Lack of clear flood-resilience targets leaves England at risk of 'playing catch-up' with climate change

Posted: Thursday 18th February 2021

The Government's vague flood defence objectives are leaving English homes and businesses vulnerable to climate change.

In a report published recently, MPs from the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee call on Ministers to commit to a clearly defined flood resilience objective, ensuring better protection of the 5.2 million properties currently at risk from flooding.

In light of ever more frequent and severe storms, the report stresses the urgency of the task, and highlights the need to provide long-term funding for the maintenance of existing and new flood defences, to match its capital commitment. Following the Committee's consultation with representatives from flood-hit communities, the report also examines the mental health impacts of severe flooding, calling for an action plan addressing this alongside the economic and physical effects.

Report recommendations

Scrutinising existing approaches to managing flood risk, including schemes for sustainable drainage and working with nature, the report recommends that the Government:

  • [Set out clearly defined objectives for a level of flood resilience which will protect homes and businesses in line with climate change projections, including 'seriously re-examining' the National Infrastructure Commissions's recommendation of a nationwide standard. As the number of flood defences inevitably increases, the Government must also put in place a long-term budget for the maintenance of existing defenses to cope with the extra stress climate change is putting on them.]
  • [Give local authorities the resources they need - including for dedicated trained staff - to effectively factor climate change projections into local planning decisions, thus avoiding development in areas at risk from flooding.]
  • [Work with charities to develop guidance which will allow 'meaningful engagement' between local people and risk management and planning authorities. The report calls for local people to be treated as 'vital delivery partners', rather than 'passive recipients', noting that such engagement brings 'real value' to flood risk schemes.]
  • [Address the current lack of long-term recovery support for flooded communities, developing a well-resourced action plan to support their psychological, economic and physical recovery. Recognising the work of charities in supporting victims of recent storms, the Committee calls on the Government to provide funding to help the voluntary sector respond to flooding, and build capacity in other organisations.]
  • [Reduce the risk of overwhelming existing drainage systems by ending the automatic right for new developments to connect surface water drainage to the public sewer. Instead, the Government must commit to sufficiently incentivising high-quality sustainable drainage systems (SuDs).]
  • Scale up natural flood management, while ensuring a catchment-based approach that takes account of local conditions. Natural flood management initiatives, such as allowing land to flood, must be appropriately incentivised, and doing so will require involving farmers and land managers at every stage of scheme design and implementation.

Chair's comments

Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Select Committee, said:

"It's time to accept that severe weather events like Storm Christoph are the rule, not the exception. The Government's commitment to net zero demonstrates its willingness to act on the climate crisis, but it must recognise that in protecting homes and businesses from flooding, we are playing a long game.

"If the Government will not set well-defined targets for flood resilience, it will waste millions of pounds playing catch-up. We must accept that as floods are here to stay, so must be the defences we build. Long-term funding is needed, committing to the maintenance of existing- and future- defences. Meanwhile, local authorities lack the competencies and resources they need to factor flood projections into planning and development decisions. This must be addressed.

"Affected communities told us about the support vacuum they felt in the aftermath of flooding. The waters receding do not repair the psychological, economic and physical impacts of flood damage. It is high time that the Government recognised this, and work with local authorities to properly resource mental health services for when the blue lights go.”




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April 2021

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