NIP14: Flooding investment plans highlight decline in maintenance spending

Plans revealed this week for investment in 1400 flood defence projects that will benefit from £2.3bn in funding between 2015 and 2021 highlight the maintenance spending cuts that could leave the UK vulnerable to increasingly severe flood events say experts.

NIP14 flooding plan

“CIWEM believes that the current emphasis on capital investment to the detriment of annual maintenance works is increasing flood risk at a local level,” said the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management in a statement given ahead of today’s Autumn statement.

The organisation says that underinvestment, which the National Audit office says declined at 6 per cent per annum between 2010 and 2014, will become an increasingly pressing issue as climate change impacts the frequency and severity of flooding.

NIP14: IN BRIEF AND IN DETAIL For more information on the detail of NIP14 read our story and link through to ACE's independent analysis here

“Failure to maintain our existing flood defences and invest sustainably and sensibly in new flood risk schemes will lead to continued loss of life and property, extensive damage to the UK economy and ongoing misery for millions of people,” said Jed Ramsay, rivers & coastal treasurer at CIWEM.

According to the Environment Agency there are currently 2.4M properties in the UK at risk from river and coastal flooding, and 3M at risk from surface water flooding with 600,000 at risk from both. The £2.3bn investment plans will safeguard 300,000 of these and avoid £30bn in potential damages, says the government in its National Infrastructure Plan.

By setting out the schemes that will receive funding over the next six years project owners now have longer term certainty over spending which is seen as a welcome move compared to the previous annual spending reviews.  

However experts warn that some of the benefits of the flood defence capital investment programme could be negated if new housing schemes also outlined in the National Infrastructure Plan don't take flood risk into account.  

“In terms of flood risk we need to be careful as a nation that we don’t end up cancelling out the benefits of this flood defence spending by building more assets in flood risk areas,” says Will McBain, associate director, water at Arup. “There has been a 40% reduction in development control staff within the Environment Agency over the last few years so there is an increasing reliance on Standing Advice. This is not as good as bespoke advice from someone who knows the area and the issues.” 

McBain says that a particular concern is surface water flooding which is an area that local flood authorities would have most knowledge of, however these organisations are not statutory consultees in the planning process. “Because there is no statutory requirement to consult with them there is a danger that those sorts of issues could slip through the net.”

“The way to target that issue is to get economic regulators more on board." Will McBain

At the same time ongoing consultation over schedule three of the Flood and Water Management Act will see developers of new schemes seeking to connect drainage into the public sewer through the planning process, removing consultation with the proposed SUDS approval bodies, raising potential concerns about how this will now be regulated.

Another issue highlighted by McBain is that the Environment Agency cost benefit analysis process is focussed on protecting residential developments and protecting critical infrastructure still remains an issue.  “One of the main lessons from last year’s floods was around critical infrastructure and how disruptive flooding can be to those systems. If we want a step change in the resilience of those systems then this funding will have some benefit but it is certainly not targeted at that particular issue.” 

“The way to target that issue is to get economic regulators more on board. They possibly need to take more of a look at how they regulate their industries if they are serious about reducing the frequency of disruptive flood events. The real struggle is persuading customers to invest in resilience measures when the prevailing message from customers is that they want bill reductions.”

EA flood defence project announcement

To view an interactive map of the 1400 projects see here:

NAO report on flood management

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