Government to spend an extra £12.5m on flood defences

The effects of flooding in York last year.

The government is to spend £12.5m on new temporary flood defences in England and adopt a more integrated approach to protecting vital infrastructure as part of proposals contained in the National Flood Resilience Review published this week.

The review was commissioned after 16,000 houses across the north of England were flooded after the wettest December for a century last year. Both government and local authorities were widely criticised for flood defences not being effective enough and the latest government report has committed a total of £12.5m to new temporary flood defences in England.

The £12.5m investment will enable the Environment Agency to have four times as many temporary flood barriers at its disposal than in 2015.

Announcing the review, environment secretary Andrea Leadsom said that the government has now been outlined clear actions so it is better prepared to respond quickly in the event of future flooding and is able to strengthen the nation's flood defences. “Work is already underway towards £12.5 million of new temporary defences stationed around England, better protection for our infrastructure and new flood modelling that makes better use of data and technology,” said Leadsom.

The government has also committed £2.5bn of investment by 2021 to protect families, homes and businesses from flooding. The review also includes a commitment from utility companies to increase flood protection of their key local infrastructure, such as phone networks and water treatment works and a new stress test of the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea in England. Going forward, Met Office forecasts of extreme rainfall scenarios will for the first time be linked with Environment Agency modelling to provide a new assessment of flood risk.

Oliver Johnson, policy executive at the Environmental Industries Commission, commented: "The Environmental Industries Commission welcomes the publication of the National Flood Resilience Review. We are particularly encouraged that the review has sought to clarify descriptions of flood risk terminology, something that EIC has long called for. A more strategic approach to flood protection is clearly demonstrated in the review and we are supportive of the aspiration to both identify so-called ‘Core Cities’ and vulnerable infrastructure assets and protect these sites.

"The review remains ongoing, and, because of the innate complexity of the UK’s flood problem, we would encourage future work to consider more technical issues that have a clear nationwide impact such as creating better conditions for the property-level protection market, clarifying SuDS standards and the bearing of residual groundwater levels on flooding," Johnson said.

Commenting on the report, Jon Robinson, director for water at AECOM, said: “We welcome the National Flood Resilience Review and its recognition that extreme and rare events could become more frequent due to the changing climate.

“Encouragingly, it includes a commitment to an integrated, cross-sector approach to protecting critical infrastructure through closer collaboration between water, telecoms and power companies. This will help develop longer term, permanent improvements in the resilience of service provision to communities in the event of extreme flooding. 

“The review paves the way for a new approach to flood risk management. Ultimately, a more holistic approach that brings together multiple stakeholders working together across entire catchments is needed. While the review rightly advocates a strategic, long-term approach to flood management, our hope is that funding too will increase in real terms in recognition of its importance. 

“Crucially, the review makes the link between flood management, resilient infrastructure and urban regeneration. It is vital the opportunities to create social and economic value from improved flood management are maximised.” 

While the extra money for flood prevention and the prospect of a more integrated and joined up approach to the problem will be welcomed, the government’s review also highlights the scale of the challenge to achieve effective flood protection. Up to 530 key infrastructure sites across England, including water supplies, telecommunications systems and electricity networks, are still vulnerable to flooding and another wet winter could mean that the chaos of last December could be revisited in the coming months. 

The new temporary barriers being promoted by government ministers would not hold back the floodwater we saw last winter, highlighting the need for the most vulnerable homes to be fitted with modern flood protection systems. With many local authorities, such as Leeds, already voicing their concerns about a lack of available funding despite this report, the government seems set to have its work cut out to address the problem of flood prevention over the coming months.  

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email