The Autumn Statement is already forgetting the floods of last winter

The temporary increase in funding for flood risk management after the Winter Floods of 2013/14 has not been sustained. To continue on this funding trajectory will inevitably mean greater flood risk throughout the country.

“Whilst 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 Rivers & Coastal Treasurer, Jed Ramsay.

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 will be compounded by the reduction in spending on maintaining existing flood defences.

“Failure to maintain our existing flood defences and invest sustainably and sensibly in new flood risk schemes will lead to continued loss of life and property, extensive damage to the UK economy and ongoing misery for millions of people,” says Ramsay.

The Autumn Statement from the government does nothing to address the real and sustained levels of funding that will be required if we are to meet the challenges of climate change and the major flooding we see on an almost annual basis.  And yet the past guides the way for us. In 1953 flooding killed over 2100 people (307 in England) which triggered investment in coastal defences.  The net result was that the coastal flood in 2013 was larger in size than that of 1953 but resulted in no loss of life.  This shows that we are able to manage flood risk to an acceptable level if the finances are in place. Investments in flood risk management provide some of the best returns, in damages avoided, that can be found in public sector investment.  Put another way failure to invest adequately will cost the nation dearly in monetary and in socio-economic terms plus of course the risk to life will be increased.

Greater investment in river maintenance is needed

CIWEM believes that the current emphasis on capital investment to the detriment of annual maintenance works is increasing flood risk at a local level.  The recent report by the National Audit Office stated that over the last five years maintenance funding has fallen by six per cent in real terms.  Annual maintenance of rivers – such as maintaining existing crucial defences, weed and vegetation trimming and silt removal – are essential activities that have been cut to the bone through several decades of spending cuts.  The continuation of this policy will result in ongoing degradation, which will then cost a great deal more to restore. Timely appropriate spending is not only better in maintaining appropriate levels of flood risk but also is environmentally better and cheaper in the long term.

‘Partnership Funding’ is muddying the waters

The partnership funding scheme has laudable aims – to increase the level of contributions to flood defence schemes from those benefiting locally – especially those who are perceived as able to pay.  The reality on the ground has been that the majority of partnership funding has been met by Local Councils at a time when their budgets are being dramatically reduced.

This policy requires more work in order to leverage more private sector funds for schemes so that there is an appropriate balance between central government support for mitigating local flood risk and the direct beneficiaries of schemes also contributing. 

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

The CIWEM Policy Position Statement, Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management, can be found online at

CIWEM will be publishing an in-depth report on future flood funding in January 2015.

Source: Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)