Commission to investigate surface water flooding risks

Government has asked the Commission to undertake a new study on managing surface water flooding.

Published: 27 Oct 2021

By: Ben Wilson

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Car driving through floodwater

The government has asked the independent National Infrastructure Commission to investigate how the risks of surface water flooding can be better managed, following a spate of inland flooding incidents in recent months. 

The Commission will seek to identify improvements needed to England’s drainage systems to manage and mitigate surface water flooding in both urban and rural areas. 

Surface water flooding is the most common flood risk in England, with 3.2 million properties at risk (62 per cent of those at risk of flooding). Despite progress on national flood resilience over the past 30 years, more intense rainfall due to climate change and population growth all contribute to increased risks of this type of incident. 

Surface water flooding occurs when the volume of rainfall exceeds the capacity of drainage systems, so water instead collects at low lying points. This type of flooding is not only disruptive to homes and businesses but can carry pollution risks to rivers. 

The Commission will assess current approaches to manage surface water and consider which options provide the greatest resilience and value for money. It will also examine current approaches to governance, funding and planning, including the roles of the Environment Agency and Ofwat.

The terms of reference for the study note that “effective surface water flooding solutions are likely to require a holistic approach to water management at both local and landscape scale with actions needed across a range of sectors and including both built infrastructure and nature-based solutions.” 

The Commission intends to examine the opportunities for better flood management offered by sustainable drainage systems, blue-green infrastructure, and natural flood management, alongside hard engineering solutions to increase sewer capacity. 

The Commission’s work will examine the role of the various organisations responsible for assets that impact on surface water flooding including local authorities, transport bodies and water companies.  

Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “As too many of us will know from first hand experience, the impact of flooding on our property, possessions, pockets and peace of mind can be colossal. Recent events at home and abroad have demonstrated, sometimes tragically, the growing risks to life and health when rainfall overwhelms our current systems, and the impacts are multiple. As the risks of such incidents increase, there are few more important areas of infrastructure to address.  

“We look forward to working with other agencies, local authorities and the private sector in formulating workable policy recommendations to ensure we are better prepared for the future.” 

The study will form part of the Commission’s work programme for its second National Infrastructure Assessment, further details of which will be published next month (November 2021) alongside a baseline report on the current state of UK infrastructure. This report will set out the strategic themes and key projects the Commission intends to explore as part of the Assessment, which is due in 2023. 

The Commission will embark immediately on work on the surface water flooding study, launching a call for evidence in the coming weeks. A final report will be delivered to government by November 2022. 

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