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More money needed to dredge rivers if repeat of floods devastation is to be avoided in Maidstone and Yalding

By Paul Francis

More money must be found to dredge rivers if a repeat of the devastation caused by recent floods is to be avoided, according to a group of MPs.

The government has been urged to ensure that where more dredging is required, it must make a long-term commitment to pay for it.

Several parts of Kent, notably Yalding and Maidstone, were badly affected by the floods and questions were raised about the failure to dredge rivers like The Medway.

High river levels in Maidstone

Now MPs on a select committee say that Defra must increase funding for maintenance, which “is at a bare minimum.”

On dredging, the report states: “Where dredging is appropriate, the benefits need to be sustained through routine maintenance.

"Too often, work is neglected until a need is created for costly one-off capital investment.”

However, the MPs say that dredging alone is not enough and should not be seen as “an all-purpose solution.”

The committee said it was concerned to hear from the Environment Agency that when the overall funding for maintenance went down from £170m in 2012/13 to £147m in 2013/14 “the bits that gets squeezed is conveyance work: that is, regular clearing, dredging and keeping rivers clear.”

Flooding after heavy rainfall in Maidstone
Flood-hit Yalding was among the worst affected

The report concludes: “While we recognise the need to balance competing demands on a finite budget, the avoidance of flood events that devastate communities should, as far as possible, take priority over cost-cutting.”

Anne McIntosh, chairman of the committee, said: “Regular work to dredge and keep rivers clear can be an essential flood prevention measure, yet this is exactly what gets squeezed out when budgets are tight.

"The Government needs to recognise the importance of regular maintenance work and put it on an equal footing with building new defences.”

On a visit to Kent earlier this year to see flood hit areas, chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander said money would be available for flood defence works.

Heavy rain over Christmas caused wide spread flooding in and around the Maidstone area
Yalding was one of the areas of Kent hit hard by floods

But the Environment Agency said at the time that dredging rivers around Yalding would not have made much difference to the chaos caused by the wet weather.

Maidstone county councillor Rob Bird, who lives in Yalding, said: “There is more scope for dredging.

"There is a bottleneck in The Medway and I will be pleased if something does come out of this. Select committee reports do often look good on paper but are often ignored.”

The Environment Agency said: “We review our maintenance programme to make sure we spend taxpayers’ money where it is most effective, and are working with Defra on several pilot projects aimed at making it easier for farmers and landowners to undertake watercourse maintenance."

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