Flood defences could suffer

THE quality of Essex's flood defences could be eroded if plans to merge the county's management structure with Suffolk and Norfolk go-ahead, it was claimed last night.

THE quality of Essex's flood defences could be eroded if plans to merge the county's management structure with Suffolk and Norfolk go-ahead, it was claimed last night.

Terry Jagger, chairman of the Essex Flood Defence Committee, said his members felt Environment Agency proposals to streamline the way coast and river barriers are run and financed could lead to a loss of local control.

At the moment, the country is split into nine regions in a two-tier system with Essex essentially reporting to an Anglian committee comprising representatives from each of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk, Welland and Nene, Lincolnshire and the Great Ouse areas.

Each smaller area finances itself by levying charges on county councils as well as receiving block grants from Westminster.

But following a funding review last year, the Government recommended the creation of single tier flood defences nationwide with the most funding then being awarded on a points-scoring basis.

The Environment Agency has now proposed bracketing low-lying Essex with Norfolk and Suffolk as one of the single tier committees, sparking concern over future funding arrangements and therefore flood defence quality.

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The Mid-Essex Area Forum, which consists of both county and district councillors, is set to discuss the issue next Monday, but Mr Jagger said that when his committee met on Friday, there was a "healthy" debate.

He said: "I think members felt that the local perspective, which is crucial, would be lost if they were merged in to a bigger group.

"It works very well at the moment with Essex as a single entity and that is what members felt should continue to happen - they just feel they know their own patch."

He added: "Also, in a larger grouping we felt there's less of a guarantee of us being able to prioritise Essex and particularly how we get Defra funding."

A spokesman for the Environment Agency in the Anglian region stressed that the proposals were for consultation and plans had yet to be finalised.

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