Flooding Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Meeting the challenge

1.We welcome the doubling of investment in flood defences announced at Budget 2020, amounting to £5.2 billion over the next six years. It is vital that measures to address the growing, long-term, flood and coastal risk in the face of climate change are adequately resourced. The Government should therefore keep the level of investment under constant review, with reference to the Environment Agency’s long-term investment scenarios. The Government should commit to ensuring that funding for flood and coastal erosion risk management will keep pace with climate science and modelling of flood and coastal risk, both during the 2021–27 programme and beyond. (Paragraph 12)

2.We welcome the steps taken thus far to improve the partnership funding formula, to better take account of climate change and the wider impacts of flooding. However, it is disappointing that the Government’s call for evidence on further changes to the formula has only just been launched, and will not close until the eve of the next investment programme starting in April 2021. We believe there is more work to be done to ensure that flood capital investment protects people and property without favouring certain areas or disproportionately focussing on certain types of flooding. When considering cost-benefit analyses, natural capital should also be a factor that is taken into consideration. The Government should ensure that any further steps to address shortcomings of the flood funding formula, following the current call for evidence, are communicated and implemented as quickly as possible. (Paragraph 16)

3.We share the concern of our predecessor Committee about the apparent stalling of private sector contributions under the partnership funding model. The recent National Audit Office report shows the Government faces an uphill struggle to reverse the decline in private sector contributions. We welcome the steps the Government is taking to encourage more private contributions, including reviewing guidance on corporation tax relief. However, we note with concern that the Environment Agency has said it will be challenging to secure the partnership funding needed to deliver the outcomes of the next multi-year capital investment. (Paragraph 22)

4.While we acknowledge the great value of partnership contributions from public sources, it is obvious that private sector investment is too low (as the Government has implicitly accepted), and this could contribute to uncertainty about whether schemes will be deliverable. The Government should explain how it will monitor whether the level of partnership funding, including private sector contributions, is jeopardising the outcomes of the multi-year capital investment programme. (Paragraph 23)

5.The Environment Agency should facilitate this by keeping a record of schemes that are unable to proceed due to being unable to secure adequate partnership contributions, including a quantification of the losses in flood resilience that result. (Paragraph 24)

6.It is critical that the considerable outlay of public money through the Government’s £5.2 billion capital investment in flood defences is not wasted through a failure to adequately resource the maintenance of new and existing assets. We are concerned by the evidence we have received about existing shortcomings in asset maintenance, and this situation will only be exacerbated by the twin pressures of climate change and increased capital funding if the Government does not act. We recognise the Government’s stated commitment to ongoing maintenance, but a step change is needed. The Government should put in place a long-term resource budget settlement for flood and coastal erosion risk management, that is aligned with the increased multi-year capital investment programme, so that the Environment Agency and others are able to effectively plan and maintain the network of flood and coastal risk assets. (Paragraph 29)

7.The Government’s refusal to set a national standard for resilience to flooding means there is uncertainty about the level of its ambition. We would expect the Government to show leadership in the face of severe and growing risk by setting out its long-term objective. We are not convinced by the Government’s rationale for rejecting the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation of a nationwide standard for flood resilience. Such a standard could address limitations of cost-benefit approaches to allocating funding, and would improve public confidence in the Government’s approach to creating a country better protected and better prepared for flooding. The Government believes that national standards would be a “lowest common denominator”, but it is surely right for the Government to take a political decision on what its policies are meant to achieve. The Government should clearly set out the level of resilience that its interventions, including future capital investment and the actions in its July 2020 policy statement, are intended to deliver in the long term. This should be aligned to climate projections, and should include qualitative and quantitative objectives for what a nation resilient to flooding looks like. The Government should seriously re-examine the case for expressing this as a national standard for flood resilience, as recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission. (Paragraph 35)

8.Climate change poses a grave threat to the flood resilience of communities, with the Climate Change Committee warning that warming of 4°C or more implies inevitable increases in flood risk even in the most ambitious adaptation scenarios considered. The Government needs to be frank about the level of risk it is prepared to accept in extreme climate change scenarios, and those likely to be affected need to know now. The Government should explain how a reasonable worst-case scenario for increased flood and coastal risk due to climate change would impact upon its national objective for flood resilience, and what this would mean for funding and decisions about whether to protect any given place. (Paragraph 36)

9.We welcome the focus on protecting not just homes, but also other properties. It is crucial that the success or otherwise of flood risk management interventions is closely monitored, in order to demonstrate progress toward strategic objectives and ensure value for money. We are particularly concerned that the Environment Agency has no plans to monitor progress on the number of properties that will be better protected in the next capital investment programme. The Government should provide further detail on its intentions for a “national set of indicators”, including how they will monitor progress toward a defined objective for flood resilience, and address shortcomings of the “homes/properties better protected” metric. (Paragraph 39)

10.The Government must provide leadership to ensure that the division of flood risk responsibilities among various organisations does not result in local communities experiencing a less efficient and responsive approach to flood risk management than if all responsibilities were brought under one roof. We cautiously welcome the Government’s commitment to reform flood risk planning, but it must effectively address the concerns we have heard about lack of integration, and not simply place unnecessary new bureaucracy or burdens on risk management authorities. The Government should provide further detail on its plans to reform local flood risk planning, including which bodies will be expected to lead and co-operate, and how these plans will relate to existing plans and a cross-Government approach to climate adaptation. The Government should draw on best practice from Shoreline Management Plans and Catchment Partnerships in this process. The Government should also ensure that local authorities and other partners receive any additional funding required for this work. (Paragraph 44)

11.The responsibility of riparian owners to maintain watercourses so as not to increase flood risk to others is well established in common law. Obviously, individuals must first know whether they are riparian owners, and their responsibilities, if they are to be expected to discharge them. Risk management authorities also need to be properly enabled and resourced to identify and communicate the right management approaches for riparian assets, and enforce maintenance where necessary. The Government’s review of statutory responsibilities for asset maintenance should include reviewing the powers and resources of risk management authorities to communicate appropriate riparian management options, and effectively enforce responsibilities by riparian owners. (Paragraph 48)

12.Local authorities will be a key delivery partner for the Government’s new flooding policies, so we are very concerned by evidence of inconsistency and shortcomings in capacity. While it is for local authorities to take local decisions, central Government must ensure that they are properly resourced to implement their existing functions and the Government’s new flooding policies. We note that the Government has recognised the need to review funding for local government statutory flood risk functions, and it is essential that this review is completed in good time especially given the wider financial pressures local authorities are facing. The Government should set out details on the scope and timescale of its planned review of funding for local government flood risk functions. The Government should ensure that local authorities have dedicated resources to effectively deliver existing flood risk management functions and any new roles, and that their needs are continually monitored to avoid future shortfalls. (Paragraph 53)

Lessons from the 2019–20 flooding

13.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. (Paragraph 58)

14.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.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. (Paragraph 64)

15.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. (Paragraph 68)

16.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. (Paragraph 69)

Development and flood risk

17.It is widely recognised that inappropriate development in areas at risk from flooding represents a serious threat to flood resilience, particularly as the scale of the risk is likely to increase with climate change. Defra must do more to integrate its approach to flood resilience across the whole of Government, and this must include greater interaction between planning policy and approaches to managing flood risk. The Government should explain how its proposals for planning reform will contribute to better flood resilience outcomes than the current planning system. It should also explain how leadership will be provided within Government so that flood risk and planning policies are integrated within a coherent approach to climate adaptation. (Paragraph 73)

18.We are concerned that the words on flood risk in national planning policy still do not always translate into actions. We are encouraged by the Government’s proposal that planning applications approved against flood risk advice could in future be subject to call-in by the Secretary of State. The Government should provide further detail on its proposals for cases in which flood risk advice on planning applications is not followed. The remit of the Environment Agency as a statutory consultee should be expanded to include areas of future risk owing to climate change. (Paragraph 79)

19.While we welcome the commitment to consider improving transparency for flood risk advice, the Government must ensure that any development which still goes ahead against advice is clearly communicated to prospective homebuyers. The Government should ensure that information on development against flood risk advice is published in a clear and accessible form. (Paragraph 80)

20.It is clear that planning and risk management authorities must be empowered and resourced to effectively monitor and enforce the fulfilment of planning conditions in areas at risk of flooding. The Government should urgently review whether planning conditions to mitigate flood risk are being fulfilled. The Government should then bring forward proposals to address any limitations in the powers and resources available to appropriate authorities for the enforcement of planning conditions. (Paragraph 81)

21.We welcome the Government’s commitment to act upon our recommendations regarding the cumulative impact on flood risk of smaller developments. While we recognise that national planning policy does refer to cumulative impacts, this has clearly not allayed concerns that these impacts are not given due regard when planning decisions are made. The Government should, as part of its review of planning policy for flood risk, establish to what extent flood risk is increased by the lack of scrutiny given to the cumulative impacts of smaller and permitted development. (Paragraph 85)

22.We are very concerned that local planning authorities lack the skills base and resources to effectively factor the impacts of climate change into development decisions. While plans and individual decisions are rightly made at a local level, it is the duty of Government to provide leadership to local authorities facing potentially significant increases in future flood risk. The Government should commit to ensuring that all local planning authorities have the powers, resources and information to effectively factor current and future flood risk into local plans, Strategic Flood Risk Assessments and individual decisions, including properly trained dedicated staff. The Environment Agency should work closely with such staff to improve strategic co-ordination around local plans. The Government should urgently undertake, and publish the findings of, a review of current capacity in local planning authorities to perform this function. (Paragraph 89)

23.The engagement of communities in the development of local plans is already inadequate, and the proposed reforms to the planning system must not compound this problem. Greater community involvement in planning decisions in many areas at flood risk would have the twin benefits of building trust and contributing valuable technical knowledge about drainage issues. The Government should develop national guidance on incorporating local knowledge of flood risk into planning decisions, the development of local plans and the preparation of strategic and site-specific Flood Risk Assessments. (Paragraph 92)

24.We recognise the concerns of several stakeholders about site-specific Flood Risk Assessments, and the Government should use its reform of the planning system as an opportunity to investigate this issue further.The Government’s standardisation of technical supporting information should include an evaluation of the current arrangements for the preparation and content of site-specific Flood Risk Assessments, and whether these adequately contribute to flood resilience objectives and public confidence. (Paragraph 94)

25.A step change is needed in promoting the uptake of appropriate property flood resilience measures. It is important that reforms to Flood Re to incentivise PFR form part of wider work aimed at encouraging people to improve the flood resilience of their own property. We welcome the Government’s call for evidence on ways to accelerate PFR uptake, and the findings of our inquiry should inform this work. Following its current call for evidence, the Government should publish an action plan of new measures to deliver a significant increase in the uptake of property flood resilience, including identifying where more evidence is needed on which measures will be most appropriate and effective. The Government should consult on amending building regulations to ensure an ambitious level of flood resilience in new build and reinstatement works. The Government should also consider developing a consistent national funding stream for PFR measures. (Paragraph 101)

26.It is essential that the Government works with Flood Re and the insurance industry to identify and address continuing obstacles to the uptake of insurance among people at risk from flooding. The Government should set out what further research will be undertaken, building on the Blanc review of insurance in Doncaster, to better understand and address barriers to uptake of household flood insurance cover. (Paragraph 105)

27.We understand the Government’s argument that businesses are in a different position compared to households in respect of flood insurance cover. However, we are concerned about the position of small and medium-sized enterprises, which do not benefit from any Government-backed initiative, equivalent to Flood Re, that would smooth the transition to risk-reflective pricing. Access to affordable insurance cover is crucial for improving flood resilience, and the Government must ensure that small and medium-sized businesses are not disadvantaged in this regard. The Government should work with industry and stakeholders to establish, as a matter of urgency, additional measures, beyond guidance and signposting, to support small and medium-sized businesses to access affordable flood insurance cover. (Paragraph 108)

Managing water

28.It is essential that work is done to improve understanding of the scale of surface water flood risk at a national and local level. In particular, we are concerned to hear evidence of surface and foul water flooding caused or exacerbated by the failure to adequately maintain drainage systems. It is difficult to determine the scale of this risk due to the lack of centralised information on the capacity of sewer systems. The Government should quantify the surface water element of its overall ambition for flood resilience. In its update on the Surface Water Management Action Plan, it should also explain how it will improve the collection and sharing of data on drainage and sewerage capacity. (Paragraph 111)

29.Water and sewerage companies have an important role to play in managing flood risk and we welcome moves to put drainage planning by companies on a statutory footing. It will be necessary for other Risk Management Authorities and owners of drainage assets to be involved in preparing and maintaining these plans. The Government should explain how the statutory provisions for water company Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans will ensure appropriate co-operation and consultation with other Risk Management Authorities and owners of drainage assets. (Paragraph 115)

30.While the uptake of sustainable drainage systems has improved in recent years, we are concerned that the installation of high-quality SuDS features delivering multiple environmental benefits may still be insufficiently incentivised. The evidence we have received clearly shows that the non-statutory approach to promoting SuDS, coupled with the persistence of the automatic right to connect surface water drainage to the public sewer, is not working. The Government has not adequately explained why it believes the commencement of Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which is widely supported, is the wrong approach, and we consider that the case should be re-examined. The Government, as part of its ambitious plans to manage flood risk, should commit to ending the automatic right to connect to the public sewer, and consult on measures to improve the uptake of high-quality SuDS features. This consultation must include a legislative option, commencing Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 or making equivalent statutory provision, along with a commitment to further consultation with local authorities on any new burdens arising from this. (Paragraph 123)

31.The Government should explain how it will promote the retrofitting of SuDS and an integrated approach to water management through measures such as rainwater harvesting. (Paragraph 125)

32.Working with natural processes is an important part of a holistic approach to flood risk management. There are several initiatives that could serve as delivery vehicles for natural flood management, including the new Environmental Land Management scheme, and a catchment-based approach requires join-up between these policies to ensure that natural flood management interventions are appropriately targeted and incentivised. We recommend that the Government should scale up natural flood management, whilst ensuring that the measures are appropriate to local conditions and form part of a catchment-based approach. The new Environmental Land Management scheme provides an opportunity to do this. (Paragraph 131)

33.The Government has been clear that paying farmers for measures such as floodwater storage forms a key part of its plans. Any measures which call on farmers and land managers to allow their land to be used in this way must ensure proper recognition for the public goods provided. The Government should ensure that natural flood management schemes will involve farmers and land managers at every stage of identifying, designing and implementing a scheme. The Government should also ensure that land managers are paid appropriately for the public goods provided, and that financial assistance and technical advice for long-term maintenance are provided. Any scheme must also include clarity on liability should a flood occur. (Paragraph 134)

Engaging with people

34.We have listened with great concern to evidence that local communities feel disengaged and ignored in decisions relevant to flood risk. It is clear that, where risk management authorities do engage with local people, this engagement is often not perceived as meaningful or impactful. Communities must not be treated as groups who have things done to them, but as vital delivery partners in the Government’s approach to building resilience. While involving people in decisions that affect their lives is an end in itself, we have also been impressed by the evidence from Flood Action Groups about the positive practical benefits that meaningful engagement with local people can bring. In pursuing its ambition for flood resilience, the Government must ensure that the benefits of meaningful engagement are maximised. The Government should work with the voluntary sector to develop guidance for all risk management and planning authorities on how to meaningfully engage with local people. (Paragraph 142)

35.The Government should review the institutional arrangements for community engagement in flood risk management, to identify best practice and opportunities for more effective approaches. The Government should also commit to ensuring that risk management authorities are resourced and supported to carry out meaningful engagement, including making funding available to the voluntary sector to build capacity in other organisations. (Paragraph 143)

Published: 8 February 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement