Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Seventh Report

3  Flood defence and management

Flood risk management

88. One of the Agency's biggest responsibilities is flood risk management. It has a supervisory role in all matters relating to flood risk management in England and Wales and is empowered to construct and maintain flood defences, provide flood warning and advice and flood incident response. The Agency estimates that over five million people and two million homes and businesses are currently at risk of flooding in England and Wales with assets valued at £250 billion.[205] Approximately half of the Agency's income and expenditure in 2005-06 was related to its work in this area.[206] Defra provides the great majority of funding for the service, including flood defence Grant-in-Aid to the Agency, which totalled £445m in 2005-06.[207]

89. Most witnesses were satisfied with the Agency's work in relation to flood defence. For example, the National Association of Fisheries and Angling Consultatives told us that the Agency now acted in "a far more holistic way" in flood defence matters than it had in previous years.[208] Concerns were raised, however, that the Agency would struggle to address the likely increased risk of flooding due to climate change, unless significant increases in funding were granted for its flood defence work. The Chairman of the Agency believed that the current level of investment on flood defence was "correct for the present time".[209] He welcomed recent funding increases from Government in this area, but stressed these were "a step on a longer journey".[210] In the long term, he believed the UK should aim to spend "approximately a billion pounds a year" on flood defence.[211]

90. Witnesses shared this view. The ABI told us that climate change was "likely to result in a considerably worse flood risk" and warned that the Government could not afford to take its "foot off the gas pedal".[212] It wanted Government to increase levels of investment in flood risk management by at least £30 million year-on-year in order to tackle the growing risks.[213] The 2004 Foresight Report by the Office of Science and Technology (OST) also warned that figures for annual damage from flooding could rise from the present level of £1 billion to about £25 billion "in the worst case scenario".[214] It therefore recommended Government increases in spending for building and maintaining flood defences in response to these increased risks. Our predecessor Committee welcomed the Foresight Report's conclusions in its previous report on Climate change, water security and flooding.[215]

91. We asked the Minister whether the Government intended to increase the Agency's income for its flood defence work. He stressed that Defra had already "substantially increased" the Agency's flood defence budget in the past few years, with a 40 per cent increase since 2002.[216] He agreed, however, that it was "inevitable" that more would have to be spent in this area and acknowledged the importance of taking the findings of the OST into account.[217] The Minister told us that Defra would "make its case" to the Treasury—in consultation with the Agency—as part of the next Spending Review about "the appropriate level of spend" for the Agency's flood defence work.[218] The Spending Review will include Defra conducting a zero-based review of flood risk management.

92. Defra's Head of Flood Management Division also emphasised the importance of funding being spent effectively by the Agency.[219] She told us that the Agency had been granted "increased flexibility" with its flood defence Grant-in-Aid to enable it to divert resources to the most pressing areas.[220] She believed that "moving money around in terms of maintenance… is required as much as more money".[221] Baroness Young welcomed the recent increases in flood risk management funding but recognised that the "big stretch" for the Agency was to "spend it well".[222]

93. We welcome the Government's recent funding increases for the Agency in relation to its flood defence work. However, flooding risks can only increase in the future, due to the effects of climate change. The Minister has acknowledged that spending in this area will consequently also have to increase. We expect him to listen closely to the Agency's advice in this area before decisions are made in advance of the next Spending Review. We agree with the Agency that Government should aim to increase the Agency's funding in this area to £1 billion per year in the long term.

94. With such a large budget comes increased responsibility to ensure the money is wisely spent. As part of its zero-based review of flood risk management in the next Spending Review, Defra should examine how effectively the Agency is spending its flood management funding.


95. As part of its work on flood defence, the Agency aims to increase public awareness in those areas at risk of flooding. It has previously invested £25 million in mapping the likely areas at risk from river and coastal flooding, using "the most advanced technology available".[223] The flood map is available to the general public via its web site and is updated regularly, requiring investment of around £8 million per year.[224] The Agency states that the European Commission considers it to be an exemplar of best practice in terms of flood risk mapping and flood warning in Europe.[225]

96. The Agency also aims to increase public awareness about flood risk in other ways. For example, it:

  • disseminates flood warnings to around 1.2 million homes and businesses in England and Wales;
  • tries to encourage those at risk to take effective action to prepare for and respond to flood warnings;
  • provides a 24-hour telephone advice and information line (Floodline);
  • invests £30 million a year in improving its flood warning service and encouraging take-up of the service by householders and business; and
  • is shortly to launch new services which will provide flood warning for the public through a range of media, including to mobile phones and by text message.[226]

97. The Agency stressed, however, that its resources were "small compared to the campaigns that can be run by central government", and that it was "not resourced to run large-scale campaigns aimed at the public at large".[227]

98. Witnesses were generally positive about the Agency's work in this area. The Association of Drainage Authorities believed the Agency had been "hugely successful" in the raising of public awareness of flood risk, achieved through both "an enormous publicity effort" and the maps of flood risk areas.[228] The NFU acknowledged the Agency's work on flood defence had achieved "good awareness".[229] The ABI believed the Agency had made "good progress in communicating flood risk through delivery of its flood mapping strategy".[230] The British Soft Drinks Association also believed there was "good information" on flood defence, for example with the flood maps available on the website.[231] However, it questioned whether the general public was "fully aware of the information available".[232] Other evidence suggested that, although the information was available, there was a degree of indifference among those likely to be affected, until it was too late.[233]

99. The provision of information and advice to households in areas of flood risk is a crucial element of the Agency's work. The Agency has achieved much in this area with relatively limited resources, through initiatives such as the flood map available on its website and its 24-hour telephone helpline. If the Agency is to maintain and improve its work in raising awareness about flood risk amongst the general public, Government should review with the Agency the funding available for this work and jointly publish proposals showing how this part of the Agency's work will be further developed. The Agency should also consider other innovative ways to reach out to the general public in these areas of work, bearing in mind that not everybody uses the internet as their main source of information.

205   Ev 139 Back

206   Ev 145 [Environment Agency] Back

207   Ev 145 [Environment Agency] Back

208   Ev 209 Back

209   Q 320 Back

210   Q 320 Back

211   Q 320 Back

212   Q 100 Back

213   Ev 3 Back

214   Office of Science and Technology, Future Flooding Foresight Report, April 2004. Also see Back

215   Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee, Sixteenth Report of Session 2003-04, Climate Change, Water Security and Flooding, HC 558, paras 34 & 37. Back

216   Q 300 Back

217   Q 304 Back

218   Q 304 Back

219   Q 301 Back

220   Q 301 Back

221   Q 303 Back

222   Q 321 Back

223   Ev 140 Back

224   Ev 140 Back

225   Ev 140 Back

226   Ev 141 Back

227   Ev 141 Back

228   Ev 216 Back

229   Ev 254 Back

230   Ev 7 Back

231   Ev 223 Back

232   Ev 223 Back

233   Ev 175 [Louis Jankel] Back

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Prepared 11 May 2006