Two million English homes and buildings at risk of flooding

A National Audit Office report shows that up to two million homes and buildings in England are in areas at risk of flooding and suggests that changes may have to be made to the system of river categorisation.

The report, released on 15 March and sent to Parliament, has highlighted the weaknesses in flood defence system in England and recommended changes to be made. Reliance should not be entirely on flood defences, the report says, as it realises they cannot prevent all flooding, as seen in 2000’s floods when 11,000 people were requested to evacuate their homes or businesses and 10,000 properties were flooded. A condition survey of the Environment Agency (EA)’s flood defences showed 43% of flood defence structures and 36% linear barriers in England are in a fair, poor or very poor state, and that there are significant variations regionally.

Further work may be necessary to explore whether the basis for categorisation of main and non-main rivers leads to inadequate and inconsistent levels of flood defence service across different parts of the country, the report says.

For the five million people who live or work in areas at risk, those responsible for flood defence activity and those planning to build in areas at risk can be the single most important defence against the worst effects of flooding, the report says. Research by the EA before the autumn 2000 floods showed that two in five households at risk did not know if their insurance would cover them in a flood.

The report acknowledges that the EA has, since its establishment in 1996, made considerable progress on behalf of regional and local flood defence committees: for example, in developing a flood warning strategy (see related story); and in improving the quality and coverage of flood risk mapping and of defences. However, the Agency is not responsible for all flood defences and the large number of organisations involved in the provision of flood defence (including the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the EA, 235 Internal Drainage Boards, 9 Regional and 11 Local Flood Defence Committees and all local authorities) means that co-ordinated work required to protect those at risk represents a massive challenge.

NAO head Sir John Bourn identified four priority tasks for those delivering the flood defence service:

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