National Flood Resilience Review: Government recruits business leaders to design new defences

Defra is looking to take a cross-sector approach to protecting critical infrastructure through closer collaboration between water, telecoms and power companies, as the Government releases its much-anticipated National Flood Resilience Review.

Released following severe flooding in recent winters, the Government review identifies that extreme downpours could occur 20-30% more frequently due to the changing climate. Work is reportedly underway towards £12.5m of new temporary defences, such as barriers and pumps, stationed around England.

The 145-page review includes a host of measures such as a new pilot scheme which invites business leaders from a range of sectors to design innovative flood-defence systems in the UK’s “core cities”.

Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Last winter we saw how disruptive flooding can be for homes and businesses, as well as for key local infrastructure. As part of this review we have secured commitments from the water and telecommunications industries to make their infrastructure more resilient.

“In addition, this year the Environment Agency (EA) will be able to deploy four-times more temporary barriers to protect our communities than last winter.”

Business-led solutions

The review states that Government has spent the past six months working with infrastructure industries to develop or expand existing medium-term plans to increase the resilience to an extreme flood of service supply. Following consultation, the electricity industry has pledged to invest £250m between 2015 and 2021 in increasing the resilience of the electricity network against flooding.

The Government has also considered more creative, business-led solutions to deliver new flood defences, which would prevent a significant burden being placed on the taxpayer.

Specifically, a senior group of business leaders and experts from sectors such as engineering, technology and commerce will lead a pilot initiative which focuses on designing new defences that can deliver economic value to local areas. The pilot will start begin in Sheffield could potentially broaden out to other core cities where the level of flood protection is below that of London.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), nearly a fifth of businesses directly affected by devastating floods last Christmas are still not fully operational. The business community has welcomed the Government’s commitment to critical investment infrastructure, but a widespread belief exists that a short-term strategy must be matched by increased funding to help companies at the risk of flooding.

Commenting on the review, construction company AECOM’s water director Jon Robinson said: “Encouragingly, it includes a commitment to an integrated, cross-sector approach to protecting critical infrastructure through closer collaboration between water, telecoms and power companies. This will help develop longer term, permanent improvements in the resilience of service provision to communities in the event of extreme flooding.

“The review paves the way for a new approach to flood risk management. Ultimately, a more holistic approach that brings together multiple stakeholders working together across entire catchments is needed. While the Review rightly advocates a strategic, long-term approach to flood management, our hope is that funding too will increase in real terms in recognition of its importance.”

Defra delays

Former Chancellor George Osborne announced an increased flood expenditure figure of £700m in this year’s Budget, aimed at helping the Government reach its target of protecting 300,000 properties

Today’s review suggests that the Government will continue to “learn lessons” on emergency response and recovery in parallel to the ongoing development of Defra’s 25-year environment plan. 

Earlier this week, Resource Minister Theresa Coffey confirmed the postponement of the plan until 2017 due to the unexpected impact of Brexit, although she insisted a framework was expected “shortly”.

This delay will come as a big concern for the green economy, which has already warned of “periods of uncertainty” during the Brexit negotiations which could ultimately “erode” key environmental policies

George Ogleby

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