Flooding strategy needs radical overhaul, say MPs


A "radical" overhaul of the way flooding is dealt with must be carried out to protect communities facing the peril, MPs have demanded. 

Although Government is pumping more cash into managing flooding risks, the funding is "unlikely to deliver sufficient protection in future decades", the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee warned. 

It has called for the creation of a national floods commissioner for England and a new English Rivers and Coastal Authority to take over responsibility for the threat from the Environment Agency. 

The committee also recommended major changes in the way flood prevention is dealt with. Storing water on farmland can reduce the risk of flooding and the Government should consult on introducing an incentive scheme for farmers by July next year, it said. 

Developers who flout planning rules and increase the risk of flooding should be forced to meet the costs, MPs said. 

A grant scheme should be set up to help small businesses unable to secure affordable insurance to install resilience measures, they added. 

Warnings about the risk of flooding must be simplified, the committee also recommended. It said describing a "one in x year" risk was confusing and called for the Environment Agency and Met Office to develop clearer explanations by the end of the year. 

Committee chairman Neil Parish said: "Some five million people in England are at risk of flooding. Winter 2015-16 broke rainfall records. Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank disrupted communities across northern parts of the UK, with Desmond alone costing the UK more than £5 billion. 

"We propose a radical alternative to the Government's national flood resilience review's limited solutions to the current fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood risk management arrangements. 

"Our proposals will deliver a far more holistic approach to flooding and water supply management, looking at catchments as a whole. Flood management must include much wider use of natural measures such as leaky dams, tree planting and improved soil management. And some areas of farmland should be used to store flood water. 

"Building regulations must be tightened up to help flood-proof our properties if a voluntary code is not agreed by the end of this year. Developers who flout planning rules in high flood risk areas must also be penalised."

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: "Abolishing the Environment Agency's role in flooding, as this report proposes, is a terrible idea, which would waste vital expertise and could cause more delays in planning better ways to avoid flooding.

"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."

Local Government Association environment spokesman Martin Tett said the key to protecting communities from the devastation seen last winter was for funding to be devolved to councils because they "know their areas best and can most effectively meet local needs".

Councillor Tett, the Tory leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, said: "Councils make considerable contributions to flood defences yet they have little control over where the money is spent."

He also called for mandatory anti-flood measures for new homes.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said it was "right" to hold developers liable if they flout the rules.

Head of property Mark Shepherd said: "Making the country more flood resilient depends on the efforts of many different people and groups.

"It's absolutely right that developers should be held liable for any flood problems they cause, and the insurance industry agrees there should be more information available about planning decisions made contrary to Environment Agency advice."

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: "We take a long-term, strategic approach to protecting the nation from floods.

"A huge amount of work has been undertaken as a result of the National Flood Resilience Review, including £12.5 million investment in new mobile defences, such as barriers and high-volume pumps.

"This means homeowners will be better protected this winter than last, as will much of our critical infrastructure.

"This is part of the £2.5 billion we are spending on building flood defence schemes across the country to better protect an additional 300,000 homes by 2021, bringing an end to year-on-year fluctuations in spend.

"We are already implementing many of the suggestions this report makes, such as managing watercourses across entire catchment areas, but see no need for structural changes."

Shadow environment secretary Rachael Maskell  said: "There is a real urgency required in the Government's approach to flooding. Last winter Storm Desmond, Frank and Eva in particular, had a devastating impact on families, businesses and communities.

"There is still a lack of confidence in schemes to protect businesses and the £12.5m pledged to temporary flood barriers will not bring the long-term protection required."