Government response on surface water flooding risk “does not meet scale of challenge”

Action to end automatic connections and prioritise use of sustainable drainage in new developments also overdue, says Commission.

Published: 13 Mar 2024

By: Rob Mallows

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A car splashes through a flooded Farringdon Lane in central London after a day of heavy rain.

The government has today (13 March 2024) responded to the Commission’s study on reducing the risks of surface water flooding, published in November 2022. While it accepts the principles behind a number of the Commission’s recommendations, the government’s response – in the Commission’s view – makes few new commitments on steps to manage surface water flood risk more actively, and fails to accelerate work in key areas.

The Commission’s study set out the case for long term flood reduction targets in helping provide strategic direction and accountability, as well as informing joint local plans and investment decisions. This approach has been endorsed by both the Climate Change Committee and the National Audit Office. The government has agreed to consider further the merits of adopting such targets, while continuing work on developing a national set of indicators to monitor trends.

Government has accepted the benefits of closer working between relevant local agencies, and intends to consult on reforms to local flood risk management planning during 2024. But the response stops short of any new commitments to removing the barriers to joint working, and does not accept the case for devolving capital funding directly to local authorities to implement joint local plans.

The Commission encouraged government to address the impact of new property developments, recommending implementation of Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act by the end of 2023 to ensure new developments adopt sustainable drainage systems and lose an automatic right to connect to the existing sewer system. Government’s response confirms it is still consulting on the implementation of this existing legislation, with the “aim to have finalised the implementation pathway by the end of 2024.” Government has also committed to undertaking a wider review of how policy changes could slow the spread of impermeable surfaces, particularly in urban areas, which it aims to publish by the end of 2024.

Prof Jim Hall, Commissioner at the National Infrastructure Commission, said:

“Our analysis confirmed what many urban residents know – that surface water flooding is a serious and growing risk. More extreme weather and expanding development could increase the number of properties in England in areas of high risk from 325,000 to over 600,000 by 2055 if action is not taken.

We recommended a package of measures to get a grip on the problem, which would mean that 250,000 cease to be at high risk of surface water flooding while boosting protection levels for thousands more.

Sadly, government’s plan of action does not meet the scale of the challenge, and lacks the urgency required to meet the threat. It’s been over a year since government promised to implement legislation to end the automatic connection of new developments to the drainage system. It must get on with this as soon as possible.

We remain of the view that government should adopt long term risk reduction targets and are pleased that government is willing to engage with the Commission and others to identify ways of measuring flood risk reduction. The Commission sees targets as crucial to informing local plans, developed jointly between lead local flood authorities and water companies, to ensure solutions are targeted effectively and delivered more quickly.

Again, time is not on our side and government must accelerate its work on its proposed flood resilience metrics and reducing the impact of new development to help bridge the gap.”

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