Largely unnoticed thanks to a media dominated by the EU Referendum, The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has published a report finding that the Government is failing to protect communities at risk of flooding.
The Government’s National Flood Resilience Review was launched following the flooding in December 2015. The EAC’s report aims to inform this Review. We summarise the key concluding points from the committee meeting held as the report was published (June 2016).
Funding and condition of flood defences
Over the last 20 years there has been a review following every major flooding event and this year is no exception. This repetitive cycle suggests that there has been a lack of effective long-term strategic planning about how to manage flood risk.
The report stresses that the Government could do more to mitigate the future risk of flooding. Importantly, the Government appears to be reactive rather than proactive.
The Committee found that funding fluctuates year-on-year. During the last Parliament funding was initially cut and only increased after the winter 2013/2014 floods. The Committee also found that the condition of critical flood defences were in decline.
The Worsfold Review was conducted by Mark Worsfold, Chief Engineer at Ofwat. It looked at the maintenance of the Environment Agency’s flood and coastal risk management (FCRM) assets.
As the money required to maintain these defences was cut, the number of defences which met the Environment Agency’s required condition also declined.
While there is national policy in place to plan for flood prevention, the number of local flood plans and strategies under the NPPF is worryingly low and the Government does not seem to be supporting local authorities to develop them.
The Committee is concerned that the Government does not know how prepared local authorities are for mitigating future flood events or whether their flood plans (if they have them) are fit for purpose. The extent to which the Environment Agency’s advice on whether, or how, to build in high flood-risk areas, is not systematically monitored, reported or followed up through the planning system.
Committee Chair, Mary Creagh MP said: “Local Authorities are not receiving the support they need to prepare for, and mitigate, the impacts of flooding.”
The Committee found that infrastructure companies are adopting varying degrees of flood preparedness. For public confidence, infrastructure companies should be mandated to report their target flood resilience level, why this target is appropriate and what progress they are making to achieve it.
The MPs were disappointed by the lack of transparency demonstrated by the Government’s failure to publish the results of past reviews and to track in an open way how it has implemented them. The Committee recommends that the Government produce an annual national flood resilience review accompanied by an action plan. It suggested that the Government’s current National Flood Resilience Review would be a good place to start.
Sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS), such as rainwater capture and storage, are widely acknowledged to be an efficient way of dealing with surface water. But successive Governments have been reluctant to commence the legal powers that would make such systems the default option in new developments. The often cited reason is cost to developers.
Developers may pass those costs on to house buyers, a concern that again should not be ignored. But the longer-term costs, directly or from increased insurance premiums, of paying to repair houses and clean up local areas can be expected to outweigh short-term expense.
The Government blocked Lords amendments to the 2016 Housing Bill to remove mandatory sewer connection unless SuDS were part of the development. However, The Lords won the requirement for The Secretary of State to carry out a review of planning legislation and local planning policies concerning sustainable drainage in relation to the development of land in England, to be completed by Spring 2017.
The Committee questioned, nine years after the Pitt review recommendation that SuDS be the default option in new developments, why a further review was required. However, they recommend that it be completed at the latest in time for the Committee on Climate Change to use the findings in its 2017 progress report to Parliament.
More long term, holistic strategy needed
The committee concluded in scathing fashion over the Government’s inability to learn lessons and improve its long-term strategy in order to protect our communities and businesses into the future. They insisted that the Government needs to ensure that local plans and flood strategies are in place to ensure resilience. They also want to see a more balanced and sustainable approach to flood management, not just one built on ever larger flood defences moving the problem elsewhere.
Clearly, the focus and pressure for SuDS requirements on developers will not go away and guidance at planning level is now set on the rationale for implementing SuDS or not as part of the development. This will require developers and their planning consultant or architect to understand the site characteristics better in order to manage through applications effectively.
SuDSmart Reports, from GeoSmart, support lawyers, developers and regulators during the early stages of planning, evaluating appropriate drainage options for a Site.
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