Environment Agency (EA) inspections found that more than 3,400 vital flood defence assets across England were in poor condition last year.
The data was obtained by Unearthed, Greenpeace UK’s journalism arm, using the Freedom of Information Act.
It shows that 3,460 ‘high consequence’ flood defence assets were rated as being in poor or very poor condition in 2019/20, representing 6% of all such assets in England,
Unearthed said this was an increase on the previous year after many defences were damaged in last winter’s flooding.
The EA defines ‘high consequence’ flood defence assets as those 'that contribute to managing flood risk in a location where the consequence on people and property of an asset failing is high’.
Unearthed highlighted areas that had been the subject of flood alerts for Storm Christoph last week. It said that in Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, Shropshire, South Yorkshire, the West Midlands, and Worcestershire, 831 crucial flood defences were found to be in a poor or very poor condition by inspections last year, representing 9% of all the assets in these areas.
Campaigners added that the data also showed a disparity between the condition of defences maintained by third parties and those managed by the EA, and pointed to a National Audit Office (NAO) report last year, which highlighted the agency’s reliance on third parties.
The NAO found that although the EA inspects all flood defences on main rivers, including those maintained by third parties, it cannot always enforce remedial works. It added that the EA’s local area teams ‘are not communicating asset maintenance requirements consistently with third-party owners’.
In a statement the EA acknowledged that some of its assets were not in adequate condition. A spokesperson said: 'We maintain approximately 78,000 flood assets across England, 95% of which are in good condition and repairs prioritised where there is significant threat to lives and livelihoods.
'Our 2020 recovery programme inspected over 20,000 assets and, supported by a £120m government investment, all of our assets are winter ready either through repairs or, where these have not been completed, robust contingency plans are in place to manage risk until repairs are completed.'