Opinion: David Symons of WSP on flood mitigation policy

David Symons of WSP Environment & Energy sets out his views on current planning policy and how it affects flood plains.

Current planning policies provide too much wriggle room for local authorities
PPS25 sets out in 43 pages how local authorities have to consider the risk of flooding in their planning decisions. There is a risk assessment process. They have to consult with the Environment Agency and with others.

But ultimately, all of this advice can be ignored even if the Environment Agency recommends against the development. The only justification that is required is that there are 'no reasonably available sites'.

Perversely development on flood plains is actually now more likely than before
Flood defences used to be decided on and funded by the Environment Agency. But with reductions in funding, the Government now encourages match funding from the private sector for flood protection measures.

This means that the local authority gets its flood defences if development goes ahead, the developer builds on the flood plain and everyone is happy - apart from the residents, businesses and ecosystems downstream of the development that are then more likely to flood as the natural flood plain storage of the past is built on.

The coalition's sustainable development presumption is also designed to encourage as much development as possible
The coalition's concept of 'sustainable development' is, in reality, a presumption in favour of any development that is not manifestly unsustainable - in the interest of getting the economy moving again.

This might be good news for the economy, but it also means that local authorities have to have a very strong reason not to grant planning permission. We caution that unrestricted development - including development on flood plains - will create long-term problems that will far outweigh the short-term benefits.

The Committee on Climate Change is right to call for more considered action on climate change by local authorities
This should start with tighter presumption against developments on flood plains together with fewer loop holes in the PPS. It's probably one of the easiest 'no regret' actions that the Committee calls for, and one that could be implemented right away.

David Symons at WSP Environment & Energy regularly advises on the future impacts of climate change on businesses and communities.

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