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Is it time to scrap the Environment Agency?

5 February 2014

Aside from his ding-dong over floods with Ed Miliband at PMQs today, David Cameron also faced questions from backbenchers who have been affected by the floods. Conservative Graham Stuart asked whether the Prime Minister shared his ‘outrage at the false choice presented by the Chairman of the Environment Agency between protecting urban and rural areas from flood’. He was referring to Smith’s op-ed for the Telegraph earlier this week in which the quango chief pitched town and country against one another. The Prime Minister replied:

‘I think my honourable friend is absolutely right: there shouldn’t be a false choice between protecting the town or protecting the people who live in the countryside. I think what we need to see and where I think the debate is now rightly going is that from the late 1990s far too long the Environment Agency believed that it was wrong to dredge.’

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The Spectator’s leading article this week argues that Smith should be fired for ‘rank incompetence’ and the Environment Agency dismantled. It says:

‘Nothing has more vividly conveyed the failure of the Environment Agency during this crisis than the lamentable public performances of its current chairman, the former Labour culture secretary Lord (Chris) Smith. His weak, half-shifty, half-arrogant interviews have shown him up to be a man wholly out of touch with the reality of the havoc his agency’s policies have wreaked. His blatherings about a choice between protecting ‘front rooms or farmland’ sums up his failure to understand the countryside, and the fact that most people have looked after both for generations.’

And why did the Environment Agency decide against dredging in the first place? The leader argues that this seems an odd change of heart when humans have been managing nature for hundreds of years.

‘Many of our cherished ancient habitats are, of course, created and managed by man. It has been a long time since nature was self-regulating in this country in the way that some in the Environment Agency seem to wish it to be. The British have been living on reclaimed land for hundreds of years — which is what makes it so bizarre that quangocrats seem to think such areas should no longer enjoy proper protection.’

But after PMQs today, sources close to the Prime Minister sought to defend Smith, saying he was ‘bringing important leadership to the Environment Agency’.

You can read the full leading article in this week’s Spectator, available in print and online from tomorrow. Click here to subscribe.

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Show comments
  • disqus_IEXBZMbQzd

    We have a small farm in the Wensum Valley in Norfolk and have the same problem in that the river is no longer dredged, regularly bursts its banks and floods the fields. We are forced to pay the Environment Agency General Drainage Charges of £429.25 for 132 Hectares (Apr 2013 figure). If this is collected across the whole country where does the money go to and what is it spent on? It strikes me as a great fraudulent swindle?

    • Doggie Roussel

      The money probably goes straight into the pockets of Lord Chris Smith and all those other bloated fat cats who sit on the board of the environment agency, in the way of hyper-inflated salaries and expenses.

  • Radford_NG

    There is/has been a conflict between the Dutch populace and the EU over the demand that a Dutch polder be flooded to compensate for Antwerp being allowed to dredge the Westerschelde (taking sites from migratory birds).See below.

    Meanwhile Ukip demands money from Foreign Aid be diverted to British flood relief (showing Farage is more on the ball then Milliband).

    For the Dutch matter see-

  • Radford_NG

    There is/has been a conflict between the Dutch populace and the EU over plans to flood one of their polders in exchange for allowing Antwerp to dredge the Westerschelde (see below:akn to EC at ** Feb 3-9th for info.)

    UKIP advocates that Foreign Aid payments should be diverted for British flood relief (once again showing Farage is more on the ball then Milliband).

    For the Antwerp story-

  • Blazeaway

    We can’t abolish the Environment Agency because it is a creature of the EU and the EU now has ‘competence’ in this area in the UK.

    Does anyone know, though, if it is true that it is the EU that has instructed the EA to stop dredging? Is it true that the EA has sold its dredgers becayse of this aleged EU order?

    Can anone help?

  • global city

    If you scrap the EU it’s successor would still have to implement the same regulatory diktats of the EU. Nothing is going to change that.

    Why did Isabel not know that the EU dictates environmental policy now? It is an ‘exclusive competence.

  • ButcombeMan

    Look on the bright side, they have instantly achieved 65 square miles of badger culling without firing a shot.

    • starfish

      badgers can swim….

      • ButcombeMan

        The cubs cannot and they are born from late December onwards but my remark was (largely) a joke.

        Nearly everything else has died. That is what long term flooding does.

    • wobble

      Badgers aren’t stupid enough to build their sets on flood plains !

      • ButcombeMan

        Don’t rise to the bait.

  • moonrakin

    The EA … a bunch of people too many of whom (not all) are addicted to
    duplicitous intrigue and capricious whim without any actual sanctions
    for misbehaviour in place. Assurances are worthless because they are
    viewed simply as a feint by the weasels giving them.

    They lie shamelessly (in fact truth telling is probably a disciplinary thing), cheat (at executive level), bully (both their own staff and public victims), abuse/ignore the law, have a seemingly endless capacity for professional incompetence, are deliberately obstructive and opaque and on and on and on…

    I mean what’s not to like?

  • BoiledCabbage

    Most Quangos are corrupt, in the software sense, they are headless chickens with a marxist bent, or secretly RSPB.

    Cut Whitehall in half and spend the money on communities and the rain-afflicted. DFID, EA, Justice – fold these mutants back into their original hosts and sell the buildings.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    Centralist Quangos are the wrong way to go.
    The Pickles agenda has backfired – we need to give local communities the power (and the funding) to make decisions and enact policy that affects them. In this context one must also wonder why it was that Regional Development Agencies were abolished.

  • grandpa1940

    Sack Chris Smith, as he is just a useless appendage, and also get rid of the whole senior management level at the agency, replacing them with people who will look after British interests first, and Brussels’ not at all.

    The Environmental Agency is, unfortunately, only doing what they are told to do by Brussels and the European Union, our real political masters.

    The Agency stopped dredging the main rivers, and the silt which was allowed through by the Drainage Boards simply built up when untouched.

    It is a simple truth that once we stated that Europe could have a voice in how we look after our land, we forgot the old saying, ‘you never get rid of the Dane’!

    • Mynydd

      If it’s Brussels and the European Union how come the Welsh government has scrapped the Environment Agency in Wales. Maybe the Prime Minister should have a trip down the M4 and learn how to run a government, a minority one at that.

      • Sam

        The Welsh Government has not scrapped the Environment Agency as such. It is now Natural Resources Wales along with CCW, Forestry Commission Wales plus some Welsh Government bits.

        • Mynydd

          There is now only Natural Resources Wales the earlier agencies no longer exist.

          • Colonel Mustard

            No, don’t lie. They were merged together.

            From their own website:-

            “Natural Resources Wales has taken over the functions of the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency Wales and Forestry Commission Wales, as well as some functions of Welsh Government.”

            And ask WHY?

          • Jimmy R

            Which, in effect, Mynydd, is nothing more than a Welsh Environment Agency with a different label stuck on it’s door carrying out the orders imposed by Brussels.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    What I find extraordinary is that the coalition reappointed this socialist plutocrat in 2011. Who? Why?

    • foxoles

      Well, he does have a PhD in Wordsworth and Coleridge, and is therefore an obvious choice over all those chartered engineers and water level management specialists …


    • Mynydd

      Maybe because they didn’t have one of their own.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Who? Why?

      Common Purpose and Common Purpose I should think.

  • Denis_Cooper

    Did any of the backbench MPs ask to what extent the policies and actions of the EU have been controlled or influenced by the EU, or whether the Prime Minister accepts that there is some substance behind this allegation?

    “EU policy: deliberately flooding the Somerset Levels”

  • johnfaganwilliams

    the wonderful Christopher Booker has been on this for some time. Smith would resign if he had any honour – but that goes for so many people in public life it is hardly worth saying. For a responsible government minister to turn up to a flood without waterproof footwear is beyond parody and for the Prime Minister to publicly support this band of idiots and its leader shows his usual deftness at finding the wrong cause and the wrong person to put his weight behind. Sadly the brief time when Cameron has appeared in charge of both himself and his government – and even the country – has passed and we are back to the spectacle of a man completely promoted beyond his pay grade. The spectre of Milliband as our next PM looms large. I’m planning my emigration.

    • Andy

      What you say about Patterson might be true, but at least he has been to teh area which is a damn sight more than that idiot Smith has done. He ought to be dismissed.

      And I agree with what you say about Milliband.

  • Andy

    Answer is YES.
    Hand back management of the drainage of the Somerset Levels to local Drainage Boards and local people.
    I fail to see why we should have the biggest Environmental Agency in Western Europe, and patently the most useless. So sack that fat oaf Smith.

    • AnotherDave

      I thought the Conservatives advocated returning responsibility for flood defences to local government before the 2010 election, but my memory could be at fault! :-)

  • Doggie Roussel

    Absolutely the height of hypocrisy for that oaf, Milliband to get on his high horse over the rural floods.

    This communist and Hampstead Garden suburb-reared oaf is only interested in his Islington, townie band of sycophants and has no interest in the welfare or needs of the rural population of this country.

    Surrounded by phonies and thugs like Balls, Harperson, Cooper and all the other dross that squats on the opposition benches, he is just relieved to have a diversion from the current upsurge in the economy which the Labour cohorts, under the leadership of those two criminals, Blair and Brown, assisted by the economically illiterate Balls, contrived to totally devastate the economic well-being of this country.

    • La Fold

      Sadly so many will tribally follow him regardless.

      • global city

        Cameron is stuck himself, as he supported every green and nutty thing that came along. Today’s politicians have no concept of being able to admit that they got something wrong…. so nothing ever changes.

  • Kitty MLB

    Yes these agencies are a pointless waste of time, full of nonsense and rubbish.
    Also, we do have relatives on the Somerset levels- they are all somewhat soggy
    and thoroughly annoyed.

  • Colonel Mustard


    All these ‘agencies’ spend more time policing their own diversity and other Labour brainwashing bollocks than getting on with the job they are supposed to. Cut the bloody lot and push the funds down to the blokes in the front line who know what needs to be done.

    • In2minds

      And it’s not just agencies, the BBC, police, NHS, in fact anything to do with public service needs to be examined.

    • Mynydd

      The Labour government in Wales have scrapped the

      • Colonel Mustard

        Scrapped? More lies.

        “On 1 April 2013 (appropriately) the Environment Agency Wales was merged with the Countryside Council for Wales and Forestry Commission Wales into a single environmental body, Natural Resources Wales.”

        Scrapped vs merged – two different things entirely.

        • Mynydd

          The Environment Agency Wales no longer exists.

          • Nicholas chuzzlewit

            By your ridiculous logic all we have to do with RBS is merge it with another entity, a corner shop perhaps, and it will no longer exist, all gone, no more risk of loss. Stop being so utterly fatuous.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Pedantic semantics. It is now part of Natural Resources Wales. Its functions still exist.

  • bencorde

    I think this question should be put to Robin Page. His DT comments are always worth reading. They would make this page sizzle. The D of E have their priorities so wrong it beggars belief this crass department exists at all. The paltry amount of money they are prepared to stump up to protect farms, businesses and whole communities compared to the massive amounts they spend and waste elsewhere is a national disgrace. But what can you expect from the LIBLABCON carousel. The only party who support the citizens of the UK are UKIP and they’re damn well going to get our vote

  • Eyesee

    You have to laugh. Margaret Thatcher invented Quango’s to keep certain decisions at arms length, only so no blame for failure attached to government. And then Marxists seized the opportunity thus presented and took jobs in these institutions, not least in running them. Certain stupidity and failure was to follow. It’s a bit like the old joke of getting the Germans to do the architecture and the Italians to organise construction. The Millennium Dome: Tory idea, implemented by Labour. Problem is, if you sack a bureaucrat for incompetence, where does it stop? Would we suddenly start sacking teachers because they can’t do their job? Social workers who carelessly allow children to die? Politicians for being corrupt (deselection isn’t enough, Tim)? You can see the problem. Against that, what is the life and livelihoods of several thousand people? How insignificant their distress and loss of house and business? Nought.

    • Daniel Maris

      …bankers for investing hundreds of billions in worthless toxic debt.

      • Mynydd

        No you are wrong it was Mr Brown who invested hundreds of billions in worthless toxic debt No, sorry, I have got that wrong, it was Mr Brown who bailed the bankers out and saved my savings

        • HJ777

          You don’t need to bail out bankers to guarantee bank deposits.

          They are two separate things.

          • Mynydd

            I said two separate things that’s what the and means.

            • HJ777

              Bailing the bankers out is what he did.

              Most deposits were already guaranteed – nothing to do with Brown.

              I presume you approve of bailing out bankers then?

              • Eyesee

                What I really liked was that Brown opened the new Lehman building and then worked assiduously to shut it! (To be clear to his banking friends on whom he may still rely, he didn’t mean to cause a crash, it was just his inability to do otherwise, based on his Marxist ideological bent and stupidity. The latter always assuring the former).

  • monty61

    I’m sure many, like me, were surprised to see Chris Smith in this job, I thought the whole point of elections was that when the people voted to get rid of the old lot and bring in a new one, that’s what was supposed to happen?

    • starfish

      I think Sir Humphrey summed it up as the difference between the opposition in parliament and the opposition in residence

      Labour ensured the survival of their influence by packing quangos and the civil service and key media outlets with their supporters (openly or secretly)

      • Kitty MLB

        I might add, we also have the opposition in government
        in the cloaked form of those sandal wearing incompetent mules,
        the Lib Dums.

      • ReefKnot

        And they also packed Fake Charities with their supporters. Don’t forget there are 27,000 of these receiving taxpayers funds and many of them are engaged in lobbying and campaigning rather than real charitable work.
        An absolute scandal.

  • starfish

    From their own website

    Our principal aims are to protect and improve the environment, and to promote sustainable development. We play a central role in delivering the environmental priorities of central government through our functions and roles.

    Nothing about people, farmland, residential area etc

    So should we be surprised about their priorities?

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