has held a crisis meeting and wonder if it’s worth staying in the PFR industry, another isn’t going to bother again and is changing direction. All of the companies are reeling with shock and disbelief.”

Cancellation of the process came as areas of the south-west were hit by flash flooding after heavy rain this week. In Somerset homes were evacuated and a major incident was declared.

The EA has spent two years preparing for the scheme. In its email to companies the agency said it still intended intention to go ahead with the flood defence project and would be in touch with those interested “as soon as possible”.

The project was pulled by the EA as the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) revealed only a third of local authorities had enough staff to manage flash flood risks.

CIWEM said more than 5m households are reported to be at risk from this form of flooding and surface water management in England was not consistently coordinated, or funded to manage future flood risks.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “These claims are patently untrue. Not only is the Environment Agency continuing to work with partners to promote and deliver Property Flood Resilience solutions for many communities, we are also currently developing a new framework for suppliers which we aim to have awarded by the end of this year. As part of that process, we are focused on options to encourage more suppliers to submit bids, to drive competition and maximise value for money for the public.”

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