Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fifth Report

2  Current management of flood risk

12. Defra is the lead Government department for all flood risk in England. In practice, however, the Department's day-to-day involvement with flooding is limited. Responsibility for flood risk management has now almost entirely been devolved to the Environment Agency ('the Agency'), an associated public body of Defra. Flood risk management consumes over half of the Agency's £1 billion budget, which it spends on building and maintaining flood defences, producing flood maps of areas at high risk and running its flood warning system.[31] The Agency is also currently developing Catchment Flood Management Plans, to cover all of England (and Wales) by 2009.[32] These are strategic plans intended to assess current and future flood risks across a whole river catchment area, and to co-ordinate action accordingly. It is also developing 11 River Basin Management Plans for completion by 2009, as required under the Water Framework Directive.[33] Defra's main flooding responsibilities now involve providing funding to the Agency, and setting the Agency targets (such as the number of houses to be protected for a certain investment).

13. The summer 2007 floods highlighted two overarching weaknesses with the general approach to flood risk management in England. The first relates to flood risk type. There are four main recognised types of flood risk—river flooding, coastal flooding, surface water flooding, and groundwater flooding. The 2007 floods revealed that, to date, most organisations have focussed almost exclusively on river and coastal flood risk, and much less so on the risks associated with surface water and groundwater flooding. This is apparent even in the current Governmental organisational structure. The Environment Agency is the lead delivery body for flood risk management. However, many of its main responsibilities—including its flood defences, maps and warning systems—are geared to river and coastal flooding only. We also received criticism that Catchment Flood Management Plans and River Basin Management Plans did not effectively address typical 'inland' kinds of flood risk, such as surface water flooding.[34] These limitations were apparent during the events of summer 2007—the largest surface water flooding event ever experienced in the UK.[35] The Government has acknowledged that the experience of 2007 "suggests that surface water flooding may be more of a problem than was once thought to be the case".[36] We discuss surface water flooding in more detail in Chapter 3.

14. The second main, broad, drawback with the management of flood risk in recent times—again accentuated during the events of the summer—is that flooding, as a policy issue, has tended to be dealt with largely in isolation from other issues. For example, the Government strategy document Making Space for Water (2004) did not explore in detail how flood risk management could be combined effectively with some other aspects of water management, such as water reuse. Some other European countries have a more 'integrated' approach to water management, whereby several water-related issues (water demand and supply, flooding, drought, pollution caused by runoff, and so on) are considered together. In Germany and France, there has been widespread diffusion and adoption of sustainable water practices since the 1980s, including common use of sustainable drainage systems which often have multiple benefits related to flood risk, water supply and water quality. The recent strategy document Future Water (2007) shows that Defra recognises the benefits of an integrated approach to water management, but the UK is still lagging behind other European countries in some regards.[37] We discuss some practical policies that can arise from an integrated approach to water management in Chapter 3.

31   2006-07 figures. Taken from: Environment Agency, Annual Report and accounts 2006-07, July 2007, HC 834, p 4. The Agency's flood maps are available at Flood, Environment Agency website, Back

32   Committee of Public Accounts, Fourth Report of Session 2007-08, Environment Agency: Building and maintaining river and coastal flood defences in England, HC 175, Ev 26. Back

33   A map of the River Basin Districts is available at Water Framework Directive: Find Out About Your River Basin District, Environment Agency website, Back

34   Q 308 [Lindsey Marsh Internal Drainage Board] Back

35   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 67. Back

36   Defra, Future Water, Cm 7319, February 2008, p 57. Back

37   Integrated Water Management is generally considered to cover integration across catchments, between functions, and between land and water management. Whilst the UK has developed integration across catchments over the last 70 years, with the end of the experiment of Regional Water Authorities, functional integration weakened and integration of land and water management has always been weak. Back

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