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Dealing with flooding requires total change for local and national government

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The National Flood Forum is a UK charity supporting and representing flood risk individuals and communities.

We support people to prepare for flooding, help people to recover their lives after flooding, and work to put flood risk communities at the centre of policy making.

The Environment Agency’s long term investment scenarios show that the number of homes at very high risk will remain largely unchanged over the next 25 years, despite significant capital investment. Many others will become at risk for a variety of reasons, including changing weather patterns and suburbanisation.

Public sector cuts make the task even more challenging. So, to collectively reduce flood risk in the future, as well as mitigate its impacts, we will need to work in new ways to deliver results.

So what does this mean for central government?

In a recent NFF survey, people wanted flooding to be a priority for the whole of the government, not just Defra.  the full list of changes people proposed can be seen at but some examples include:

  • The minimum budget requirements proposed by the Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee Progress Report 2014 should be implemented on a continuous basis
  • Funding for maintenance of flood assets, which has fallen significantly, should be improved
  • A review of how the planning system actually operates should be undertaken; people’s experience is that it doesn’t deliver national flood policy
  • Flood plans should be made for organisations in high flood risk areas, such as businesses, care homes and schools. Flooding is a bigger risk than fire for many; we expect them to have fire certificates and practice evacuation
  • There should be greater clarity on organisational roles in flood risk management, resilience and contingency planning
  • Building regulations are woefully inadequate and should be improved. People are paying the price through insurance premiums and the trauma they suffer when flooded
  • Sustainable Urban Drainage needs to meet the aspirations of the Pitt Review 
  • Flood Re, the new flood risk element of household insurance will give people at high flood risk better access to affordable insurance. The government needs to ensure that it is delivered
  • There should be a bond or insurance on developers linked to each development to ensure that people have proper recourse when things go wrong. At present people seem to have fewer rights than if they had bought a Mars Bar

The survey also focussed on what local authorities can do now, and what they could do with national policy change, to mitigate flood risk.

The biggest complaint is that the planning system regularly puts existing and new householders at flood risk from development. This needs to change and people need to feel that they are being heard.

Much recent flooding has been due to small, local issues; managing drains, culverts, riverbanks, etc. The Defra Flood Resilience Community Pathfinder Programme, with NFF participation in eight of the 13 local authority-led projects, has empowered communities to work with risk management authorities to address these local issues, deliver efficiency savings through new ways of working with partners and reduce flood risk in ways that are not possible through standard approaches.

Dozens of small scale projects have been delivered where communities have taken ownership and tackled flood risk management issues. In West Sussex, a network of flood groups has formed to share knowledge skills and resources and is now participating in the county Strategic Flood Risk Project Board. In Rochdale, flood protection is being delivered as part of the Green Deal, and in Cornwall, community payback offenders have prevented flooding through leaf litter clearance.

A step-change is needed to develop this approach everywhere, based on organisations working together to support communities taking the lead.

The difference between the best and the worst Lead Local Flood Authorities, which must coordinate flood risk mitigation activity in their areas, is huge and needs to improve. There are issues of resourcing, integration with services, status and ability to influence service delivery across local government.

Sustainable urban drainage systems need to be implemented thoroughly and effectively if local authorities are to avoid significant, unfunded costs in the future.

Some fire and rescue services already work very effectively with communities to reduce flood risk. We need to promote good practice and reap the efficiency benefits that this can bring.

There is of course much more, but without changing our approach, flood risk will get worse. Putting people at the centre of flood risk management and developing new ways of working in partnership offers opportunities to tackle this.

Paul Cobbing, chief executive, National Flood Forum




  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • It would be helpful to small business aiming to contribute to property level flood protection and to all who could benefit from the new technology if the 2007 Pitt review conclusion,
    “The Review was unable to obtain any significant evidence that sandbags were particularly effective during the 2007 summer floods in providing protection to individual households…”, lead to government dropping all reference to sandbags on the .Gov website. Even just telling people how to use them when they are known to be ineffective is a form of promotion that, together with their free distribution distorts the market. If a real step-change is ever to be established Government at all levels must help business promote options without favouring one sector like sandbags. The NFF Blue Pages is a good source of information to all but as long as sandbags for example are plugged by the authorities with below the line advertising the collaboration needed everywhere, based on organisations working together to support communities taking the lead will be undermined.

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