The next government needs to appoint a cabinet champion to protect against flooding and drought, claims an all-party parliamentary group, in a report
Sue Illman, LI immediate past president was a member of the commission which wrote the report which also received written representation from the LI and oral evidence from Stuart Ryder.
In the report ‘Living with Water’, the Commission of Inquiry of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment says that despite the increasing challenges, flood resilience and water management remains ‘a Cinderella issue at the highest political level, though its importance is no less than that of transport and power and it should have the same political priority as the development of High Speed 2’.
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, or one in six, are currently at risk of flooding.
Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment, Oliver Colvile, Conservative MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said that ‘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’, he added.
Fundamental change needed
The 36-page report argues that 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’. It notes that building sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) should be a key part of the strategy and also provide other community benefits such as enriching the environment. It notes too, that the government ‘is mistaken in its U-turn which means it will now not implement Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010’.
This act sets out a plan for the adoption and maintenance of SuDS through council-run SUDs Approval Bodies.
Tony Burton, chair of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and a member of the APPG Commission of Inquiry says: ‘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.’
The APPG for Excellence in the Built Environment is supported by the CIC. Key recommendations, in addition to the appointment of a cabinet champion to instigate a review of land-use policy, include ‘placing water and climate change alongside a range of other emerging priorities for a multi-functional landscape’. This, the report says, should happen through: a stronger emphasis on maintenance funding to ensure that existing flood protection assets are sustained; an investment programme ‘to retrofit towns and cities to make them more resilient, as an additional aspect of their flood defence spending’; and a nationwide reduction in water runoff from every building, ‘whether new or existing – helped with new building regulations for designing for flood resistance and resilience’.
It suggests too that 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’; that 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 recommends that ‘those measures set out by the Sub-Committee on Adaptatio to make this happen should be adopted’.
Also, a bigger role for professionals in the built environment is called for ‘to 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’.
In addition, the APPG suggests that those homes and businesses connected to SuDS could be charged directly for the maintenance like a charge from a water company: ‘The charge could be on local authority rates and what is currently paid to water companies for surface water should be gradually removed as SuDS are installed, unless it is the water companies which provide the SuDS service.’
SuDS is cheaper
It calls for the use of SuDs for all developments, ‘ensuring that the limit of fewer than 10 houses 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, it says, particularly where integrated within the scheme from its original masterplanning, ‘the reason for the threshold as “keeping the regulatory burden on smaller companies at a reasonable level” is erroneous’.
Finally, the APPG is calling for resolving adoption of SuDS, ‘defining a clear procedure for the adoption of SuDS, and any associated costs for the adoption of sites under the proposed planning-based system, as the lack of such a process has historically been the greatest limitation to the uptake of SuDS’.