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July 18, 2024
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National Infrastructure Commission criticises Government on surface water flood response

 The government has responded to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) study on reducing the risk of surface water flooding, but has not accepted a number of the report’s recommendations.

Published in November 2022, the NIC report sets out a series of practical steps to better prepare the country for increased surface water flood risk. The NIC has now criticised the government for making few new commitments on the steps needed and failing to accelerate work in key areas.

NIC commissioner Professor Jim Hall said “We recommended a package of measures to get a grip on the problem, which would mean that 250,000 [properties] cease to be at high risk of surface water flooding while boosting protection levels for thousands more. Sadly, government’s plan of action does not meet the scale of the challenge, and lacks the urgency required to meet the threat.”

Recommendations not accepted by government 

While the government has accepted the principles of the NIC report, it has not accepted six of the nine recommendations made. These are:  

Recommendation 1: by the end of 2023, government should implement Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and update its technical standards for sustainable drainage systems.

Recommendation 4: by early 2025, government should set a long term target for a percentage reduction in the number of properties at high and medium risk of surface water flooding.

Recommendation 5: the government should require risk management authorities in the new flood risk areas to agree appropriate local targets by mid 2025.

Recommendation 7: government should require

  • upper tier local authorities, water and sewerage companies, and, where relevant, internal drainage boards in the new flood risk areas to produce and deliver costed, joint investment plans for managing surface water that achieve the agreed local objectives and follow the ‘solutions hierarchy’
  • the Environment Agency to review and assure the final plans with input from Ofwat and support from Regional Flood and Coastal Committees, and publish data on progress against local and national targets
  • joint plans to be completed by 2026 and revised every five years following the review of flood risk areas the year before, and to inform the following Ofwat Price Review

Recommendation 8: by the end of 2025, government should devolve public funding to upper tier local authorities in or containing new flood risk areas, based on the Environment Agency’s assessment of the levels of risk in each new flood risk area. The funding allocation should be reviewed every five years, in line with single joint plan cycles.

This has led to frustration at the NIC, after its study set out the case for long term flood reduction targets in helping provide strategic direction and accountability, as well as informing joint local plans and investment decisions. This was an approach endorsed by both the Climate Change Committee and the National Audit Office.

Government has accepted the benefits of closer working between relevant local agencies, and intends to consult on reforms to local flood risk management planning during 2024. But the response stops short of any new commitments to removing the barriers to joint working and does not accept the case for devolving capital funding directly to local authorities to implement joint local plans.

Hall said: “It’s been over a year since government promised to implement legislation to end the automatic connection of new developments to the drainage system. It must get on with this as soon as possible.

 “We remain of the view that government should adopt long term risk reduction targets and are pleased that government is willing to engage with the Commission and others to identify ways of measuring flood risk reduction. The Commission sees targets as crucial to informing local plans, developed jointly between lead local flood authorities and water companies, to ensure solutions are targeted effectively and delivered more quickly.

“Again, time is not on our side and government must accelerate its work on its proposed flood resilience metrics and reducing the impact of new development to help bridge the gap.”

Scale of the challenge

The NIC’s analysis confirmed a growing level of surface water flood risk and concluded that more extreme weather and expanding development could increase the number of properties in England in areas of high risk from 325,000 to over 600,000 by 2055 if action is not taken.

This is reflected in a recent paper by AVRillo Conveyancing that shows a rising number of homeowners and businesses are worried about climate consequences.

Their work found that two thirds of homeowners are worried about the impact of climate change and up to 120,000 homes were built in flood-prone areas in England between 2009 and 2020.

SMEs are in a similar position, with 57% believing climate change will have an impact on their business in the next ten years, though only 38% have a dedicated flood insurance plan in place and only 18% have as yet carried out flood prevention measures.

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