Increased investment in flood infrastructure and more robust, realistic planning policies must be implemented soon, warns the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), or more UK homeowners will soon be in over their heads.

“While belt tightening is part and parcel of life at present, there are some areas that must be protected – investment in sustainable flood infrastructure is one such area,” says CIWEM Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE.

Even in the current economic climate, underinvestment in the UK’s flood infrastructure is unacceptable, according to CIWEM. With climate change impacting the frequency and severity of flooding, CIWEM is concerned that this will become an increasingly pressing issue, weighing heavily on those that live and work in areas identified as being at risk of flooding. This aspect of well being, or lack of it, for those living in areas of greatest risk, is not fully taken into account in determining the business case for flood protection measures, because a means of contingent valuation for this aspect has, as yet, not been fully developed.

“Failure to invest in infrastructure and manage the risks of flooding in a sustainable, realistic way will lead to continued loss of life and property, extensive damage to the UK economy and ongoing misery for millions of people,” says Reeves OBE.

CIWEM shares the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI) concerns about the significant risk of underinvestment, which could lead to those within areas identified at greatest risk likely to find the level of future premiums to insure against flood risk unaffordable, if insurance is available at all. With coverage not yet guaranteed beyond June 2013, many homeowners are faced with an uncertain future. CIWEM opposes a model that may allow homes to become unsellable because of the risk of flooding, and where homeowners are unable to secure insurance or lending to purchase a new or improve their existing homes. With increased frequency and severity of flooding, the viability and future of communities where property cannot get insurance would be in question, causing whole communities to be potentially lost. This is a step change from a Big Society and localism agenda.

Where uninsured communities are affected, it is often the local authorities who provide the response to flooding and subsequently reclaim their expenditure from the Treasury. With this state of affairs, CIWEM believes that alongside governmental investment, ABI must be proactive in their own investment of flood reduction measures, including the provision of financial contributions to flood schemes that could otherwise reduce their own exposure to risk, should be undertaken. When rehabilitating properties affected by flooding, CIWEM argues for greater resilience in the methods and materials used, rather than simply returning the properties to their previous condition.

Blue belt designations needed, not green light for development

CIWEM calls for stronger, updated planning policies and guidance to include designated "blue belt" areas delineating significant flood plains and designated "yellow belt" delineating coastal erosion probabilities. There should be a presumption against inappropriate development in these designated areas, which would otherwise cause detriment to existing properties. CIWEM also believes that stronger enforcement of the delivery of the current policies are required to ensure the objectives of avoiding inappropriate development in areas required for flood storage and conveyance, and ensuring new developments do not increase flood risk. While innovative, recent development proposals that enable homes to exist alongside rising waters are too uncertain and problematic for settlement – especially when disused, brownfield land remains plentiful in the UK.

CIWEM believes a more radical policy accepting that some settled areas must be moved or sacrificed is necessary from this point forward.

“It is fanciful to imagine that there is the time and money to build the vast defences and infrastructure necessary to meet the demands of a growing population in a much wetter country. We will soon have no choice but to designate some parts of the country 'blue belt' and protect them from development,” says Reeves OBE.

Until then, continued educational efforts are needed to inform sections of the public about river dynamics, the need to prepare personal flood plans, and the importance of responding to flood warnings when alerted. Furthermore, increased funding must be made available to ensure that all UK residents, especially those most vulnerable, are protected in the event of flooding. Whilst community flood awareness groups have been initiated and community plans to help identify vulnerable residents have been encouraged, CIWEM believes more could be done to reinforce this approach.

These and other flood related issues will be discussed at the forthcoming CIWEM conference ‘Delivering Flood and Coastal Schemes – Funding and Partnership’ which will be held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London on 30th January 2013.

  1. The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) is an independent professional body and a registered charity, advancing the science and practice of water and environmental management for a clean, green and sustainable world www.ciwem.org.

  2. The CIWEM Policy Position Statement, Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management, can be found online at http://www.ciwem.org/policy-and-international/policy-position-statements/flood-and-coastal-erosion-risk-management.aspx

  3. For more information or to register to attend the 30th January 2013 CIWEM conference, ‘Delivering Flood and Coastal Schemes – Funding and Partnerships,’ please visit http://www.ciwem.org/events/events-calendar/2013/jan/30/rivers--coastal-group-winter-meeting-.aspx

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