Future flood prevention Contents

5Strategic, governance and resource issues

68.The previous chapters considered problems in responding to specific aspects of flood risk. These problems are symptomatic of wider issues with the manner in which England administers flood risk management, and the fundamental tensions inherent in delivery structures. We received evidence from a range of sources identifying deep-rooted deficiencies in current flood risk management approaches: some of these concerns were also submitted to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) recent inquiry into flooding.100

Strategic problems

69.The key strategic problems include:

(1)Lack of a robust national strategy: the CCC criticised the Government for failing to accept the need for a comprehensive strategy to tackle the increase in the number of homes at high risk of flooding;101

(2)Too short-term a focus: the EAC criticised the Government for responding to specific flood events reactively, rather than proactively developing plans adequate to respond to rising flood risk: the Committee said that communities “deserve more certainty that they will be protected from floods”.102 The EAC also criticised the Government for establishing a series of reviews after flood events but failing to follow through with consistent funding.103

Governance problems

70.Governance problems include:

(1)Poor clarity in roles and responsibilities for flood management. The EA has a dual role, both developing strategies and delivering flood risk management schemes (in addition to other, non-flood roles). The Chair of the Thames RFCC noted that the EA wore two hats and was “well placed” to fulfil both roles but that greater clarity was needed as to which hat was being worn in different circumstances;104

(2)A lack of transparency and accountability in national decision making: South West Water considered that whilst a great deal had been done to improve the transparency of decision-making, local governance remained “opaque” to the general public.105 The Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) considered the national model needed “significant overhaul” to be able to respond to local choices;106

(3)A proliferation of flood risk management bodies: co-ordinating these diverse bodies diverts funds and energy. The Government has set up new arrangements such as the Somerset Rivers Authority and the Cumbrian Flood Partnership in the wake of recent floods to promote effective joined-up action across catchments, indicating that current local ‘business as usual’ arrangements are sub-optimal.

Resources and capacity

71.Resource and capacity issues include:

(1)Lack of capacity and capability to deliver. LLFAs are failing to deliver consistently: some 38 of 152 LLFAs have failed to produce strategies required by the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.107 The LGA considered it vital that councils be sufficiently resourced to lead local flood protection.108 Devolution of some funding and powers to regional level may exacerbate already patchy local authority delivery. The Chair of the Thames RFCC, Amanda Nobbs, told us that whilst some were “making exemplary progress” other local authorities were “still on the starting blocks”.109 Moving some roles from the EA to LLFAs has meant the loss of some skills and knowledge and slowed the production of plans. In Scotland, local authorities play a more direct role in flood management, taking local responsibilities for flood defences which in England are undertaken by the EA. Groups of Scottish authorities work together to improve capacity and co-ordinate action.110 In Wales, the Environment Act (Wales) 2016 established a Flood and Coastal Erosion Committee to advise the Welsh Government on a holistic approach, “whatever the source [of flooding] and whoever the responsible organisation is”.111

(2)Fluctuating funding: Funding fluctuated over previous Parliaments, with unpredictable flood events requiring budgets to be topped-up above planned levels. The 2016 Budget committed an additional £700 million in response to the winter 2014–15 floods. The EAC criticised this for being a “political calculation”.112 Some £2.5 billion has been committed up to 2021 for 1,500 schemes to better protect some 300,000 homes.113 Maintenance spend will be £1 billion over this Parliament.114 These levels of spend are unlikely to be enough in the medium term: the EA’s Long Term Investment Scenarios concluded that some £850–900 million a year would be required by the 2020–40s to achieve optimum investment plans.115

(3)Complex local funding arrangements: currently local funding is raised through IDB and local authority levies, with RFCCs overseeing priorities. This leads to complex, opaque arrangements. The Somerset Rivers Authority has also raised additional funds through one-off levies collected via general council tax bills but the Government is to legislate for a specific levy in due course.116 This will not, however, address problems across England. Furthermore, although we found evidence in Somerset that affected communities were willing to pay, not all those living in wider areas were content. Some people also expressed the view that as memories of floods receded, so would willingness to pay an ongoing levy.

(4)Maintenance funding is less secure and can be inefficiently spent: the Government has committed to five years of resource funding for maintenance. However, longer-term certainty is needed on maintenance, to keep pace with a rising capital spend on assets that need upkeep. The EAC reported on inefficiencies in maintenance spend identified in the Worsfold Review, finding the EA less efficient than regulated water companies in their use of data, for example.117

Government views

72.Ministers rebutted a number of these concerns, particularly about inconsistent long-term strategy and funding. Dr Coffey considered flood strategies did in fact take a longer-term view; for example, the EA’s Long Term Investment Scenarios set out in 2014 scenarios for investment up to 2065. She referred to funding commitments of £2.3 billion of Exchequer funding up to 2021, with £1 billion in addition of maintenance funding over this Parliament.118 The EA also cites successes from current approaches:

since 2003–04 capital investment in flood risk management schemes has provided better protection for over 500,000 homes in England. Since
2012–13 260,000 hectares of agricultural land have benefitted from reduced flood risk and the six year capital programme to 2021 will better protect 300,000 homes. This investment will bring benefits to the environment, businesses, infrastructure, agriculture and the economy of an estimated £30 billion.119

73.Defra is making changes to its delivery body structures with the EA and Natural England aligning their area boundaries and merging funding and support structures. The previous Secretary of State, Liz Truss, announced in February that Defra’s 34 organisations are to be structured around river catchments and landscapes, with joined-up delivery plans and a 25-year plan for the environment due to be published later this year.120

74.The Government set up the NFRR, led by Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Letwin, following last winter’s floods to assess the preparedness of infrastructure to cope with future floods. Mr Letwin left Government in the July reshuffle. In addition, the then floods minister, Rory Stewart, moved to a new post outside Defra. New floods Minister, Dr Therese Coffey, giving evidence to us in her first week in office, told us that she was at that time not clear on the future arrangements for Cabinet Office work but that ultimately the responsibility for flood work fell on Defra.121 Her evidence to us covered a wide range of flood management issues, displaying her in-depth knowledge of many areas and an openness to learn quickly about other areas.

75.In September, after we finished taking evidence, the Government published its NFRR report. This set out how Agencies would improve work in a number of respects including: modelling future rainfall and climate scenarios and impact on flood risk; protecting key infrastructure including by use of temporary defences; improving incident response and resilience of local infrastructure and developing a long-term (post 2021) strategy. Further work is in train to progress various strands in the NFRR including communicating flood risk better and improving emergency responses. The NFRR relates to flood risk over the next 10 years but it promises to build upon improvements after 2021 with a “rolling government commitment to driving down flood risk”.122

76.We welcome the Government’s commitment in the National Flood Resilience Review to implement improvements to flood risk management in a number of distinct areas such as the deployment of temporary barriers and the communication of risk. However, work on these separate strands will, on its own, be insufficient to deliver a holistic approach to flood prevention. It is vital that the Government continues to join-up action across departments and that ministerial changes do not interrupt momentum. We recommend that Defra and the Cabinet Office set out in the response to this report how the Departments will coordinate joined-up flood management across Whitehall.

77.More fundamentally, ministers must take a fresh look at the governance and delivery of flood risk management and develop plans for a robust, long-term approach. Despite Government assurances as to the adequacy of its policies, we consider national flood management to be fragmented, inefficient and ineffective in meeting the level of threat that flood risk poses to communities across England. With climate change increasing the likelihood of more frequent, more severe flood events it is imperative that the Government undertakes a root and branch review of national and local flood risk management. We make suggestions below on potential new approaches: there are many examples of good practice and plentiful instances of good will in partnerships across England to build on.

78.We recommend that Defra publishes by the end of 2017 its 25-year ambition for flood risk reduction for communities in England against scenarios for different climate change outcomes. This must be accompanied by an analysis of the necessary funding levels to secure this reduction, including for maintenance of existing and new assets.

79.To secure continued funding for local approaches whilst alternative governance models are being developed, the Government must ensure appropriate legislation is passed to enable local community projects, such as the Somerset Rivers Authority, to raise local levies.

New governance model

80.We visited the Netherlands in June to investigate the effectiveness of Dutch approaches to flood management. The annual spend there is some 7.1 billion euros a year to protect a country in which around half the 17 million population is at risk from flooding. We were impressed by the integration of flood management with approaches to land management, spatial planning and water management: all are facilitated by a Dutch system built around local, democratically accountable water boards and complemented by a long-term strategy overseen independently at national level. The Dutch system benefits from the country’s long history of managing water holistically: the threat from the sea and rivers to settlements in this low-lying country meant that from the 13th century onwards local government and water/flood management went hand in hand. Hence, local governance of water fits well with the geography of the Netherlands as well as being well integrated with local community priorities. At national level there is a clear set of accountabilities and a long-term vision for integrating water and flood management and for achieving consistent, high-level protection. The OECD commends the Netherlands for its system which has managed to “keep Dutch feet dry” in a country where 55% of the territory is below sea level or flood prone.123

Figure 3


Key elements:

  • State is responsible for flood risk management on coasts and main river systems.
  • 24 Regional Water Authorities (water boards) are responsible for regional flood protection, including managing extensive system of dykes. Boards work with Municipalities and Provinces as well as other stakeholders to develop plans.
  • Standards of flood protection are set at national level. Different standards apply to different places—varying from 1 in 250 year flood risk to 1 in 10,000 year flood risk.
  • Delta Commissioner oversees programme established by Delta Act 2012. Key advisory figure for national programmes.

The Netherlands has a long history of taking action on flood risk:

  • Local engagement with water management dates back centuries: Regional water authorities (water boards) created in 13th century—set up dykes and pumping systems, in liaison with local communities. Consolidated into 24 Boards in recent decades.
  • National Water Act 2009 and Delta Act 2012 underpin response to current and future challenges for water safety and freshwater supply.
  • Major floods in 1953 triggered Delta Works, traditional engineered approaches. More recently new approaches such as “Room for the River” have been adopted, working with nature.

81.We considered how the Dutch approach could inform the development of new approaches for the governance of national and local English flood management. We set out below possible models for reform which would address the key problems we identify above including a fragmentation of roles and the lack of clear accountability at national level. Our suggested models aim to develop structures and roles that deliver:

Proposed new governance model

82.With thanks to our Special Advisers for their assistance, we have developed a new model for governance. It should be noted that some witnesses, such as Amanda Nobbs, Chair of the Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee cautioned against the temptation to develop new structures, particularly as a reaction to immediate flood events. She considered that structures needed to be sufficiently flexible to cope with “enormous variation” across the country and that the concept of “lead” local risk management authorities working in partnerships was “sound”. She warned that if all catchment-related functions were brought together in one structure either “flood risk management would not get the focus it requires [ … ] or that other catchment objectives would get squeezed out”.124 Ms Nobbs recommended changes to improve current arrangements, including clearer targets for LLFAs and more support for them via the EA and RFCCs. RFCCs in her view would also benefit from a greater recognition of their catalytic role in making schemes happen at a catchment scale. We have taken these concerns into account but remain of the view that current structures do not work. The model we propose below would, we believe, enhance flood focus and allow for variation in local circumstances whilst also providing nationally co-ordinated oversight. It would not add costs but make savings by reducing the duplication inherent in current approaches, including in the roles played by LLFAs and RFCCs. The model would enable increased co-ordination between bodies, and strengthen links between water and flood management and between spatial planning and flood management.

83.New NATIONAL elements of the model are:

(1)Establishment of a new National Floods Commissioner: a key new, permanent role to ensure an objective and balanced, long-term view is taken of flood risk:

(2)Establishment of an English Rivers and Coastal Authority (ERCA): taking on EA flood risk management roles in support of the Commissioner:

Key ERCA responsibilities would be:

84.New REGIONAL elements of the model are:

(1)Establishment of Regional Flood and Coastal Boards: taking on LLFA and RFCC roles (and staff) as new regional flood risk management planning bodies:

(2)Establishment of integrated Water and Drainage Companies, by extending Water and Sewerage Company remits to cover local drainage:

85.The model would give a strong focus to delivering long-term, strategic plans for improving flood protection by:

86.The box below summarises the key elements of the proposed model:

Figure 4: A proposed new model for English Flood Risk Management


NATIONAL LEVEL: a new National Floods Commissioner for England

National planner and co-ordinator for all flood risk management (FRM) bodies in England. Responsible for overseeing delivery of national plan agreed with government.

REGIONAL/LOCAL LEVEL: new Regional Flood and Coastal Boards

  • Co-ordinate 5 year regional/catchment plans with all FRM bodies including Water and Drainage Companies, Internal Drainage Boards and catchment partnerships. Adopt Lead Local Flood Authority roles for planning regional management.
  • Report directly to the Commissioner and hold delivery bodies accountable. Oversee combined funding pots for catchment/regional work.


NATIONAL LEVEL: English Rivers and Coastal Authority:

  • Delivery body for national and main river FRM planning in support of Commissioner. Adopts EA’s FRM roles. Undertakes programmed work directly, or in collaboration with other bodies including catchment partnerships, Somerset Rivers Authority, Cumbrian partnerships, Water and Drainage Companies etc.

REGIONAL/LOCAL LEVEL: Water and Drainage Companies

  • New role for Water and Sewerage Companies: become Water and Drainage Companies, taking on district council drainage responsibilities including management of surface water management and non-main rivers.
  • Internal Drainage Board and local authority roles in local coastline management continue as at present.

87.We recommend that Defra consult by 2017 on new governance arrangements and changes to delivery body roles to allow the development of coherent, long-term flood risk management plans which can better meet the increasing challenge of protecting communities from flooding. Key objectives in this consultation must be to develop outcomes that:

88.Defra must set out in its response to this report its views on our proposed new model, including the key elements of establishing:

100 Environmental Audit Committee, Flooding: Cooperation across Government, Second Report of Session 2016–17, HC 183

101 Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee (FFP 110)

102 Environmental Audit Committee, Flooding: Cooperation across Government, Second Report of Session 2016–17, HC 183, para 48

103 Environmental Audit Committee, Flooding: Cooperation across Government, Second Report of Session 2016–17, HC 183

104 Amanda Nobbs, Chair of Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (FFP 155) para 7

105 South West Water Ltd (FFP 49)

106 Association of Drainage Authorities (FFP 115) para 3.01

107 Environmental Audit Committee, Government Response to Flooding: Cooperation across Government, Second Special Report of Session 2016–17, HC 645

108 Local Government Association (FFP 73)

109 Amanda Nobbs, Chair of Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (FFP 155), para 5

110 Q518

111 National Resources Wales (FFP 143) para 2.10

112 Environmental Audit Committee, Flooding: Cooperation across Government, Second Report of Session 2016–17, HC 183

113 Defra, Dr Peter Bonfield, The Property Flood Resilience Action Plan, September 2016

114 Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, speech to Conservative Party Conference, September 2016

116 Defra (FFP 156)

117 Environmental Audit Committee, Flooding: Cooperation across Government, Second Report of Session 2016–17, HC 183

118 Qq653,664

119 Environment Agency (FFP 128) para 3.3

120 Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, Speech on Reforming Defra to the Institute for Government, 1 February 2016

121 Q629

122 HM Government, National Flood Resilience Review, September 2016

124 Amanda Nobbs, Chair of Thames Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (FFP 155), para 2

28 October 2016