Committee confirms what we already knew

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today published a report that must represent one of the biggest “I wold you so” moments in recent history. The “I told you so” in question being from the people of the Somerset Levels to the Environment Agency.

The committee (Rebecca Pow MP for Taunton Deane is a member) concludes that the EA is not the right body for the job of flood defence and the whole process needs to be restructured. Although not named in the summary, it is clear that bodies such as the Somerset Rivers Authority are seen as the way forward. It contains measures such as using agricultural land to store flood water that are only a surprise because we thought it was happening anyway, certainly it happens in the Levels.

For interest we publish below the summary of findings from the committee


Some five million people in England are at risk of flooding. Winter 2015–16 broke rainfall records and Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank disrupted communities across northern parts of the UK. Storm Desmond alone cost the UK more than £5 billion.1 More frequent, more intense storms resulting from climate change will in future put more people at risk and increase flood impacts. The Government has increased budgets for flood risk management, but this level of funding is unlikely to deliver sufficient protection in future decades. The Government must publish by the end of 2017 its 25-year ambition for flood risk reduction, and the cost of securing this, against different climate change scenarios.

A new model for managing flood risk

Current flood risk management structures are fragmented, inefficient and ineffective, and although there are many examples of successful local partnerships, current arrangements do not encourage widespread use of catchment scale approaches. The Government’s National Flood Resilience Review’s limited solutions will not rectify fundamental structural problems: we propose a new governance model which the Government must consider as part of a root and branch review of how it manages England’s flood risk. Our model gives a strong focus to joined-up, efficient action to improve flood protection by:

Establishing a new National Floods Commissioner for England, to be accountable for delivery of strategic, long-term flood risk reduction outcomes agreed with Government. Delivery would be via:

New Regional Flood and Coastal Boards to coordinate regional delivery of national plans, in partnership with local stakeholders. These Boards would take on current Lead Local Flood Authority and Regional Flood and Coastal Committee roles;

A new English Rivers and Coastal Authority, taking on current Environment Agency roles to focus on efficient delivery of national flood risk management plans.

This model would streamline roles and pool capacity and expertise to allow bodies to deliver their unique roles, with funding firmly linked to outcomes. The Commissioner would hold the English Rivers and Coastal Authority to account on whether it spends its budgets in the most efficient manner, whether by directly undertaking work or by commissioning projects from catchment partnerships for example. The Regional Boards would enable a close link between national plans and local aims. We also propose an extension to current Water and Sewerage Companies’ roles: as Water and Drainage Companies their remit would include the land drainage responsibilities currently held by local authorities, fostering a more holistic approach to flooding and water supply management.

In advance of major reform, we make recommendations on specific flood management problems:

Catchment measures need to be adopted on a much wider scale:

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (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;

Farmland should be used in some places to store flood water: the National Farmers’ Union and Defra must develop storage approaches with low impact on farm productivity and appropriate incentives to recompense farmers.

Flood risk communications must be simplified: current descriptions of a ‘1 in x year’ flood risk are confusing to the public. The Environment Agency and the Met Office must develop clearer methods by the end of this year, including maps showing all sources of flooding in one place.

Resilience must be improved: it is impossible to protect all properties from flooding at all times so the Government must improve help for communities and individuals to cope with and recover from flooding:

The Government must make developers who fail to comply with planning requirements liable for the costs of flooding;

Water companies should be made statutory consultees on planning applications, and the right to connect surface water to a sewerage system should be removed;

Unless a voluntary code is finalised this year, the Government must amend Building Regulations to make use of flood resistant materials in new buildings mandatory;

The Government should develop by the end of 2017 a grant scheme to support those small businesses unable to secure affordable insurance to install resilience measures.”

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