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Flood defences are not enough to win 'war against water'

  • Flood defences are not enough to win 'war against water'
  • Protection against flooding requires £1 billion per year in the United Kingdom. 

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A stark warning has been issued for England to prepare for the worst consequences of climate change; namely flooding.

Global temperature could rise between 2C and 4C by 2100 with £1 billion a year needed to be spent on flood management to create “infrastructure resilience” by 2050.

That’s according to regulator the Environment Agency (EA), which has launched a major long-term strategy to tackle flooding and coastal change.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency Chair has said “we cannot win a war against water” by building higher flood defences and called for a new approach to ensure communities are resilient to the threat of flooding posed by climate change.

Flooding strategy recommendations

Among the recommendations in the strategy, the EA has committed to working with partners to develop consistent standards for flood and coastal resilience across the country.

To achieve these standards, it said communities should have access to a range of tools which give them control of how they prepare for and respond to flooding and coastal change, based on the challenges or flood risk that particular location may face.

These could include traditional defences, temporary barriers, natural flood management, sustainable drainage systems, effective flood warnings and emergency response, alongside designing and adapting existing properties and new development so they can recover quickly from a flood.

Currently, two thirds of properties in England are served by infrastructure in areas at risk of flooding and for every person who suffers flooding, around 16 more are affected by loss of services such as power, transport and telecommunications.

Consistent standards needed

The strategy calls for all infrastructure to be flood resilient by 2050 and the Environment Agency has committed to working with risk management authorities and infrastructure providers to achieve this.

Launching the strategy at Brunel University in London, Emma Howard Boyd, said: “We can’t win a war against water by building away climate change with infinitely high flood defences. We need to develop consistent standards for flood and coastal resilience in England that help communities better understand their risk and give them more control about how to adapt and respond.”

As well as taking precautions to prepare for flooding and prevent damage, the strategy calls for more to be done to encourage property owners to ‘build back better’ after a flood. This could involve home improvements to make them more resilient, such as raised electrics, hard flooring and flood doors.

Building a nation of climate champions

Over five million people in England are at risk from flooding and coastal erosion. Yet only a third of people who live in areas at risk of flooding believe their property is at risk. The strategy pledges to build a nation of ‘climate champions’ working with the school curriculum to educate young people about the risk and continuing to develop accessible digital tools to communicate flooding.

The strategy also recommends:

  • As properties built in the flood plain are likely to double over the next 50 years due to population growth and climate change, between now and 2030 all new development must be resilient to flooding and coastal change.
  • Flooding and coastal change projects should support local economic regeneration, unlocking potential for new housing and business.
  • All new development must not only be resilient to flooding but should also contribute to an environmental net gain.
  • Government, the Environment Agency and risk management authorities need to be agile to the latest climate science, growth projections, investment opportunities and other changes to our local environment.
  • In some cases, the scale of flooding or coastal change may be so significant the concept of ‘build back better’ may not be appropriate. This may mean potentially moving communities out of harm’s way in the longer term.

Increasing awareness of flood risk

This strategy forms part of the government’s commitments set out in the 25 Year Environment plan to improve the environment within a generation. Furthermore, the government’s National Infrastructure Strategy was published this autumn as part of the Spending Review.

Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “Climate change is a real and growing threat to our way of life and nowhere is this felt more keenly than those parts of the country facing an increased risk of flooding. So we welcome the Agency’s approach and their endorsement of our call for a national standard for flood resilience.”

Huw Evans, director general of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said: “A lack of major floods in recent years is no cause for complacency. As well as building defences we need to increase awareness of flood risk and encourage home and business owner to put in place their own measures to protect their properties too.”

The Flood and Coastal Risk Management Strategy is due to run from 9 May 2019 for 8 weeks up until 4 July 2019. Once the consultation has closed, the Environment Agency will review the responses and publish a final document which will then be laid before Parliament in winter 2019.

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