UK parliament committee calls for new approaches to flood management

Faced with predictions from the U.K. government’s recent National Flood Resilience Review to expect 20% to 30% more intense rainfall due to climate change in coming years, the bipartisan Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Committee of Parliament last month released a report calling for a complete overhaul of how the country approaches its vulnerability to flooding.

The report, Future flood prevention, prescribes a new model of governance for flood risk management, a shift in flood risk infrastructure priorities, improved flood resilience for new construction projects, and clearer public communication about flood avoidance.

The flood risk reduction report from the U.K. Parliament Committee on Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs contains several provisions. Chief among them is the replacement of the Environment Agency with a new government body solely dedicated to flood management. Members of parliament allege that flood mitigation efforts from the Environment Agency have been “fragmented, inefficient, and ineffective in meeting the level of threat that flood risk poses to communities across England.” Photo courtesy of Eric Vance/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The flood risk reduction report from the U.K. Parliament Committee on Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs contains several provisions. Chief among them is the replacement of the Environment Agency with a new government body solely dedicated to flood management. Members of parliament allege that flood mitigation efforts from the Environment Agency have been “fragmented, inefficient, and ineffective in meeting the level of threat that flood risk poses to communities across England.”
Photo courtesy of Eric Vance/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the committee describe in the report that 5 million English residents live in areas that are vulnerable to heavy flooding. In December 2015, Storm Desmond revealed those vulnerabilities, causing more than £5 billion in flood-related damages to many northern parts of the U.K, the report says.

“Despite Government assurances as to the adequacy of its policies, we consider national flood management to be fragmented, inefficient, and ineffective in meeting the level of threat that flood risk poses to communities across England,” the report reads. “With climate change increasing the likelihood of more frequent, more severe flood events, it is imperative that the Government undertakes a root and branch review of national and local flood risk management.”

By the end of 2017, appropriate agencies of parliament are urged to release a forward-looking document outlining ideas and costs estimates toward national flood risk reduction. These ideas should consider possible climate change-related scenarios over the next 25 years, the report says.

Specific recommendations of the committee include

  • stripping the U.K. Environment Agency of its responsibility to coordinate flood management measures;
  • forming a new, dedicated government body to oversee flood risk reduction and flood response (as is the case in the Netherlands);
  • testing the efficacy of “natural” options to control flooding — such as the installation of leaky dams, trees, and manageable soils — with a focus on large-scale renovations at catchment areas rather than in cities and towns;
  • establishing an incentive program to encourage farmers to store water in unused agricultural lands;
  • requiring that building developers introduce standard flood resiliency measures into new buildings;
  • expediting the permit process to allow dredging by civilians when necessary;
  • improving the pre-existing flood warning system and increasing citizens’ understanding of flood risks within their communities; and
  • revamping flood insurance programs to become clearer and more accessible for homeowners and small business owners.

The report, published on Nov. 2, is awaiting a response from the larger government. For more information or to read the report, visit the U.K. Parliament website.

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