Tackling Flood Risk Now For Future Generations

Posted on by Laura Hughes

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Laura Hughes, Policy Advisor for Property at the Association of British Insurers.

The misery and devastation suffered by many flooded business and home owners in winter 2013/2014 starkly highlighted the need to improve flood defences to better protect properties for the future.

Climate change projections show that flood risk will increase markedly, meaning that more needs to be done now to have the right level of investment in flood defences for the future. The Thames Barrier, for example, was closed 28 times in February 2014 – more times in one month than the previous record (24) for a whole winter in 2000-01.

Not only will the defences that already exist need to be upgraded, but new defences also need to be built to protect the 2.4 million properties that are currently at flood risk from rivers and the sea, and the 3 million at risk from surface water flooding.

This is why the ABI launched our Flood Free Homes campaign, supported by Friends of the Earth, National Flood Forum, Know Your Flood Risk, the Property Care Association’s Flood Protection Group and the BRE Centre for Resilience. The campaign is calling for £1billion per year to be spent by Government on managing flood risk in order to keep pace with climate change and increasing population density.

Is this something we are prepared to let future generations live with or should more be done now to tackle the problem?

By 2025 £1bn per year will need to be spent on managing flood risk to keep pace with climate change.

In December 2014 the Government announced a six-year spending programme of £2.3 billion of capital Flood Defence Grant in Aid, which aims to protect an additional 300,000 homes through building 1400 new defences. This is very much welcomed, however, it is based on the assumption that external partnership funding will be found for each flood defence to meet the Government’s criteria to enable the new schemes to use capital funds. Additionally there is a need to continue to provide routine maintenance to ensure that defences remain at the standard of protection for which they were designed. Revenue expenditure has been reduced by 40% in recent years, and needs to be considered alongside capital investment to prevent the deterioration of old and new defences.

The Environment Agency’s Long Term Investment Scenarios (LTIS) highlights the Government’s economic assessment of the future need for investment to keep up with climate change. However, investment is focused on a benefit-cost ratio, and does not target those properties at the highest flood risk. The result is that even if all the schemes that are cost-beneficial are delivered, the number of properties at high flood risk will increase to over 250,000 by 2060, with no future plans for their protection. Is this something we are prepared to let future generations live with or should more be done now to tackle the problem?

A zero tolerance of inappropriate new developments in areas at risk of flooding.

LTIS also assumes that there will be a zero tolerance to inappropriate development in areas at flood risk, so the problem could increase further if this is not adhered to. Over 4000 properties per year are being built at high flood risk, and in February it was reported that 433 new homes are due to be built in an area of Berkshire that was submerged during the winter storms last year.

This is unacceptable. Planning rules must be properly applied by local and regional planning authorities to all developments – irrespective of how large or small – to end inappropriate new developments in areas at risk of flooding and to ensure that new developments do not directly or indirectly increase the flood risk of other properties.

Cross- party consensus on ambitious long term solutions that manage all types of flood risk.

Alongside these concerns about development, there is the need for a long-term, cross-party, coordinated approach by Government, to use innovative solutions to manage flood risk for the future through urban planning, sustainable drainage, building regulations, and land and water management.

The problem is stark and needs to be tackled with ambition. It might be useful to look at the way that the Netherlands manage flood risk, and encourage the UK government to change their outlook.

The Dutch have over eight million people living below sea level, and invest on the basis of ensuring those lives are not in danger, instead of looking at the economic benefits. Their legislation protects residents to at least a standard of protection of a 1 in 100,000 chance of coastal flooding in any given year risk, and a 1 in 250 chance of flooding from main rivers in any given year. They have also taken a very different, longer-term approach and have adapted climate change into their urban planning system, and banned inappropriate development on the floodplain since 1980s. Perhaps the UK Government should follow in their footsteps.

At government level there must be that there is a cross-party consensus in understanding the increasing risk of flooding in the UK and agreeing major action to reduce it. Flooding is a very real and significant threat, not a political game.

Originally written for the Flood Free Homes campaign www.floodfreehomes.org.uk

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