Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fifth Report

9  Public awareness

112. Our inquiry showed that public awareness about flood risk and management needs to be raised. We believe that Government—at both the central and local level—should do more to engage with the public to increase awareness of flood risk. Several measures could be taken to ensure the public are better prepared for flooding, and are able to make the right choices about how to protect themselves.

Information to the public

113. Gloucestershire County Council told us it had recently produced a flood guide that provided people with tips for what they could do themselves.[202] We would like to see more local authorities providing such information to local residents. In March 2008, the Environment Agency launched three simple flooding guides, available on its website, to offer advice to the public abut how to protect their homes—before, during and after flooding.[203] The Environment Agency should undertake to provide copies of its three flood guides to local authorities, to be circulated for free to those houses in areas of highest risk.

114. The Government should include an assessment of flood risk within the information to be included in Home Information Packs. The Environment Agency's guides should also be included in the packs for those properties deemed at risk.

Telephone flood warnings

115. The Environment Agency's flood warning system has limited levels of uptake. In England and Wales overall, only around 41 per cent of people for whom the Flood Warnings Direct Service is available take up the service—approximately 276,000 properties.[204] There should ideally be an opt-out for receiving flood warnings from the Environment Agency in areas of high risk, rather than the current opt-in system. We note that the Agency has a pilot scheme automatically to register eligible households and premises for flood warnings unless they opt out. The Agency should publish, by the end of 2008, any results from its pilot scheme to register automatically eligible households and premises for flood warnings unless they opt out. It should also set out any concerns that have arisen from the pilot.

Flood maps

116. The Agency maps river and coastal flood risk and provides this service to the public for free, via its website. The Agency says this information is regularly updated and shared with local authorities and the insurance industry to assist in planning and insurance provision.[205] Some insurance companies, such as Norwich Union and Royal & Sun Alliance, have developed their own more detailed mapping systems, in part based on the Agency's data, to aid insurance provision.[206] Both companies' maps are able to assign flood risk to the level of individual property, whereas the Agency's maps split the flood risk into 100 square metre areas.[207]

117. We believe the variety of different flood risk maps available—with each potentially classifying a certain property at a different level of flood risk—is confusing for the public. We understand that insurance companies will want to produce their own detailed flood risk maps for commercial reasons. The current situation, however, is a recipe for conflict. The Government should set out its policy on how it intends to resolve this potential confusion. The necessity for clarity is even more pressing with the Agency's development of simple surface water flood maps for some "hot-spot" areas. We recognise the production of flood maps is a dynamic process and is dependent on the best data available, but it is in everyone's interest to have the best available validated map. The Environment Agency should take the lead in pulling partners together to achieve this. The Agency should set up a standing committee that annually reviews all the available data on flood mapping, so insurance companies and the Met Office can share experience, and this committee should publish an annual report about the dynamics of the process.

202   Q 362 Back

203   "Environment Agency launches flood awareness guides", Environment Agency press release, 28260308, 26 March 2008. The guides are available at Advice Guides, Flooding, Back

204   Pitt Review, Learning the lessons from the 2007 floods, December 2007, p 112. Back

205   Ev 7 Back

206   Ev 126 [Norwich Union] Back

207   Ev 141 [Norwich Union] Back

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