National flood review welcomed • ‘Short fix’ budget boosts are not a long term strategy • Incentives needed to step up prevention.
The Emergency Planning Society has welcomed the Government’s announcement of a National Flood Resilience Review, saying it will be an opportunity for some joined-up forward thinking, and a move away from the ‘roller coaster funding’ approach of the past.
The EPS – the professional association representing all those who work in the resilience sector at every level, including the fight against flooding – says steady long term investment is needed, but also a co-ordinated approach in planning for the future.
The Chair of the EPS, Tony Thompson, said: “After the floods of 2007, Sir Michael Pitt led a national review. He found that successive governments had a roller-coaster attitude to flood defence funding. They would pour money in after a major flood event, but then cut it again after a flood free year, when the issue was not in the media or political spotlight. What is needed is well thought through, steady long term investment – the problem of flooding is not going to go away. All evidence shows it is going to get worse.”
The EPS point out that despite all the recent announcements on extra funding, current capital spend on flood defences is much the same as it was in 2010 – the Government is playing catch-up to compensate for the previous cuts in funding, which saw spending on new flood defences drop by £69 million between 2010 and 2014, and the loss of 800 flood risk management posts from the Environment Agency.
Tony Thompson added however: “It is understood that finances are finite, but there is much more that can be done to elevate the risk of flooding in the planning stages, that are not being addressed. We should move away from a mentality of short term fixes, to one of long term planning.
“The key point is to create incentives for the wider society where the reverse is currently happening. These are areas that should be included in the National Flood Resilience Review.”
Example areas include:
Planning: the Association of British Insurers point out that 4,000 new homes are still being built in areas of significant flood risk every year. At the very least planning regulations should ensure that all new build includes basic flood mitigation designs, such as high level electricity sockets, waterproof rendering and brick work, internal pumps etc.
Resilience infrastructure: there are 5,000 police, fire and ambulance centres as well as nine per cent of all health centres still located in flood risk areas.
Home insurance: premiums are getting so high that for many in flood risk areas insurance cover is untenable. In addition, those house holders who do spend thousands of pounds putting in flood defences for their home, still pay the same amount as those who do not. There is no financial incentive for the individual householder.
Drainage: while the focus is on the Environment Agency, they are only responsible for major rivers and coastal areas. Most higher tributaries and streams, where the flooding problem can start, are on private land and controlled by internal Drainage Boards. There is no incentive to carry out mitigation works such as tree planting or creating moss and peat bogs, as under EU rules, this disqualifies a landowner from EU farming subsidies as the land has been rendered a “permanent ineligible feature”.
Tony Thompson said:
“There are many steps that can be taken through regulation and incentive that will have an impact in the future and do not have to be hugely expensive.
“We must also involve the communities affected too. Defra have now finalised a pilot project called the Flood Resilience Community Pathfinder, where the authorities worked alongside 13 flood communities to help them assist themselves. The findings are now being analysed and we must move quickly to ensure the best practice identified is spread to communities throughout the country.”