In addition to looking after river and coastal flooding, the Agency would oversee the management of flood risk from groundwater, surface run-off and urban drainage as well as taking responsibility for integrated management of coastal erosion and flood risk.

The extra responsibilities come among plans for a new 20 year strategy for flood and coastal risk management driven by a need to plan for the expected major impacts of climate change.

As well as the new role for the Agency, planning Minister Keith Hill announced revision and strengthening of planning policy for developments in areas prone to flooding. This would mean that major developments in such areas would have to be referred to the Secretary of State if local authorities approved planning permission against the advice of the Environment Agency.

“To achieve sustainable development that will stand the test of time, planning authorities must plan effectively for flood risks and ensure proposed developments are future-proofed where necessary. In many cases, simple changes at the planning and design stage are all that is required to build safely. But, in some instances, proposed developments will not be suitable for the area and must be turned down,” Mr Hill said.

He added that despite a raised awareness of flooding issues, planning policy guidelines such as PPG25 were still not being applied effectively in all areas.

In addition, Defra announced it will spend in excess of £2 million identifying ways to tackle urban flood threats. It will look at ways to improve the integration of drainage and flood risk management practices in urban areas where sudden localised downpours can overwhelm sewer systems such as last August when 600,000 tonnes of raw sewage and urban run-off was forced into the Thames (see related story).

Environment Agency Chief Executive Barbara Young said she welcomed the changes: “Urban flooding is a particular problem because of the number of contributory causes – including run-off from roads and built developments, and the number of organisations involved, each with its own responsibilities. While only 4% of flooding is urban, the damage arising accounts for 20% of flood related payments made by insurance companies. Future solutions for towns like Carlisle, for example, will depend on good integrated solutions to the risks, wherever their source. We will look forward to contribution to work in this area.”

By David Hopkins

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie