Environment Agency calls for new approach to flood and coastal resilience
Date published: 14 May 2019
Rochdale during the Boxing Day 2015 floods
Launching a major, long-term strategy to tackle flooding and coastal change, Environment Agency Chair, Emma Howard Boyd has said ‘we cannot win a war against water’ by building higher flood defences and called for a new approach to ensure communities are resilient to the threat of flooding posed by climate change.
Opening an 8-week consultation on the new strategy, Emma Howard Boyd said that the Environment Agency is preparing for a potential 4°C rise in global temperature and urgent action is needed to tackle more frequent, intense flooding and sea level rise.
Among the recommendations in the strategy, the Environment Agency has committed to working with partners to develop consistent standards for flood and coastal resilience across the country. To achieve these standards, communities should have access to a range of tools which give them control of how they prepare for and respond to flooding and coastal change, based on the challenges or flood risk that particular location may face.
These could include traditional defences, temporary barriers, natural flood management, sustainable drainage systems, effective flood warnings and emergency response, alongside designing and adapting existing properties and new development so they can recover quickly from a flood.
In Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire, the Environment Agency is integrating natural and traditional flood risk engineering methods. This includes the upcoming £40m Radcliffe and Redvales Flood Alleviation Scheme, protecting up to 870 properties and the £46m Rochdale and Littleborough Flood Defence Scheme, protecting up to 1,000 properties and 200 businesses, both of which are incorporating natural flood management methods alongside ‘hard’ defences throughout each stage of the development process.
More recently, the Agency is working in partnership with the Community Forest and the Woodland Trust to deliver natural flood management interventions to mitigate future climate change impacts at the iconic Smithills Estate near Bolton.
Designed to help reduce flood risk to local properties and improve wildlife habitats, the Smithills Estate Natural Flood Management scheme intercepts and slows the flow of water, helping to reduce the risk to around 30 properties downstream. Works conducted so far include the construction of four 30m long, 1m high, wooden dams, each capable of holding back up to 150 m3 of flood water or the equivalent of a double decker bus. Such structures, which incorporate ‘live’ wood, deliver environmental habitat benefits, as well as reducing flood risk.
Launching the Flood and Coastal Resilience strategy at Brunel University in London, Emma Howard Boyd said: “The coastline has never stayed in the same place and there have always been floods, but climate change is increasing and accelerating these threats.
“We can’t win a war against water by building away climate change with infinitely high flood defences. We need to develop consistent standards for flood and coastal resilience in England that help communities better understand their risk and give them more control about how to adapt and respond.”
Currently, two thirds of properties in England are served by infrastructure in areas at risk of flooding and for every person who suffers flooding, around 16 more are affected by loss of services such as power, transport and telecommunications.
The strategy calls for all infrastructure to be flood resilient by 2050 and the Environment Agency has committed to working with risk management authorities and infrastructure providers to achieve this.
In addition to resilience measures, an average of £1 billion will need to be invested each year in traditional flood and coastal defences and natural flood management. The National Audit Office has previously reported that for every £1 spent on protecting communities, around £9 in property damages and wider impacts is avoided.
As well as taking precautions to prepare for flooding and prevent damage, the strategy calls for more to be done to encourage property owners to ‘build back better’ after a flood. This could involve home improvements to make them more resilient, such as raised electrics, hard flooring and flood doors. The Environment Agency will work with government, insurers and financial institutions to review how to bring about this change by 2025.
Over 5 million people in England are at risk from flooding and coastal erosion. Yet only a third of people who live in areas at risk of flooding believe their property is at risk. The strategy pledges to build a nation of ‘climate champions’ working with the school curriculum to educate young people about the risk and continuing to develop accessible digital tools to communicate flooding.
The strategy also recommends:
- As properties built in the flood plain are likely to double over the next 50 years due to population growth and climate change, between now and 2030 all new development must be resilient to flooding and coastal change.
- Flooding and coastal change projects should support local economic regeneration, unlocking potential for new housing and business.
- All new development must not only be resilient to flooding but should also contribute to an environmental net gain.
- Government, the Environment Agency and risk management authorities need to be agile to the latest climate science, growth projections, investment opportunities and other changes to our local environment.
- In some cases, the scale of flooding or coastal change may be so significant the concept of ‘build back better’ may not be appropriate. This may mean potentially moving communities out of harm’s way in the longer term.
The Flood and Coastal Risk Management Strategy consultation is due to run from 9 May 2019 for 8 weeks up until 4 July 2019. Once the consultation has closed, the Environment Agency will review the responses and publish a final document which will then be laid before Parliament in winter 2019.
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