Inland flood defences save the UK £1.1bn a year, says insurance industry

Around £1.1 billion a year of flood damage is being prevented by the UK’s current network of river barriers and defences, according to new research unveiled today at the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI) conference. 

The modelling, based on thousands of simulations of weather events with and without flood defences, was commissioned by Flood Re and conducted by Risk Management Solutions (RMS). The report emphasises the value to UK homes and businesses of flood defence spending and the importance of on-going investment by governments, particularly for flood-prone locations such as Cumbria, Yorkshire, Somerset and the Welsh valleys.

It shows that inland flooding would, on average, cost almost three times more on an annual basis without the defences – a bill of £1.8bn rather than £0.7bn across the whole of the UK. 

Despite the lack of severe flooding in recent years, the ABI says that speculation that this June could be the wettest on record is also a timely reminder that any long-term government spending allocations need to reflect the importance of on-going funding for flood management.

Other findings include:

  • Residential properties benefit from 42% of the average annual savings, the highest proportion of all assets analysed. 
  • The more deprived 50% of the residential population benefits from 70% of the reductions in flood losses due to defences.
  • Relative to the total damage floods could cause without defences, the benefits of defences are largest for more frequent, less severe flooding such as might be expected to happen once every five years. The financial impact of these less severe floods is reduced by 68% on average.
  • Closer examination of what happened in Cumbria in December 2015 shows the flooding caused by Storm Desmond would have done damage worth three-and-a-half times as much without river water defences - £2.8bn rather than £0.6bn.

James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the ABI, said: “Faced with the growing threat of climate change, there is a clear financial argument for investing in flood defences. The barriers, walls and natural defences that currently prevent greater damage being done by the UK’s rivers during times of extreme weather make economic sense, but they must keep pace with the threat if they are to continue being effective. It’s essential the UK government sticks to its ambitions on flood defence spending, and doesn’t let the lack of severe flooding in recent years lull the country into a false sense of security.”

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