Quicker action by the government could have reduced the effect of flooding in 2012, a cross-party committee of MPs has concluded.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee said ministers had been “too slow” to adopt flood defence improvements recommended as long ago as 2009.

EFRA’s chairwoman Anne McIntosh said widespread flooding had caused a “shattering effect on communities” and “wrought devastation and heartache across the country”.

“The government has been too slow to implement changes that would protect homes and businesses. Many of the changes were recommended nearly five years ago,” said Ms McIntosh.

“Solutions that would reduce the effect of flooding are out there and would make a difference, but successive governments have not had the mettle to put them into practice,” she added.

The committee’s report says developers were still being allowed to build with hard surfaces that led to surface flooding. It called for tougher rules to force developers to build in a way that allowed water to soak into the ground. DEFRA had also failed to introduce a computer system that could provide more accurate forecasts of severe weather, the report says

EFRA’s remarks were made in its conclusions of an inquiry into the government’s draft Water Bill, published last summer.

As well as flooding, the bill also sets out proposed legislation that includes a reform of rules on abstraction.

The reforms are set for 2022 and would tighten controls on abstraction for water used on farms. But the MPs said DEFRA was not acting fast enough.

The report states: “We remain concerned that DEFRA appears to lack the necessary sense of urgency to press on with these reforms.

“The detail of a new abstraction regime will need to be developed following consultation. Following that consultation, DEFRA will have to produce legislative proposals and secure space in the legislative programme before a new regime can be introduced.

“We urge the department to redouble its efforts and to set out in response to this report how it will meet the target date for a new abstraction regime of 2022.”

DEFRA environment minister Richard Benyon defended the government’s position and praised the draft Water Bill. “As unpredictable rainfall and population growth puts increased pressure on our water supplies, we need a water industry that is fit for the 21st century.

“This bill will ensure our water supplies remain affordable, resilient and sustainable for the future,” Mr Benyon said.

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