Flooding Contents

2Lessons from the 2019–20 flooding

54.During the winter of 2019–20 over 4,600 properties were flooded across England due to heavy rainfall and the impacts of Storms Ciara and Dennis.118 The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said that insurers expected to pay out over £543 million following Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge (including £305 million relating to flooded property claims).119 In looking at the response to these events we examined both the immediate operational response, as well as the schemes that were put in place to support affected communities and businesses to recover.

Operational response

55.Some of the evidence we have received indicates that bodies responding to flood events face considerable challenges in performing their role. The Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) said that Internal Drainage Boards “do not have an agreed route to seek recovery funding where their assets, systems and workforce have been impacted by flood events even though their actions significantly contributed to coordinated recovery efforts”.120 The Fire Brigades Union also reiterated its call for fire and rescue services in England to be given a statutory duty to respond to major flooding, to help provide “clarity, direction and the resources necessary”.121 A predecessor EFRA Committee recommended this in its 2016 report on Future flood prevention.122 We also heard some evidence that local procedures may sometimes inhibit an effective emergency response. The Association of Drainage Authorities’ Innes Thomson said that the decision of a Local Resilience Forum (LRF) commanding officer to “close down the emergency or the incident response procedure, and hand it across to what they call a recovery procedure” means that assets such as fire and rescue service pumps can no longer be called on, and that this decision sometimes happened “perhaps two or three days” after the flooding incident.123

56.In addition to the civilian emergency response, the 2019–20 flooding saw military involvement. Troops were deployed to South Yorkshire to assist civilian authorities, and Royal Air Force Chinook helicopters were called in to assist a pumping station near Doncaster by dropping 40 tonnes of aggregate to ensure flood defences could function.124 CIWEM told us that the deployment of the armed services, while it can “offer vital resource in an emergency scenario”, does nonetheless indicate “a lack of capacity within risk management and emergency response authorities, in the face of prolonged extreme events” and should be regarded as a “systems failure”.125

57.The Government’s evidence highlighted that MHCLG’s Resilience and Emergencies Division (RED) supports England’s 38 LRFs to develop plans and by providing expertise and liaison during and after emergencies.126 The Secretary of State said that the development of the National Flood Response Centre, local resilience forums and improved flood forecasting together have made flood response “more sure-footed over the last five to 10 years”, even as he acknowledged that the UK faces such flood events “now pretty much on an annual basis”.127 The Resilience and Emergencies Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, also told us that “we need to see the leadership not just at the centre [ … ] it needs to come both at regional level and local level”.128

58.We recognise and pay tribute to the substantial effort undertaken by all emergency responders, as well as local communities and the armed services, in responding to the severe flooding over the autumn and winter of 2019–20. However, we are concerned by ongoing indications of resourcing issues for those bodies undertaking the vital work of helping protect lives and livelihoods in the immediate wake of a flood. As the Secretary of State has rightly acknowledged the increasing frequency of severe flooding events, it is not right to expect these organisations to operate at the limit of their capacity. The Government should engage with all bodies involved in flooding incident response to review their capacity to deal with more frequent severe flooding. The review should ensure that local co-ordination is effective and all partners are properly resourced to meet future challenges.

Government support schemes

59.Various schemes were announced to support individuals and businesses who had been impacted by the flooding. Several of these fell under the Flood Recovery Framework created by MHCLG following the extreme flooding caused by Storm Desmond and Storm Eva in 2015/16.129 This is “a collection of ‘off the shelf’ packages” of support, including council tax and business rates relief, that can be offered by local authorities and reimbursed by central Government in certain circumstances.130 It was activated for the first time in November 2019, and then again in February 2020 following Storms Ciara and Dennis.131 In addition to the Flood Recovery Framework, a property flood resilience scheme was announced to provide grants of up to £5,000 to pay for a range of improvements against future flooding.132

60.Some press coverage described a “postcode lottery” for support.133 Only people in lower tier or unitary local authority areas with 25 or more flooded households were eligible for household recovery grants, council tax/rate relief and property flood resilience grants.134 Gloucestershire Lead Local Flood Authority told us that “the limitation of the funding to Unitary [sic] and second-tier authorities was highly inequitable”, as a large unitary authority could “easily demonstrate the required >25 internally-flooded properties”, while a much smaller district authority “could not collate sufficient numbers”.135 Some evidence also suggested that local authorities had not received adequate information from central Government on the property flood resilience grant scheme, with Telford and Wrekin Council telling us in Spring 2020 that “there has been no notification of when these funds will be available and how businesses can access them, despite repeated requests”.136 The Local Government Association told us that “community expectations have to be managed by the lead local flood authority”, and “councils have raised concerns about conflicting advice being given to residents on eligibility”.137 The LGA also noted that local authorities had “struggled” to find the resource to administer central Government grant schemes, and some had resorted to using money from other budgets to cover these administrative costs.138

61.We also received some evidence on the Bellwin scheme which, when activated, allows local authorities to be reimbursed for costs they incur when dealing with the aftermath of an emergency. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority said that better co-ordination between local/regional and national tiers would enable support such as the Bellwin scheme to be considered more quickly.139 The Local Government Association’s Councillor David Renard also called for improvements to the Bellwin scheme “so that councils can access bigger grants more easily and more quickly, because clean-up costs are often not covered as part of that scheme”.140

62.The Secretary of State told us in oral evidence that it is the role of local authorities to “step in to deal with certain issues and it is only when it passes a particular threshold that it triggers a new burden, where it becomes legitimate for Government to step in”, hence the threshold of 25 or more impacted homes for the resilience grants scheme to be activated.141 The Government has said it will review both the Flood Recovery Framework and the resilience grant scheme, as well as “support[ing] the voluntary sector to improve their capacity and capability to help local communities in the event of a flood”.142

63.It is welcome that the Government has now put in place a package of support measures for households and businesses impacted by severe flooding. While it is right that local authorities will usually be best placed to deliver these measures in their areas, it is concerning that some appear to have been left ill-prepared to deal with expectations being set by high-profile announcements from central Government. The eligibility criteria for these schemes have also created at least the impression of unfairness. The use of a single threshold of 25 or more flooded houses, across local authority areas of different sizes, also raises questions of fairness.

64.The review of the Flood Recovery Framework and the property flood resilience grant scheme should include an evaluation of the timeliness and adequacy of communication from central Government to local authorities, as well as whether the scheme ought to include an additional element of reimbursement for administrative costs. The Government should also ensure that the eligibility criteria for these schemes are clearly communicated, and fairly reflect the differences between local authority areas, including size. The operation of the Bellwin scheme in relation to flood events should also be reviewed as part of this work.

Long-term recovery

65.A key message that has arisen from our engagement with community groups is the absence of support for long-term recovery once the immediate flooding period has ended. Flood risk campaigner Mary Dhonau told us that “the average person is out of their home for about 9 months” following flood damage, and that this could be exacerbated by the covid-19 disruption, a message which also emerged from our roundtable discussion in October.143 The National Flood Forum highlighted “a focus on incident management, but an absence of support for long term recovery”, with “only a very few local authorities [ … ] putting in long term support mechanisms”.144 It also said that it “has particular skills in this area but needs to build capacity in order to be able to respond more effectively across the country”, and that it could be involved in training and developing local authorities in their ability to support recovery.145

66.The mental health impacts of flooding have emerged as an area where long-term support is needed. Research by the Environment Agency and Public Health England has found that flooding can increase the chance of facing mental health problems such as stress and depression by 50%, and that a quarter of people who have been flooded still live with these issues at least two years after the event.146 Participants in our roundtable discussion with flood risk community groups shared personal experiences of the trauma and anxiety that can persist after a flooding event.147 The Environment Agency also acknowledged in its evidence that there is “more to do” on “ensuring people and businesses receive the support they need from all those involved in recovery so they can get back to normal quicker after flooding, including better accounting for the long term mental health impacts”.148 The changes to the partnership funding formula announced in April 2020 included “updated payments to account for inflation and based on new evidence on the overall impacts of flooding, such as mental health”, but this applies to investment in flood risk management rather than funding for recovery.149

67.The Government’s July 2020 policy statement said that “we will support people and communities to repair damages, restore local economies and better manage the impacts of flooding and coastal erosion on mental health and wellbeing”.150 It also includes a commitment to “support the voluntary sector to improve their capacity and capability to help local communities in the event of a flood”.151 The Resilience and Emergencies Minister, Lord Greenhalgh, told us that access to mental health support “is something that is not just solved by policy at the centre”, but requires “making those services more available for people who need them”.152 The Secretary of State acknowledged the “real impacts on people’s wellbeing and mental health as a result of flooding”, but stressed that “what they really want from the Environment Agency and Defra is action to ensure that it does not happen again”.153

68.Our engagement with local communities at risk of flooding has highlighted the significant long-term challenges that result from a flood. In particular, the mental health impacts of flooding have been vividly described to us. This includes both the initial trauma of having one’s home flooded, and the resultant anxiety whenever severe weather approaches. There is a lack of support for long-term recovery after a flood, once the immediate response phase has passed. We agree with the Government that support should be delivered in the most effective way, often by local government or voluntary groups. In establishing the Flood Recovery Framework the Government has, rightly, accepted that it has a responsibility to support communities struck by severe flooding. It should not forget them when the flood waters recede. We look forward to further detail from the Government on how it will engage with local partners to make sure that these communities are properly supported.

69.The Government should supplement its July 2020 policy statement with an additional action plan, developed with local partners, for the long-term physical, economic, and psychological recovery of communities impacted by flooding. This should include a clear explanation of which national and local actors should be responsible for key aspects of flood recovery support, how they will be supported and resourced, and a plan to monitor delivery against a set of recovery indicators. The Government’s commitment to support the voluntary sector should include funding to help charities respond to flooding and build capacity in other organisations.

118 Environment Agency (FLO0037) para 3.1

119 Association of British Insurers (FLO0092) para 6

120 Association of Drainage Authorities (FLO0049) para 2.10. Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) are independent public bodies responsible for managing water levels in low-lying areas. They are funded by drainage rates and special levies in their districts, and contributions from the Environment Agency. There are 112 IDBs in England. See Association of Drainage Authorities, ‘Internal Drainage Boards’, accessed 2 February 2021

121 Fire Brigades Union (FLO0004)

122 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2016–17, Future flood prevention, HC 115, para 67

124 “200 UK troops deploy to support flood relief”, British Army press release, 13 November 2019

125 Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (FLO0104) para 18

126 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (FLO0042), para 1.12

129 Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, ‘Flood recovery framework: guidance for local authorities in England,’ accessed 21 January 2021; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (FLO0042), para 2.9

130 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (FLO0042), paras 2.9, 2.10

131 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (FLO0042), para 2.9

132 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (FLO0042), para 6.21

134 PQ 128728, 16 December 2020; “Major package of support for storm-hit areas”, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs press release, 18 February 2020; “Government support for recovery from flooding”, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy news story, 15 November 2019

135 Gloucestershire Local Flood Authority (FLO0036) para 2.5

136 Telford & Wrekin Council (FLO0008) para 2.11

137 Local Government Association (FLO0105)

138 Local Government Association (FLO0105)

139 West Yorkshire Combined Authority (FLO0052)

142 HM Government, ‘Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Policy Statement’ (July 2020), p 33

143 Know Your Flood Risk Campaign (FLO0031); see also Annex.

144 National Flood Forum (FLO0045)

145 National Flood Forum (FLO0045)

146Sunday Times article on flood defence spending formula”, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs blog, 23 February 2020

147 See Annex.

148 Environment Agency (FLO0037)

149 “Building flood defences fit for the future”, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs news story, 17 April 2020

150 HM Government, ‘Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Policy Statement’ (July 2020), p 33

151 HM Government, ‘Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Policy Statement’ (July 2020), p 33

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