Insufficient flood defences will cost billions, insurers warn

Insufficient investment in flood defences could leave England's east coast vulnerable to damages of £16bn as sea levels rise, British insurers have warned in a report.

The Government simultaneously published new guidance on how flood defence funds should be spent to adapt to climate change, but was criticised for not allocating enough money for flood protection in the first place.

In a report published on Tuesday the Association of British Insurers urges an extra £8bn to be spent over the next 25-30 years. The ABI warns that a sea level rise of 40cm by 2040, which it says is “highly likely,” will otherwise bring billions of pound of damage and put lives at risk.

The funding shortage exposes 130,000 more homes and businesses to the risk of flooding along the east coast from Hastings through East London and up to Hull, the insurers warn.

Without major improvements to existing defences, floods will threaten a total of 400,000 properties, and “essential services and lives will be at risk,” as 15% of fire and ambulance stations are in flood-exposed areas. The elderly will be particularly vulnerable.

The Environment Agency, responsible for administering flood defences, has said that the current annual budget of £500m is not increasing in line with growing risks.

Commenting on new Government guidance, Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA Environment Board, said: “Tens of thousands of coastal homes could be at risk in the coming decades because funding to councils for the nation’s sea defences is inadequate.

“The current annual budget [for councils] of around £75m is not enough. It needs to be drastically increased to make sure councils are able to protect towns and villages along our coastline,” he said.

The Government plans to slash total flood defence funding by £15m over the coming months as part of wider Defra cuts brought on by the spiralling costs of a new farm payment scheme and extra cash needed to protection the country from bird flu (see related story).

ABI director general Stephen Haddrill said: “This report shows that Britain needs a sustained and prolonged investment in coastal flood defences. This investment needs to start now.”

The full ABI report can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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