45.Witnesses asserted that it was “impractical and unaffordable” to “continually” extend flood defences. Further work is needed on improving resilience to floods, particularly if communities are to prepare effectively for the increased impacts of climate change. Resilience can be increased by better preparation, and planning and building capacity to resist floods or to reduce the impacts and help communities recover when they are flooded. The NFRR states that Defra will consider the balance between “protection and resilience”. Flood resilience can be developed at individual property level and at community level, including through spatial planning policies and building standards.
46.We received conflicting evidence on whether planning rules on mitigating flood risk were effective. Some witnesses considered that local decision-makers did not take flood risk sufficiently into account when approving new development. The CCC noted that new floodplain development added to long-term flood risk and the costs of flood prevention. More than 30,000 new homes have been built since 2008 in areas with a 10% or greater chance of flooding in the next ten years. The CCC told us that the Government had rejected its recommendation to assess the long-term consequences of this. Hampshire County Council considered powers given to Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs—ie Unitary and County Councils) to be insufficient to ensure that new developments were not sited in areas of flood risk: planners should be able to consider whole catchment impacts, not just local effects, when granting planning permission.
47.In contrast, the EA and Defra told us that spatial planning rules were designed to allow effective consideration of the flood risk from new developments. The EA noted that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) incorporated the aim of protecting people and property from flooding and that the Agency had a statutory consultee role to give planners advice on whether new build would pose a flood risk to others or to the development itself. The RTPI noted that with 96.4% of all planning decisions, and 99% of those for new homes, made in line with EA advice “very little new development is now approved in areas at high risk of flooding”. None the less, insurance company Aviva told us that people needed to discuss flood risk more directly when buying homes. Planning decisions including EA advice are published which should help people to make informed decisions on individual purchases. However there is no centralised register of decisions made against EA advice which could inform more strategic considerations as to whether new developments across a wider area are impacting on flood risk.
48.Home buyers and the wider community must be assured that new development does not increase flood risk, either at the development site or further afield. Statistics show that planning decisions for developments in high flood risk areas are overwhelmingly being made in line with Environment Agency advice. However, there are exceptions. We recommend that from 2017 each local planning authority publish an annual summary of planning decisions taken against Environment Agency advice and the action it has taken to monitor flood risk impacts of all developments.
49.A further concern is that statistics on compliance with EA advice do not show the whole picture. The EA may advise that planning consent be given dependent on conditions being met by the developer as to how buildings are constructed. However, buyers do not have an easy means of ensuring that such measures have been fully adopted. Furthermore, sanctions cannot easily be imposed on developers whose properties subsequently flood or are considered to have contributed to flooding elsewhere. The RTPI noted that planning legislation does not “provide the necessary sanctions and powers to act as a deterrent for developments in breach of planning controls [for SUDs]; nor do they require that remedial action is taken”.
50.With the assistance of our Special Advisers we have drawn up proposals for a method to ensure developers are made liable for the costs of flooding associated with their developments. Those with surface water management responsibilities would collectively produce a single set of guidelines so that planning authorities can attach standard conditions to each application, modified if necessary to suit particular circumstances. These would specify high level requirements to be met in order to receive planning approval on various criteria such as flow control (which could be met for example through the installation of SUDs). These bodies would also develop a simple inspection and post-construction certification process to ensure that what had been built would meet the performance required.
51.We are concerned that, where flooding linked to new building occurs, those affected find it difficult to seek redress from developers. We recommend that the Government impose by the end of 2017 a statutory liability on developers to meet the costs of flooding where their development fails to comply with planning requirements and increases flood risk, whether to a property sited on the new development or further afield. The Government’s commitment to build more affordable homes should not be achieved at the expense of flood resilience of new residential properties. Regulations must provide for developers to avoid such liability where they comply with planning conditions: local planning authorities should be required to issue as part of planning processes a drainage certificate to confirm compliance.
52.To facilitate this, we recommend that bodies with a responsibility for managing the effects of developments on surface water flows, including water and sewerage companies, become statutory consultees for planning applications.
53.Building regulations do not require flood resilience measures to be installed in new buildings. The Home Builders Federation questioned whether, with average rainfall increasing by 6 to 8% since the 1960s, design criteria were “sufficiently robust”. Some witnesses, such as Mary Dhonau, a Community Flood Consultant, recommended that building regulations be amended to ensure that all new builds are “flood resilient compliant” (for example, by requiring all airbricks used to be kitemarked as being of an automatic flood-closure type). The Local Government Association (LGA) also called for building regulations to require anti-flood measures such as raised electrical sockets and fuse boxes and controls, wiring above floor level, ventilation brick covers, sealed floors and raised damp proof courses.
54.Professional planning and engineering institutions are working to develop a voluntary code on flood resilience measures that should be used in any new developments. In September, after we finished taking evidence, Defra published a Property Flood Resilience Action Plan following a Roundtable chaired by Dr Peter Bonfield. This recommended that the Government further explore whether building regulations could be better used to encourage flood resistant and resilient building construction.
55.We support voluntary approaches which will improve the use of flood resilience measures in new buildings and a new code should be finalised as soon as possible. Should a voluntary code not be agreed with key stakeholders by the end of 2016, then the Government must amend building regulations by the end of 2017 to require such measures to be used in all newly built properties.
56.The Government introduced in April the Flood Re scheme in response to concerns that many householders in areas of high flood risk were unable to obtain affordable insurance. The scheme was in its early weeks of operation when we took oral evidence and, only a few months on, there is little detailed information on its impact. There is anecdotal evidence that many homeowners are being quoted significantly reduced premiums, but some people have found it hard to secure lower quotes. In addition, a small number of people may have lost out because, although their homes were built by the 2009 deadline, their properties were not fully registered in time.
57.We considered the impact of Flood Re on individual and community resilience and preparedness for floods since many witnesses considered the scheme blunted signals which could spur householders to take responsibility for protecting their own property. The ESRC and the Grantham Institute considered that “there are no direct levers for Flood Re to influence flood resilience and the scheme will not impact the behaviour [ … ] of homeowners, national and local governments, developers and insurance companies”. The scheme was “invisible” to households: policy documentation should tell those receiving a subsidy clearly how much they were benefitting by and highlight their responsibility for improving their property’s resilience. Flood Re told us that it was required to produce transition plans periodically to ease the shift towards the open market when Flood Re expires in 23 years’ time. The plans would set out how the scheme could incentivise householders and insurers to take the most effective measures to protect homes against flooding. The Bonfield report on resilience also recommended that Flood Re should provide an evidence base to understand how the scheme could incentivise households and insurers to manage the risk of flooding and reduce the cost of claims through resilience and other measures.
58.Insurance company Zurich told us that “building back better” approaches were needed so that every flood loss was used as an opportunity to “learn and increase flood resistance and resilience in the future”. However, brokers surveyed for the Bonfield review stated that a third of insurers would not allow a more resilient repair to be made following a flood, even if cost neutral. Instead claimants could only make repairs to put them back in the position they were in prior to the flood. During our visit to Somerset, we were told that flooded homes had been restored to pre-flood standards rather than being made more resilient, in many instances because of restrictive insurance policy conditions.
59.Flood Re appears to be allowing many households previously unable to do so to obtain affordable flood insurance cover. However the scheme is intended to provide a transition to an open market in insurance provision: it is therefore vital that Flood Re and insurance companies provide policy holders in flood risk areas with easily understandable information about the subsidy they are receiving so that they fully understand the need to improve their property’s resilience. We recommend that Defra report by January 2017 on how clearer information can be provided to policy holders on the subsidy provided by Flood Re.
60.In addition, flood insurance policy terms should allow for ‘building back better’ so that repairs to a flooded property can proactively deploy the full range of resilient materials and products. The Government should also review with the insurance industry how policy terms might incentivise the use of flood resilience measures by householders and businesses and report on this by January 2017.
61.We were told that business flood insurance was unaffordable for many businesses, particularly for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) reported that 85% of brokers considered it had become harder to place business flood cover in recent years. Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) research found that 9% of small businesses at risk of flooding had difficulty finding insurance, 3% considered cover to be unaffordable and 6% had been refused flood insurance cover.
62.However Defra does not consider there to be a market failure in provision of appropriate business insurance for those located in flood risk areas. Hence Flood Re was designed only to cover households. Many witnesses endorsed the exclusion of businesses from the scheme. The Association of British Insurers (ABI), and Flood Re argued that it would be wrong for homeowners to subsidise the operating costs of businesses. There are however circumstances where primarily residential properties are excluded from Flood Re as they are defined as business premises because they have mixed use. Flood Re told us that where there were local examples of businesses finding it hard to get affordable insurance, stakeholders should “work together on a solution”. Indeed BIBA told us that it was working on a commercial insurance solution for launch later this year that would offer cover to “the vast majority of businesses that have struggled in the past”.
63.However, some witnesses, such as the FSB, argued that either Flood Re should be extended to cover businesses or the Government should consider adopting alternative schemes for businesses. The ABI suggested that for the minority of premises unable to obtain appropriate cover a ‘parametric cover’ scheme should be considered. This entails the covered business paying a capped, one-off payment if a flood occurs with any excess costs being picked up by a Government-backed scheme (similar to the UK Export Finance Insurance Policy offer). A business would need to prove it was unable to obtain commercial cover before becoming eligible for such a scheme. Aviva told us they would welcome an independent study into affordability and accessibility of insurance cover for SMEs.
64.Many witnesses emphasised the role of improved resilience in reducing business insurance costs. The FSB’s research found a “very low level of preparedness for severe weather” among the UK business community. The ABI urged a raising of business awareness on flood risk mitigating actions, with business rate or corporation tax discounts to support affected businesses.
65.Some flood-hit businesses are understandably concerned that they may find it hard to obtain appropriate flood insurance in future. We welcome the insurance industry’s progress in developing commercial solutions for many such businesses. However the market may not be able to provide affordable cover for all businesses, particularly small businesses. We recommend that the Government develops by the end of 2017 a grant scheme to support small businesses to undertake resilience measures. This scheme should be reviewed by the end of 2019 to assess whether there is need for further direct support for small businesses in the form of a Government-backed insurance scheme.
66.We did not consider emergency responses to flooding in detail in this inquiry, except with respect to the role of the Fire and Rescue Service. The Fire Brigades Union noted that in the 2015–16 winter floods the fire service was the primary emergency responder: firefighters responded to some 1,400 flood incidents across the North West of England, 450 in Yorkshire, 350 in Scotland, 200 in Wales and 100 in Northern Ireland. The Fire and Rescue Service provided 70% of boats used in the winter floods 2015–16. Many witnesses praised the firefighters for their bravery and commitment. However, there are 8,000 fewer frontline firefighter jobs now than in 2007 and boat teams have been cut by a quarter. The FBU criticised a lack of appropriate kit such as service water suits for firefighters to use during flood responses. The CCC noted that it was not known what scale of event emergency services were resourced to cope with because the necessary data were not collected. In September, the NFRR committed an additional £0.75 million to provide grants to enable nationally deployable flood rescue teams to maintain their equipment, including boats. This appears to be a one-off commitment. The Fire Brigades Union submitted strong evidence to the effect that only by placing a statutory duty on the fire service to respond to flood events would appropriate, ongoing resources be assured. A duty would also ensure the Service’s plans were integrated with response strategies prepared by other bodies including the EA and local authorities. Such a duty is in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
67.Firefighters provided a vital and much valued first-line service to flooded communities in recent flood events. While we welcome the September National Flood Resilience Review commitment to increase funding to maintain equipment, we are concerned that continued pressure on resources could jeopardise the Fire and Rescue Service’s ability to deliver a high standard of service in future. We recommend that the Government places a statutory duty on the Fire and Rescue Service in England and Wales to provide an emergency response to flood events and commits the necessary additional funding and staff resources to support delivery of this responsibility. The Government must consult by the end of 2016 on methods of imposing and funding this duty.
69 South West Water () para 2.3
71 Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee (), para 3d
72 Hampshire County Council ()
73 Environment Agency ()
74 Royal Town Planning Institute () ()
75 Royal Town Planning Institute ()
76 Q229, Steve Wielebski
77 Mary Dhonau Associations (
78 Local Government Association ()
79 This work is being led by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, the Institute of Civil Engineers and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
81 ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment () para 16
82 ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment () para 19
83 Flood Re () para 20
85 Zurich Insurance plc () para 4.4
87 British Association of Insurance Brokers () paras 1.2 & 1.3
89 Association of British Insurers (
90 Flood Re () para 16
91 British Association of Insurance Brokers () para 1.5
92 Federation of Small Businesses () paras 3.6 & 3.7
93 Aviva ()
94 Federation of Small Businesses ()
95 Association of British Insurers (
96 Fire Brigades Union ()
97 As above
98 Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee () para 3f
28 October 2016