MPs call for 'radical' flood defence overhaul to protect businesses
MPs are urging the Government to overhaul its flood protection system to help reduce the long-term flood risks for UK businesses and communities.
Almost a year on since severe flooding hit British towns and cities, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee has called on the Government to adopt a number of proposals to improve the country’s flood management.
Among the recommendations includes a plan to tackle inefficiencies in the Environment Agency (EA) and a strategy to develop a grant scheme to support SMEs unable to secure affordable insurance to install resilience measures by the end of 2017.
Efra chair Neil Parish MP said: “Some five million people in England are at risk of flooding. Winter 2015-16 broke rainfall records. Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank disrupted communities across northern parts of the UK, with Desmond alone costing the UK more than £5bn. We propose a radical alternative to the Government’s National Flood Resilience Review’s limited solutions to the current fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood risk management arrangements.”
The Government’s much-anticipated National Flood Resilience Review, released in September, revealed that Defra is looking to take a cross-sector approach to protecting critical infrastructure through closer collaboration between water, telecoms and power companies.
Defra’s watchdog is today proposing an extension to current water and sewerage companies’ roles to include drainage responsibilities held by local authorities, a move it believes would foster a more “holistic approach” to flooding and water supply management.
Last year’s flood-hit businesses have expressed a concern that they may find it hard to obtain appropriate flood insurance in the future.
Efra welcomes the insurance industry’s progress in developing commercial solutions for flood protection, but suggests it may not provide affordable cover for small businesses. The grant scheme proposal put forward by Efra also calls for a review by the end of 2019 to assess whether there is need for further direct support for SMEs in the form of a Government-backed insurance scheme.
According to Efra, the Government should review with the insurance industry how policy terms might incentivise the use of flood resilience measures by householders and businesses and report on this by January 2017.
“Our proposals will deliver a far more holistic approach to flooding and water supply management, looking at catchments as a whole,” Parish continued. “Flood management must include much wider use of natural measures such as leaky dams, tree planting and improved soil management. And some areas of farmland should be used to store flood water.”
The business alliance Aldersgate Group welcomed Efra’s proposals, and highlighted the importance of developing a 25-Year Environment Plan to improve the state of the UK’s natural environment and the resilience of its infrastructure.
Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho said: “Whilst it is understandable that the timetable for the Government’s 25-Year Environment Plan has been impacted by the vote to leave the European Union (EU), we would press Defra to publish a framework for the plan as soon as possible. Investing in natural assets can help protect businesses and communities from flooding and increase the resilience of the UK’s infrastructure to the future impacts of climate change.”
Meanwhile, a separate report released today has called for a more joined-up approach between Government, environmental organisations, businesses and the insurance industry to help manage the risks associated with flooding.
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) suggests that the Government's Flood Re scheme is only a temporary measure and should be strengthened by a “workable, proactive, long-term strategy” which recognises the changing climate and impact of more frequent and extreme weather.
IFoA president Colin Wilson commented: “Climate change and increased building on flood plains have made the UK flooding problems worse in recent years. Extreme weather is increasingly common and more severe than previously. These issues, combined with the UK’s lack of investment in flood defences, have created a perfect storm.”
The recommendations follow on from an independent report launched last week aimed at helping to protect homes and businesses from risk of flooding.
The Property Flood Resilience Action Plan brought together Government and industry to establish a strategy to ensure property owners are better equipped to prepare for flooding. The report explored how rigorous independent standards can provide confidence in flood mitigation products across the industry, and how insurers can further increase their support for property owners installing flood resistant measures.
A “one stop shop” advice web portal has been established to make it easier for businesses to find the most relevant information on better protecting their properties against flooding.