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DCLG needs ‘systematic approach’ for new builds in flood risk areas

Greater clarity and transparency is needed over local authority decisions to allow planning permission in high flood risk areas, and the DCLG should develop a detailed framework for councils by the end of the year, the Environmental Audit Committee has stated in a new report.

The ‘Flooding: Cooperation across Government’ report said that 10,000 new homes – 7% of the total – were built in high flood risk areas between 2013 and 2014.

To try to minimise problems caused by flooding, it recommended that the DCLG should publish a detailed framework for councils on when and how to build in high-risk areas by the end of the year.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the committee, said: “We know that flooding is projected to get worse and occur more frequently because of climate change, so it just isn’t good enough for government to react to flooding events as they occur. Communities at risk deserve certainty from government.”

The report also warned that there was no evidence as to whether these houses were built in accordance with planning permission, designed to minimise the damage caused by floods, and said that the DCLG must develop a “systematic approach” to ensuring the building of new homes follows requirements.

Local plans

In addition, it warned that local plans were not fit for purpose. The committee found that the area local plans cover do not correspond to catchment areas and their timescales are too short to deal with “longer term environmental changes that local areas need to be planning for now”.

Flooding is set to grow more frequent and severe due to climate change, with many areas currently labelled with a ‘once in 100 years’ level of flood risk likely to see more frequent flooding.  It added that the government should provide more support to local authorities to enable them to adopt a plan.

Overall, the report echoed recent findings from the Carbon Trust in painting a picture of national and local government being severely unprepared for the risk of devastating floods, such as those that occurred last winter.

Lack of comprehensive overview

It found that almost one third of lead local flood authorities (LLFAs) do not have a local flood management risk strategy in place, according to statistics from 2013. This suggests that government may not know whether progress has been made to reduce this worryingly high figure.

The committee added it also suggests government lacks a comprehensive, up-to-date overview of local authority preparedness for flood risk.

It urged the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to ensure it had an up-to-date overview of how many local authorities have flood plans, and to support local authorities in developing them.

Funding unlikely to meet target

In March, the government promised an additional £685m for flood defences. However, the report warned that the government was unlikely to meet this target, given that 85% of the funding is due to come from the public sector, which is subject to severe cuts, and only 15% from the private sector.

It also said that that government flood defence funding was originally set to decline in  2010-15 and only increased in reaction to floods in 2013-14.

Cllr Peter Box, environment spokesperson for the LGA, said: “Councils are at the sharp end of responding to and managing flooding and are going the extra mile to prepare and protect their communities.

“Local authorities are also doing everything they can to alleviate the risk to residents, which includes working hard to establish and maintain evidence-based local flood risk strategies. However, we agree with the committee that councils need to be better supported by government.”

He said this could include devolving new flood defence funding to local areas, incentives for private sector investment in flood defences and mandatory flood-proof requirements for new homes and offices.

This year PSE has run articles by Paul Sayers, senior fellow at the Environmental Change Institute, and Dr Andy Johnson, chief operating officer at the Local Government Information Unit, on how to build a flood resilient society.

The Environmental Audit Committee has also criticised Defra this week for removing funding to councils to clean up soil contamination, despite the role soil plays in preventing flooding.

PSE contacted both Defra and the DCLG for comment but they did not respond at the time of publication.

(Image c. Owen Humphreys from PA Images)

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