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FLOOD DEFENCES: REPORT CALLS FOR SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN SPENDING

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An independent report calling for a re-evaluation of many of the current arrangements for flood risk management in ...
An independent report calling for a re-evaluation of many of the current arrangements for flood risk management in England and Wales has been presented to flood management minister Elliot Morley. The report, entitled 'Learning to Live with Rivers,' examines the existing flood defence infrastructure and recommends a substantial increase in capital investment. It also calls for improved analysis of flooding probability, better flood resistance of new buildings, a single flood protection programme and a consolidated executive agency capable of providing a 'one-stop shop' service to the public.

In light of the autumn 2000 floods and the prospect of further flooding this winter, Mr Morley specifically asked the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) to advise him and the government on how to alleviate flooding in future events. Some 10,000 houses were flooded last autumn following the most extreme sequence of rainfall in living memory, causing£1bn of damage. Whilst pointing out that a much greater number of houses - some 270,000 - were successfully protected, the report emphasises that the human distress and health damage caused by flooding has been overlooked in the strictly economic approach to assessing the benefits of flood mitigation interventions. It argues that the human cost should be built in to future benefit-cost assessments.

The flooding of houses with sewage as a result of overloaded sewers is even more distressing than surface water flooding and poses a considerable health risk. In the year 1999-2000, around 3,800 properties were flooded due to overloaded sewers. The report recommends the development of national standards for the infrastructure of sustainable urban drainage systems.

Involving people in preparing emergency plans is suggested as one way of raising flood awareness amongst householders and businesses at risk. This should also include planning and resources for recovery from flooding.

Greater awareness of flooding could also be achieved through the publication of data by transport authorities, according to the report. It emphasises that these authorities should commission and publish flood risk surveys of flood prone routes or locations, especially where heavily trafficked routes are capable of being severely affected. It also recommends the country's archive of daily rainfalls be fully computerised and the resulting files be made freely available in the public domain to encourage more local analysis.

The report calls for the responsibility for flood risk management to be consolidated around one executive agency with enhanced supervisory powers over the various operating authorities. This agency should have resources allocated directly from the government and have responsibility for spending prioritisation, preparation and implementation of catchment flood management plans.

Professor George Fleming, chairman of the ICE commission, views the report as a contribution to a wider debate that must embrace the social and economic dimension of flooding. He stated: 'The debate will continue but the solution must be sustainable. With determination this can be done and we recommend we start now.'

* the full report is available hereas a pdf.

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