Retrofit towns and cities for flood resilience, says MPs’ report

The Government should undertake an investment programme to retrofit towns and cities to make them more resilient to flooding according to an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report. The report also calls upon an incoming government to appoint a Cabinet champion to protect against flooding and drought.

In Living with Water, the Commission of Inquiry of the APPG for Excellence in the Built Environment says that “despite the increasing challenges, flood resilience and water management still remains a Cinderella issue at the highest political level.” The MPs say that the importance of water management “is no less than that of transport and power and it should have the same political priority as the development of High Speed 2.”

Chairman of the APPG for Excellence in the Built Environment, Oliver Colvile, Conservative MP for Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport, said, “Increased urbanisation and climate change is likely to increase the risk of flooding and our entire national infrastructure including water supply and our drainage network is under threat, which poses both societal and economic disruption. Failure to take the issue of comprehensive water management much more seriously will have severe economic impacts on UK plc.”

The group is calling for a Cabinet champion to set in train a longer term vision for delivering a coordinated and sustainable long-term flood and water management strategy to protect homes and infrastructure against the increased flooding whilst at the same time protecting against increased water scarcity caused by drought.

The Environment Agency says that 5.2 million homes in England alone are currently at risk of flooding, which is one in six. The 36-page report says, “We need a fundamental change in how we view flood management, from flood defence where we protect ourselves, to one of resilience, living with and making space for water.”

Among those invited to provide oral evidence to the Inquiry was Engineering Nature’s Way blogger David Schofield, Associate Director with Hydro Consultancy.  Hydro also provided detailed written evidence to the commission.

Key role for SuDS

The APPG’s report says that building sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) – which mimic nature including ponds and swales – should be a key part of the strategy and also provide other community benefits such as enriching the environment. It also says the Government is mistaken in its U-turn, which means it will now not implement Schedule 3 of the Flood & Water Management Act 2010 (FWMA) in new developments. The Act set out a plan for the adoption and maintenance of SuDS through council-run SuDS Approval Bodies and Schedule 3 said SuDS would be compulsory in all new developments, not just those with 10 homes or more.

On SuDS maintenance, the report suggests charging those homes and businesses connected to SuDS directly for maintenance of systems, like a charge from a water company.

Tony Burton, chair of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and a member of the APPG’s Commission of Inquiry said, “We have what is described as the most disconnected water management system in the world. Too many organisations have responsibility for aspects of water and drainage and they are under no obligation to co-operate even where it is essential to deliver resilience.”

“We find it particularly disappointing that there will no longer be a requirement for setting up SuDS Approval Bodies which would have drawn up standards.”

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • Strong leadership: Government needs to foster clear leadership on water issues and appoint a Cabinet champion to set in train a longer term vision for delivering a coordinated long-term flood and water management strategy and it must ring-fence funding to do so
  • Strategic land review: The new water champion should instigate a review of land use policy, placing water and climate change alongside a range of other emerging priorities for a multi-functional landscape
  • More cash for maintenance: There needs to be even stronger emphasis on maintenance funding to ensure that existing flood protection assets are sustained
  • Retrofitting for resilience: Government should undertake an investment programme to retrofit towns and cities to make them more resilient, as an additional aspect of their flood defence spending
  • Better design standards: Everywhere in this country is in a water catchment so we need to reduce water runoff from every building, whether new or existing – helped with new Building Regulations for designing for flood resistance and resilience
  • Using insurance to incentivise resilience: The insurance industry needs to give thought to how it can incentivise improving flood resilience of properties, rather than simply reinstating structures to inadequate pre-flooding standards
  • Using Flood Re insurance to promote resilience:  The Flood Re scheme due to be introduced in the summer should be used to drive a step change in households’ protection and resilience and we recommend those measures set out by the Sub-Committee on Adaptation to make this happen should be adopted
  • A bigger role for professionals in the built environment: Promote greater co-ordination of professionals through a new Construction Industry Council grouping which could act as a sounding board through which to channel flooding policy.
  • SuDS maintenance – Where homes and businesses are connected to SuDS, they could be charged directly for the maintenance like a charge from a water company. The charge could be on local authority rates and the proportion currently paid to water companies for surface water should gradually be removed as SuDS are installed, unless it is the water companies providing the SuDS service.
  • Reducing loading on public sewers – Removing the automatic right to connect rainwater discharge to the public sewers as originally specified under the FWMA 2010. Many of these public sewers, which were built in Victorian times, and are overloaded
  • SuDS for all developments – Ensuring that the limit of 10 houses equivalent for SuDS to be included is changed back to two, to avoid a profusion of planning applications for nine houses. As SuDS have been demonstrated through Defra’s own research to be cheaper, particularly where integrated within the scheme from its original master planning, the reason for the threshold as ‘keeping the regulatory burden on smaller companies at a reasonable level’ is erroneous
  • Resolving adoption of SuDS – Defining a clear procedure and any associated costs for the adoption of sites under the proposed planning-based system. The lack of such a process has historically been the greatest limitation to the uptake of SuDS.

Living with Water is available for download here.



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