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Environment analysis: The government has published its long term plan to tackle the risks of flooding and coastal erosion. This comprehensive plan includes significant investment to create approximately 2,000 new flood and coastal defences to better protect 336,000 properties in England by 2027. The policy statement builds on the approach taken in the 25 Year Plan. The goals of the strategy are to ‘create a nation more resilient to future flood and coastal erosion risk and in doing so, reduce the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy’. The policy also introduces proposed changes to the Flood Re insurance scheme, a new Innovative Resilience Programme and accelerated flood defence construction.
Defra has published its Flood and coastal erosion risk management: Policy Statement (Policy Statement). The new plan is the most comprehensive in a decade, and includes proposed investment of £5.2bn to create around 2,000 new flood and coastal defences to better protect 336,000 properties in England by 2027, alongside support to help households and businesses recover more quickly after flooding. This policy statement builds on the approach taken in the 25 Year Plan and in the National Adaptation Programme and sets out national goals specifically for flooding and coastal erosion.
For more information on the 25 Year Plan see Practice Note: 25 Year Environment Plan Tracker.
Flooding and coastal erosion can cause significant damage and disruption to infrastructure, properties, health, wellbeing, land and natural habitats. Risks from flooding and coastal change are recognised in the government’s UK Climate Change Risk Assessment. As climate change leads to sea level rise and more extreme rainfall, the number of people at risk from flooding and coastal erosion continues to grow. The UK Climate Projections 2018 show an increased chance of milder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers, together with an increase in the frequency and intensity of extremes, such as heavy rainfall. Since 1998, the UK has seen six of the ten wettest years on record. 2013–2014 was the wettest winter for 250 years, with over 13,000 properties flooded. More recently, the winter of 2019–2020 saw over 4,000 properties flooded in England. Flood defences helped to protect more than 129,000 properties during winter 2019–2020. This compares to 2007, when the UK suffered similar rainfall—yet some 55,000 properties were flooded.
Increasing resilience will provide benefits for the natural environment, wildlife, ecosystems, and historic environment. Natural flood management schemes may create new salt marshes and wetlands which provide wildlife-rich habitat for species. These areas can enhance the attractiveness of a place for local residents while enhancing tourist appeal. In some places, planting trees can help slow the flow of water while improving air quality and contributing to net zero carbon emissions targets. Flood management schemes can also help to achieve objectives for the management of waterways and water supply.
This Policy Statement forms part of the government’s wider commitment to tackle climate change.
Alongside the Policy Statement, the Environment Agency will publish its National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England (National Strategy). This will provide a framework to guide the activities of those involved in flood and coastal erosion risk management. Taken together, this Policy Statement and the National Strategy aim to ensure that England and Wales is more resilient to flooding and coastal erosion in the long term.
The goals of the Policy Statement, are to ‘create a nation more resilient to future flood and coastal erosion risk and in doing so, reduce the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy’. The statement outlines the actions that will be taken in each policy area to achieve these goals. The proposed actions are detailed below.
The Policy Statement sets out five key policy areas in which action will be undertaken to achieve its goals. These policy areas are:
Flood walls, barriers, sea defences and embankments work to better protect people and places from flooding and coastal erosion.
Proposed actions include:
For more information on Flood Re see Practice Note: Flood reinsurance—the Flood Re scheme.
The Policy Statement sets out that ‘every area of England will have a strategic and comprehensive plan for dealing with flooding and coastal erosion from source to sea, taking into account demographic changes and the future challenges of climate change’.
Work will start on 22 new shovel-ready flood defence projects in 2020 and 2021. The flood schemes that will receive funding have strong local economic benefits, including better protecting more than 10,000 local businesses and safeguarding around 100,000 jobs. Examples include:
This new programme, first announced in the Spring Budget, will deliver innovative actions in 25 local areas such as nature based solutions, SuDS, pro-active approaches for making existing properties more flood resilient, encouraging local businesses to improve their flood resilience, and building voluntary sector capacity to respond and recover.
The government is also announcing specific changes to the Flood Re scheme that, subject to consultation, will help implement the vision set out in the long-term plan. The changes are intended to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Flood Re scheme and encourage greater uptake of Property Flood Resilience among households at high risk of flooding across the UK. Examples of proposals that will be consulted on are:
The newly unveiled plan has largely met with a positive reaction. However, critics say that it does not go far enough particularly in times of climate change.
According to Josh Halliday in The Guardian, the general expert reaction has been that the government’s long-awaited strategy for tackling floods in England ‘does not go far enough and appears to conflict with Boris Johnson’s “build, build, build” plan for more housing’. The plan ‘stops short of banning any new building on land at the highest risk of flooding, disappointing experts, local authorities and flood-hit communities’.
Heather Shepherd, of the National Flood Forum, which supports at-risk communities, said the government was ‘asking for problems’ by continuing to build on floodplains and plug new properties into ageing infrastructure.
According to BBC News reports, Professor Hannah Cloke, from the University of Reading, said: ‘A commitment to review policies on developments on flood plains does not sound in tune with cutting red tape to build houses more quickly.
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