Government publishes long-term plan to tackle the risks of flooding and coastal erosion

Government publishes long-term plan to tackle the risks of flooding and coastal erosion

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.

What is the background to the Policy Statement?

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.

What are the goals of the Policy Statement?

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.

What are the key policies in the Policy Statement?

The Policy Statement sets out five key policy areas in which action will be undertaken to achieve its goals. These policy areas are:

  • upgrading and expanding flood defences and infrastructure across the country—over the next six years, the government intends to invest £5.2bn in the flood and coastal defence programme in England. This will better protect a further 336,000 properties and reduce national flood risk by up to 11% by 2027. The aim is also to ensure that new and existing defences are well maintained so that they continue to be effective in a changing climate
  • managing the flow of water to both reduce flood risk and manage drought—the aim is to deliver an integrated approach to managing water to better protect communities and to provide wider benefits for water resource management and the environment. The number of water management schemes will be increased. Actions will be promoted which prevent and better manage the impacts of surface water flood risk including increasing the provision of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS). For more information on SuDS see Practice Note: Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS)
  • harnessing the power of nature to not only reduce flood risk, but deliver benefits for the environment, nature, and communities—the number of government funded projects which include nature-based solutions to reduce flood and coastal erosion risk, will be doubled. Nature-based solutions provide wider environmental and social benefits including nature recovery (to protect and restore habitats, species and landscapes) and improved water availability. They can also enhance water quality—helping to deliver the 25 Year Environment Plan commitments for clean and plentiful water
  • better preparing communities for when flooding and erosion does occur—maintaining and enhancing planning policies that direct new development away from areas at risk. New properties and infrastructure need to be resilient to flooding and coastal erosion to deliver high quality and affordable homes. Policies will help to ensure that buildings, important infrastructure sites and key public services are better prepared to manage flood risk
  • ensuring every area of England has a comprehensive local plan for dealing with flooding and coastal erosion—transforming the current approach to local flood and coastal erosion risk planning so that every area of England will have a more strategic and comprehensive plan that drives long-term local action and investment. Local flood and coastal erosion plans will link with wider plans for an area, such as water resource plans and local nature recovery strategies to secure multiple benefits. In areas facing significant coastal erosion and impacts from sea levels rising, support will be provided to local areas to help them to implement long-term plans to manage risk

Upgrading and expanding national flood defences and infrastructure

Flood walls, barriers, sea defences and embankments work to better protect people and places from flooding and coastal erosion.

Proposed actions include:

  • building 2,000 new flood and coastal defence schemes by 2027 and providing better protection to 336,000 properties including 46,000 key sites including schools and hospitals
  • ensuring that existing flood defences are well-maintained and climate resilient
  • considering expanding local authority powers to ensure they can secure additional funding for flood schemes, and reviewing local government funding for statutory functions to ensure that it matches the needs of communities

Managing the flow of water to both reduce flood risk and manage drought

Proposed actions include:

  • developing an integrated approach, for example storing upstream to prevent flooding during heavy rainfall, then capturing this water for use during dry weather
  • Ofwat has already permitted water companies to invest £469m to develop water management schemes, with flood mitigation being examined as part of this

Harnessing the power of nature to not only reduce flood risk, but deliver benefits for climate, nature, and communities

Proposed actions include:

  • planting trees, restoring peatland and wetlands, and properly managing soil can all contribute to reducing flood risk, while providing benefits for the climate, nature, and society
  • commitment to double the number of government funded projects which include ‘nature-based solutions’

Better preparing communities for when flooding does occur

Proposed actions include:

  • a £200m innovative resilience programme
  • changes to the Flood Re scheme will boost the resilience of homes, enabling a quicker and less costly recovery when flooding occurs
  • review of the current approach to flood resilient design to help keep water out and limit damage if water gets in

For more information on Flood Re see Practice Note: Flood reinsurance—the Flood Re scheme.

Ensuring every area of England has a comprehensive local plan for dealing with flooding and coastal erosion

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’.

How will £170m be used to accelerate flood defence construction?

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:

  • Leeds, where the government will provide up to £21m for the Leeds Phase 2 Flood Alleviation scheme which will protect more than 370 businesses and 3.300 jobs, and enable the development of land for the creation of homes and jobs
  • Lowestoft and the Suffolk coast, where funding will deliver a tidal barrier and flood walls to protect key infrastructure and businesses, and provide a boost to the offshore energy and tourism sectors
  • Brighton, Hove, and Shoreham, where £2m will be spent to protect critical infrastructure on the south coast, including a power plant serving 300,000 homes and one of the largest cargo ports in the south of England

What is the £200m Innovative Resilience Programme?

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.

What are the proposed changes to the Flood Re insurance scheme?

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 ability for Flood Re to offer discounted premiums to households that have fitted property flood resilience measures, such as airbrick covers or non-return valves
  • permitting the payment of claims to include an additional amount to build back better, in a more flood resilient way

What has been the industry reaction?

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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About the author:
Andrea is a Professional Support Lawyer at LexisNexis, specialising in environmental law. She has a background in contaminated land and environmental insurance, and a Masters degree in waste management. She qualified in 1997 at Browne Jacobson and later worked in the Environment and Planning team at SJ Berwin, before moving in house to work as Senior Solicitor at Certa (UK) Ltd. More recently Andrea has worked as a legal consultant, completing projects for blue chip companies. Andrea is an active member of the UK Environmental Law Association.