UK – MPs Call for Overhaul of Flood Management in England

Members of Parliament from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee are calling for an overhaul of flood management in England to tackle the rising risk to communities from climate change.

The Committee’s report “Future Flood Prevention” calls for a new model for managing flood risk in England. Reforms would include a National Floods Commissioner for England, Regional Flood and Coastal Boards and the establishment of a new English Rivers and Coastal Authority.

The report also calls for clearer methods of communicating flood risk, as well as tighter building regulations to help flood proof properties, with special help for small businesses not covered by flood insurance.

Other proposals include wider use of natural measures to protect communities from flooding, such as leaky dams, using farmland as river catchments and tree planting.

Increasing Flood Threat – 5 Million at Risk

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair, Neil Parish MP, said that five million people in England are at risk of flooding.

“Winter 2015-16 broke rainfall records. Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank disrupted communities across northern parts of the UK, with Desmond alone costing the UK more than £5 billion. We propose a radical alternative to the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review’s limited solutions to the current fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood risk management arrangements.”

New Governance Model

The Committee recommends a new governance model with a National Floods Commissioner responsible for flood management in England.

The new commissioner would take responsibility for Regional Flood and Coastal Boards which would coordinate regional delivery of national plans. The commissioner would also be responsible for a new English Rivers and Coastal Authority, taking on national flood risk management roles currently the responsibility of the Environment Agency.

Committee Chair Neil Parish MP said, “Our proposed model would streamline roles and pool expertise to allow bodies to deliver their unique roles. Funding would be firmly linked to outcomes: the Commissioner would hold the new English Rivers and Coastal Authority to account on whether it spends its budgets efficiently – whether by directly undertaking work or by commissioning projects from catchment partnerships or Internal Drainage Boards. New Regional Boards would enable a close link between national plans and local aims.”

Tighter Building Regulations

Neil Parish MP said that “Building Regulations must be tightened up to help flood proof our properties if a voluntary code is not agreed by the end of this year. Developers who flout planning rules in high flood risk areas must also be penalised.”

The report recommends that property developers who fail to comply with planning requirements should be made liable for the costs of associated flooding across a catchment and that water companies should be made statutory consultees on planning applications, and the right to connect surface water to a sewerage system should be removed.

The Government should develop a grant scheme for small businesses unable to secure affordable insurance to install resilience measures.

Natural Flood Management Measures

The report also recommends a range of natural flood management measures to be implemented as a part of a more holistic approach to flood protection. Measures include wider uptake of sustainable drainage systems (SUDs), storing water on farmland and trialling catchment scale management.

Neil Parish MP said “Our proposals will deliver a far more holistic approach to flooding and water supply management, looking at catchments as a whole. Flood management must include much wider use of natural measures such as leaky dams, tree planting and improved soil management. And some areas of farmland should be used to store flood water.”

The Committee says that “all flood risk management bodies must understand better the contribution that SUDs and green infrastructure such as ponds and swales can make to protecting communities from flooding.”

The Committee recommends the use of catchment areas to protect communities from flooding. “Managing water flows from the top to bottom of river catchments helps to reduce flood risk, in many cases more cost-effectively than simply building flood defences in cities, towns and villages. Early results of trials are encouraging for smaller river catchments: there is sufficient evidence to roll-out ‘catchment scale’ approaches for a far greater number of small river basins.”

Clearer Communication and Warnings

According to the report, the Environment Agency (EA) and Met Office should develop clearer methods of communicating flood risk by the end of the year, according to the committee. It says that current descriptions of a ‘1 in x year’ flood risk are confusing.

The committee says that the EA should publish maps which include not only whether a place is at risk of flooding but also the likely depth of flood water and duration. These maps should show risk from all types of flooding and be available online, at one website.

The report also recommends the incorporation of real-time data on rainfall and river levels into live flood forecast warnings across England.

Floods in Tewkesbury, England, 2007. Photo: Cheltenham Borough Council, under Creative Commons
Floods in Tewkesbury, England, 2007. Photo: Cheltenham Borough Council, under Creative Commons

The full report “Future Flood Prevention” by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee can be found here.