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05.01.16

Whitehall starts Housing Zones funding despite serious flood threats

Whitehall has started distributing the £5m to help revive brownfield sites under the chancellor’s flagship Housing Zones scheme – despite claims that over a quarter of the earmarked areas are at significant risk of flooding.

The 19 Housing Zones will bring councils together with private developers to deliver up to 34,000 new homes as part of the government’s aspiration to deliver one million homes by the end of this Parliament.

Some local authorities are today receiving over £500,000 to fund these zones, such as Guildford Borough Council (for the Slyfield Area Regeneration), Thurrock Council, and North Somerset Council.

These zones, specified during the March 2015 Budget but launched in 2014, have the potential to deliver up to 45,000 new homes when considered together with the eight shortlisted potential zones currently being reviewed by the government.

But a Greenpeace investigation published last month – even before the significant storms of late December – claimed that nearly one-third of these areas are at a real risk of flooding, meaning insurance companies are likely to refuse cover.

Up to 9,000 homes are plotted for development on lands considered at either ‘serious’ or ‘significant’ risk of flooding by the Environment Agency.

Nine out of the 20 schemes were also fully or partially exposed to serious risk of flooding from rivers or sea. Of these, six overlapped with high probability flood risk zones, giving them a one in 100 probability of river flooding each year.

At least £100,000 is being invested in new homes at Hinkley near Bridgwater in Somerset, for example, where villages were almost entirely inundated in 2014 for more than two months. According to the investigation, Sedgemoor District Council paid out nearly £300,000 in grants and council tax relief following the incident, but has still earmarked land in a flood plain.

A council spokesperson told Greenpeace that much of the district is at potential flood risk, adding: “Bridgwater is the most sustainable location of new development but even here, most of the land to the east of the River Parrett is at risk from tidal flooding.”

A housing zone in Greater Gainsborough also sits in a Lincolnshire area at high risk of flooding with no defences. In Wakefield, plans are in place for new homes on the banks of the Aire River, near the town of Castleford, which flooded in August 2014.

These houses will also not be covered by the government’s ‘flood re-insurance’ scheme, Flood Re, designed to support households at highest flood risk – because the scheme, coming into force in April, will only cover properties built before 2009.

Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist, argued: “Rushing to build thousands of new homes in flood-risk areas whilst at the same time cutting flood protection staff is a recipe for disaster.”

But a government spokesperson said Whitehall “takes flood risks extremely seriously” and is investing £2.3bn in defences over the next six years.

“We have put in place strong safeguards to stop inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding, and are delivering the homes this country needs by taking forward plans to build homes on suitable brownfield land. The Environment Agency provides advice on whether or not to grant permission, but final decisions rest with local authorities.”

According to an Environment Agency spokesperson, it comments on all proposals for major development areas at medium or high risk of flooding, with advice taken on board by local planning authorities “in the majority of such planning applications”.

But Lord Krebs, chairman of the Adaptation Sub Committee of the Committee on Climate Change, told Greenpeace: “Continuing to allow development in areas of high flood risk increases the costs of future flood protection and means more flood damage when defences are overtopped.”

Krebs argued that investment in flood protection needs to increase in the country, with towns, cities and countryside adapting to cope with heavier rainfall.

“This process has yet to begin in earnest,” he said.

(Top image: Cumbria flood after Storm Desmond, c. Owen Humphreys/PA Images)

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