Flooding puts people’s well-being and livelihoods at risk and can impact on food production and destroy natural habitats. More extreme weather, as a result of climate change, and increased housing development will increase flood risks. The impacts of climate change can already be seen through the increasing strain on existing flood defences. Only half of the defences damaged in the 2019–20 winter floods have had their standard of protection restored. Despite the obvious risks, the Environment Agency (the Agency) thinks there could still be a large increase in the number of houses built on flood plains over the next 50 years.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the Department) and the Agency have not done enough to determine whether all areas of England are getting a fair share of flood defence investment and that households are resilient to floods. There has been a significant decline in the proportion of flood investment going to deprived areas since 2014 and there is wide variation in the level of flood defence investment per property at risk across regions. Neither the Department nor the Agency understand enough about the reasons for these investment patterns. We are not convinced that the Department has yet done enough to address the difficulties those recently flooded have in getting affordable insurance, or to remove the obstacles for households to take up individual flood resilience measures. Reforms to the planning system need to ensure that the risks of building in areas liable to flooding are fully mitigated.
The Agency is set to achieve its target to better protect 300,000 homes through its capital investment programme on time and budget, which is a significant achievement. However, the department should recognise that with new build on the flood plain and increased vulnerability to existing properties from climate change the net figure of homes that are better protected is actually less than 300,000. With the level of investment due to increase significantly over the next six years, the Department needs to do more to scrutinise and challenge the Agency’s performance. It also needs to have a better understanding of whether funding to each local authority matches the level of flood risk it faces. We are also concerned to learn that the current indicators used to monitor national flood risk do not cover important elements such as risks to agricultural land and infrastructure.