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Environment Agency calls for new approach to flood and coastal resilience

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 eight-week consultation on the new strategy, 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 any 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. 

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 £1bn 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. 

"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 that help communities better understand their risk and give them more control."
Emaa Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency

The strategy also 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.

The strategy also recommends that 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 and new development should also contribute to an environmental net gain. 

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 eight weeks up until 4 July 2019. The Environment Agency will review the responses and publish a final document which will then be laid before Parliament in winter 2019.

Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission commented: “Climate change is a real and growing threat to our way of life and nowhere is this felt more keenly than those parts of the country facing an increased risk of flooding. So, we welcome the Agency’s approach and their endorsement of our call for a national standard for flood resilience. 

“In many cases, we won’t be able to stop flooding and coastal erosion. But that doesn’t mean we should just accept it. We must ensure that communities are resilient and as our Assessment showed, this is affordable and achievable.”