Challenges and Opportunities for the Environment Agency

Our October meeting, held jointly with the local branch of the Royal Geographical Society, saw us welcome Lisa Pinney, head of the Midlands Region of the Environment Agency, visit us to explain the role of the Agency and the challenges it faces. Based at their Fradley offices, Lisa's remit extends over the whole of the West and East Midlands, where she is responsible for the maintenance and monitoring of 3432 km of main river and 47 water catchment areas, with a population of 6 million. The Agency was established by central government in 1995, by amalgamating a number of environmental agencies, the chief of which were the National Rivers Authority and the waste regulation responsibilities of local authorities. Nationally, with 10,000 staff, the Agency manages our flood defences and river systems, maintains and upgrades our coastal tidal defences, monitors water pollution and regulates the management of waste, ensuring that its safe disposed. To do this, the Agency staff work closely with a wide range of other organisations, including local authorities, water companies, like our own South Staffs Water Authority, and drainage boards. The staff tackle 25 thousand incidents annually. The Agency's work is overseen by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Its budget of 3.2bn per annum is met by government grants (60%) and the remainder sourced through the private sector and other agencies.

Predictably, a large part of her talk was occupied by an explanation of the Agency's role in flood protection. Whether it's working to put flood alleviation measures in place, reacting to flooding incidents, liaising with emergency services, or improving the forecasting of storm events, the Agency has a challenging task to tackle the implications of climate change. She dwelt particularly on the flooding problems last winter in Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire, when the Agency issued no less 92 flood warnings in a month. This is possibly the area of work which the general public associate with the Agency, but it has equally as important responsibilites in the regulation of waste, issuing licences to all carriers of waste and waste sorting and disposal facilities. The disposal of waste in a safe and proper manner is becoming increasingly fraught. Illegal tipping is on the increase, giving rise to potential health risks, particularly groundwater contamination.

There was a lively question and answer session at the end of the talk, when we were all encouraged by Lisa to look at the Agency's flood risk maps online to check if our property might be affected. The agency's website is : www.gov.uk/environmentagency and you can find their maps at : www.gov.uk/check-flood-risk She also supplied us with a list of key telephone numbers. They are: Incident Hotline 0800 80 70 60; Floodline 0345 988 1188; and the Customer Services number is 03708 506 506.

Roger Hockney
October 2016