Last week the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – made up of MPs from across the political spectrum – released their report on Future Flood Prevention, outlining the steps they see as necessary to reduce the impact of extreme future weather. The committee launched a public inquiry and took evidence from a number of interested parties and experts in the area, as well as undertaking visits to the Somerset Levels, Pickering, York, the Netherlands, and the ‘Moors for the Future’ project near Sheffield. The report summarises the outcome of this enquiry, and their main recommendations are outlined below.
A major shakeup in flood governance
Currently preparation for and management of flood events falls mainly to the Environment Agency (EA), whose jurisdiction resides under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). However the MPs are critical of the EA’s ability to respond to flooding, calling the current flood risk management structures ‘fragmented, inefficient and ineffective’. The report instead suggests an overhaul of the current governance system in this area.
The Committee propose establishing the role of Floods Commissioner for England, ‘to be accountable for delivery of strategic, long-term flood risk reduction outcomes agreed with Government’. These strategies would be implemented by new Regional Flood and Coastal Boards who would ‘coordinate regional delivery of national plans’, taking over from the current Lead Local Flood Authority and Regional Flood and Coastal Committee roles. A new English Rivers and Coastal Authority would be established to take on current Environment Agency roles. The committee state that this new model would ‘streamline roles and pool capacity and expertise to allow bodies to deliver their unique roles, with funding firmly linked to outcomes’.
However, this recommendation has already drawn criticism. Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole told the Independent that it would be a “terrible idea” to abolish the role of Environment Agency in flooding, as it would waste vital expertise: “The Environment Committee clearly understands that better management of our rivers and waterways needs more joined-up thinking, not less. This includes working with nature across entire river catchments and dealing with climate change. Government should heed MPs’ welcome proposals to tackle flooding at root – but not distracting proposals to break up the Environment Agency”. The Government has also been critical of the need for such a major upheaval in governance.
New catchment approaches
The report is critical of previous approaches to flood management, and there is an emphasis on moving towards more sustainable, upstream river management strategies, in consultation with farming groups. The Committee propose that Defra ‘should commission by July 2017 a large-catchment trial of the effectiveness of natural flood risk management approaches such as installation of leaky dams, tree planting and improved soil management, alongside other measures.’ They also propose that where possible farmland should be used to store water, and ‘appropriate incentives’ should be put in place to recompense farmers, working with the National Farmers Union.
However, they accept that some of the evidence they took suggests that this may not be the complete answer to extreme flooding events. The National Farmers’ Union and The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology both cautioned that natural flood management measures would likely not mitigate flooding from very extreme events.
More onus on developers
The report highlights previous issues with irresponsible development in floodplains, and proposes new measures to hold developers to account.
There is an emphasis on Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDS) in new developments. The committee urge Defra to ‘set out how the Government’s review of sustainable drainage regulations will ensure that SUDs are deployed to maximum effect in all new English developments.’ They also suggest more joined up thinking is required in this area, proposing that water and sewerage organisations should have a say in the planning process, so as to pre-empt future flood risks caused by poorly drained developments.
As a further incentive to minimise poor development, the Committee suggest stronger powers for holding developers to account for poor planning. They propose naming and shaming those ignoring advice on drainage by publishing an ‘annual summary of planning decisions taken against EA advice’. They also want to ‘place statutory liability on developers to meet costs of flooding where development fails to comply with planning conditions.’ All of these measures should help to prevent flooding risk being exacerbated by irresponsible development.
Simpler system for explaining flood risk
Finally, the most public-facing proposal from the report is to simplify the system of explaining flood risk to homeowners. The committee states that ‘Flood risk agencies must find clearer ways of explaining flood risk, to spur both householders and businesses to prepare effectively for floods and to inform public views on national and local flood risk strategies.’ In doing so they hope to empower individuals to understand and prepare themselves for potential flooding, and help remove reliance upon government bodies.
The good news is that we can help! At Ambiental we conduct a lot of work in commercialising and communicating the latest, complex flood risk science, so please do contact us if you require assistance on any of the following:
Overall the future flood prevention report pulls together a great deal of research from a number of valid and evidence-based sources. This, in conjunction with the National Flood Resilience Review provide a great starting point for real, impactful policy change in this area. It is now up to the Government to decide which recommendation they will take forward. We will keep you posted on how this report and future recommendations develop.
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