Lack of clear flood resilience targets leaves England at risk, report says

Helen William, PA

Vague flood defence objectives are leaving English homes and businesses vulnerable to climate change as some residents are being left traumatised, according to a new report.

Some flooded out residents said they suffer trauma and anxiety and they are left to cope after immediate help dries up, MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee heard.

Clearer aims for flood resilience are needed to help protect over 5.2 million homes and businesses in England which are currently at risk, the report states.

A long-term budget is also needed to maintain existing and future flood defences to cope with the extra stress climate change is putting on them.

Efra committee chairman Neil Parish, who called for more work with local authorities to properly resource mental health services, said: “Affected communities told us about the support vacuum they felt in the aftermath of flooding.

“The waters receding do not repair the psychological, economic and physical impacts of flood damage.

“It is high time that the Government recognised this, and works with local authorities to properly resource mental health services for when the blue lights go.”

Temporary flood defences in Bewdley, Worcestershire (Joe Giddens/PA)
Temporary flood defences in Bewdley, Worcestershire (Joe Giddens/PA)

Flood damage can force many people out of their homes for about nine months and disruption from Covid-19 has “exacerbated” the situation, campaigners say.

Flooding can increase the chance of facing mental health problems such as stress and depression by 50%, and a quarter of people who have been flooded are still living with these issues at least two years later, according to research by the Environment Agency and Public Health England.

Heavy rainfall and the battering from Storms Ciara and Dennis flooded over 4,600 properties across England during the winter of 2019–20.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said that insurers expected to pay out over £543 million following Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, which includes £305 million relating to flooded property claims.

In light of the severe flooding over the autumn and winter of 2019–20, the MPs said they were “concerned” by potential resourcing problems for the organisations who are involved in helping protect lives and livelihoods in flooded communities.

Local authorities need to get more resources, including for dedicated trained staff, to effectively factor climate change projections into planning decisions, according to the report.

It was also suggested that charities could help to develop valuable guidance between local people and risk management and planning authorities.

A road closed sign pokes out above floodwater and alerts motorists of flooding on the B4213 between Lower Apperlay and Tirley in Gloucestershire (Ben Birchall/PA)
A road closed sign pokes out above floodwater and alerts motorists of flooding on the B4213 between Lower Apperlay and Tirley in Gloucestershire (Ben Birchall/PA)

Events like Storm Christoph, which hit large swathes of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland last month, are “the rule, not the exception” and protecting homes and businesses from flooding is now “a long game”, according to Mr Parish.

Flooded communities need a well-resourced action plan to support their psychological, economic and physical recovery and charities who have supported victims of recent storms need to be recognised.

Efforts could be made to cut the risk of existing drainage systems being overwhelmed by ending the automatic right for new developments to connect surface water drainage to the public sewer, it was suggested.

Mr Parish said: “If the Government will not set well-defined targets for flood resilience, it will waste millions of pounds playing catch-up.

“We must accept that as floods are here to stay, so must be the defences we build.”

Winter weather Feb 1st 2021
A partly submerged sign in Weybridge, Surrey, during Storm Christoph (Steve Parsons/PA).

Catherine Wright, the Environment Agency’s acting executive director for flood and coastal risk management, said that one in six properties in England are at risk of flooding and the climate emergency means the risks are increasing.

She said: “We are on track to meet our target of better protecting 300,000 properties from flooding since 2015.”

She added: “We need long-term investment to both build and importantly maintain flood defences if we are to continue to protect and prepare the country for the increased risks that the climate emergency is bringing.”

A Defra spokesman said that £5.2 billion is being invested in 2,000 new flood and coastal defences between 2021-27, to better protect 336,000 properties and build on responses to climate change.

The spokesman said: “We have a comprehensive long-term plan to invest in new defence assets, maintain our existing ones and double the number of our projects that harness the power of nature to reduce flood risk – all designed to prepare the country for future flooding and coastal erosion.”

Efforts are also being made to look at changes to the flood funding formula to help hard-hit communities, and local round-table meetings are to be prioritised in serious flooding areas.

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