1.This is a report of the informal virtual “roundtable” discussion hosted by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee with local community groups in areas at risk of flooding.
2.The discussion was co-facilitated by the National Flood Forum and took place on Thursday 8 October 2020. It formed part of the Committee’s inquiry into flooding. This report sets out the background to the roundtable and a summary of the discussion.
Figure 1: A still from the virtual roundtable showing some of the participants. This still was shared on the Committee’s Twitter feed.
3.The virtual roundtable took place on the morning of Thursday 8 October 2020. It was co-facilitated by the National Flood Forum, a charity supporting flood risk communities, with numerous affiliated local residents’ groups. The roundtable was held virtually, given the ongoing covid-19 pandemic and the geographical diversity of the participants.
4.Attendees at the roundtable were:
5.The following Members of the Committee participated in the roundtable:
6.The roundtable divided into two discussion groups, who then came back together at the end of the event to share their conclusions.
7.As the discussion was held in private comments are not attributed. This summary should therefore not be taken as indicating the expressed views of any given participant, but as giving an overall impression of the conversation.
8.The discussion broadly fell under four themes:
9.Following the roundtable, the National Flood Forum also provided a supplementary piece of written evidence with key messages highlighted by a number of participants. A number of flood action groups also made supplementary submissions which the Committee has also published.
10.There were some suggestions that the immediate operational response to the floods of the autumn and winter of 2019–20 was less well-organised than in previous years, with some issues around speediness and communication. Regional variation in experience was noted.
11.The importance of support for communities to recover, after the immediate period of flooding has passed, was emphasised. The impact this year of covid-19 was noted, including on the ability of authorities and insurers to contact those affected. The pandemic had also impacted the ability of people to return to flooded homes in a timely manner.
12.The mental health impacts of flooding were particularly emphasised, and some participants vividly described the fear and anxiety that living with flood risk can bring. The uncertainty brought by the coming winter, in the context of a second wave of covid-19, were noted.
13.Concern was expressed at the perceived fragmentation of responsibilities for flooding among various bodies, and a lack of accountability regarding who is responsible for what.
14.Some participants expressed frustration at how long it can take to deliver local flood resilience measures. It was also suggested that flood action groups can sometimes deliver schemes faster and at much reduced cost compared with risk management authorities. It was felt that engagement with local communities should be seen as an investment, not a cost.
15.Riparian ownership was discussed, both the lack of understanding of responsibilities among owners, and a lack of enforcement of these responsibilities by local authorities.
16.It was felt that investment in maintenance of drainage infrastructure is inadequate, and that Ofwat may have a role to play in improving this. It was also suggested that reservoirs could play more of a role in managing flood risk.
17.A greater role for local knowledge of flood risk in planning decisions was seen as important. It was also felt that the downstream impacts of development can be ignored in planning decisions.
18.Local groups can feel disempowered by the planning process, which several participants felt was ill-equipped to factor in flood risk and drainage implications in the face of other pressures and a lack of capacity and knowledge within planning authorities.
19.Participants highlighted problems with the delivery of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) by developers, as well as with their long-term management and maintenance. Some suggested that the approach of SuDS Approval Bodies, envisaged in Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, would be an improvement.
20.It was felt that national planning policy does not facilitate the right decisions being made, for example by taking inadequate account of the cumulative effects of development. Some participants also expressed concern about the Government’s proposals for reform of the planning system, and the implications for local voices being heard.
21.Some participants felt that local relationships with risk management authorities are good, but that this is not the same as engagement which drives outcomes. There was also a feeling of fatigue with consultations and reports which do not lead to change.
22.Participants also emphasised that flood action groups themselves are made up of unpaid volunteers, and can drive change through their knowledge and experience of local flooding issues.
314 National Flood Forum ()
315 See Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, , accessed 2 February 2021