The government has paved the way for a new approach to flood risk management.
The National Flood Resilience Review1 sets out the lessons learnt from last winter’s floods and outline plans for improved rain and flood modelling, more temporary flood defences and greater protection to infrastructure.
The review includes:
- £12.5 million for new temporary defences, such as barriers and high volume pumps, at seven strategic locations around the country. By this winter, the Environment Agency (EA) will have four times more temporary barriers than last year.
- Utility companies’ commitment to increase flood protection of their key local infrastructure, such as phone networks and water treatment works, so they are resilient to extreme flooding.
- A new stress test of the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea in England. For the first time, Met Office forecasts of extreme rainfall scenarios will be linked with Environment Agency modelling to provide a new assessment of flood risk.
Government chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport said: “It is important that policy on flood risk is underpinned by credible and objective scientific evidence and analysis. This review used new modelling techniques to challenge our ideas around the frequency and location of extreme flooding.
“We were able to model what level of rainfall would be worse than anything that we have experienced but still possible for our climate. This information enabled us to look again at how bad coastal and river flooding could be under such extreme conditions to ensure we are better prepared. This work was overseen by an expert group brought together from across industry and academia.”
Environment secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Last winter we saw just how devastating flooding can be. This review sets out clear actions so we are better prepared to respond quickly in the event of future flooding and can strengthen the nation’s flood defences.
“Work is already underway towards £12.5m of new temporary defences stationed around England, better protection for our infrastructure and new flood modelling that makes better use of data and technology.
“We are absolutely committed to reducing the risk of flooding by investing £2.5bn up to 2021 so we can help protect families, homes and businesses this winter.”
Cabinet Office ministers Ben Gummer added: “This is an important step in the fight against flooding as these new measures will help to protect communities from the perils of extreme weather. The government has made clear that we expect water and telecoms companies to work ever closer together to improve their preparation and response to flooding, making sure lifelines such as mobile phone masts and water treatment works continue to function even when the Great British weather is throwing its very worst at us.”
Following the National Flood Resilience Review, the government is launching pilot projects to develop, test and accelerate new ways of managing the environment; this will include a project in Cumbria, which focuses on natural flood management strategies and up-to-date modelling and data tools.
1. National Flood Resilience Review can be found at www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551137/national-flood-resilience-review.pdf
Chris Griffiths, flooding expert at the UK’s leading landscape supplier Marshalls, which is also a member of the Flood Protection Association, said: “While many of the findings of the National Flood Resilience review are to be welcomed, it’s a concern that its focus is mainly on costal and river flooding, rather than surface water flooding. Environment Agency figures show 2.8 million UK homes are vulnerable to being flooded by rainfall runoff and, with cities and towns expanding, this number could easily increase.
“As discussed in Future Spaces, our report in to the future of the built environment, there is a real need to adopt Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) which in effect mimics natural processes by allowing rainwater to soak into the ground as close to source as possible. In practice this means adopting measures such as permeable paving, rainwater harvesting and even rain gardens all of which will help to better manage rainfall in urban areas. Although legislation around SuDS is already in existence for new developments and some redevelopments, they are rarely enforced in England and Wales. This is a huge missed opportunity as effective enforcement of this legislation would help to reduce the need for the last ditch defences which form one of the central tenets of the government’s National Flood Resilience Review.”
Jon Robinson, director for water at Aecom, was more positive. He said: “We welcome the National Flood Resilience Review and its recognition that extreme and rare events could become more frequent due to the changing climate.
“Encouragingly, it includes a commitment to an integrated, cross-sector approach to protecting critical infrastructure through closer collaboration between water, telecoms and power companies. This will help develop longer term, permanent improvements in the resilience of service provision to communities in the event of extreme flooding.
“The review paves the way for a new approach to flood risk management. Ultimately, a more holistic approach that brings together multiple stakeholders working together across entire catchments is needed. While the Review rightly advocates a strategic, long-term approach to flood management, our hope is that funding too will increase in real terms in recognition of its importance.
“Crucially, the review makes the link between flood management, resilient infrastructure and urban regeneration. It is vital the opportunities to create social and economic value from improved flood management are maximised.”
Institution of Civil Engineers director general Nick Baveystock was also a fan, and was reassured that the government had it all sorted. “This report rightly emphasises the need to protect critical infrastructure during extreme flooding so the public, businesses and communities can continue to function. An integrated approach to infrastructure is absolutely key to achieving this level of resilience and we are pleased this has been acknowledged,” he said.
“I also welcome the commitment to flood planning beyond 2021. Managing the effects of severe flooding is an enduring, long-term challenge. So we should ensure we back the commitment to planning with an associated long term capital and maintenance investment programme, recognising that prevention costs are one eighth of those of post flooding restoration. The Autumn Statement provides the Government with the opportunity to set this out and demonstrate that it backs words with action.”
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake thought at her city should have figured more prominently in the review. “Leeds is barely mentioned in this report, which really does smack of the government not taking the risk here seriously,” she said. “Storm Eva caused absolute devastation for residents and businesses in Leeds, with many still recovering. The people of Leeds need the new Secretary of State to come out and confirm she will stick to the promises made to the city by her predecessor earlier this year. Namely that funding will be made available to provide protection from the River Aire upstream from Leeds Station along the Kirkstall Road corridor. The silence on this is becoming increasingly concerning, especially as the report says flood defences for cities are now only the ‘ultimate aim’, as opposed to the ‘whatever it takes’ line previously used by government.
“As we know to our cost there has been a severe lack of long-term planning when it comes to funding for flood defences and there is nothing in this report to offer comfort on that level. What we can’t have is a repeat of what happened with the cancelled flood defences in Leeds in 2011, so I have invited the Secretary of State to visit so she can meet some of the residents and businesses so badly affected by Storm Eva, although I still await her response.”
The Committee on Climate Change was also notably unimpressed and former environment secretary Lord Deben (John Gummer as was) had some harsh words to say, rather undermining his son Ben’s attempts to big up the government’s work. In contrast to the ICE, the Committee on Climate Change thought the review was too focused on the short-term. [See Flood Review pits Gummer father against son.]
This article was published on 8 Sep 2016 (last updated on 9 Sep 2016).