Widespread flooding a wake-up call for planners

Balancing Britain's demand for more housing against the need to preserve flood plains to act as a natural defence has always been a prickly point for planners but recent flooding across the country could drive the point home.

Unsurprisingly, the insurance industry, hard-hit by the natural disaster, is leading the call for more sustainable building in the future.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has warned that premiums are likely to soar unless new housing developments are built away from flood-prone areas.

“We need new homes,” said Nick Starling, the ABI’s director of general insurance and health.

“But they must be built in the right place and to the right design. The devastation caused by the recent floods shows the importance of planning for the future.

“We need a fresh approach to house building to take account of the increasing risk of flooding and to ensure sustainable communities.

“New homes should not be built in high-risk areas of the flood plain. They must be planned and designed with flooding in mind, with greater use of flood-resilient building materials.”

Unveiling the Government’s Green Paper on housing this week, Housing Minister Yvette Cooper said the strategy addressed flood risk, claiming tough new rules would protect homes from flooding and will be closely monitored.

Councils must consult the Environment Agency (EA) on their housing plans. If councils persist with their plans against the Environment Agency’s advice, the Government is prepared to take over the decisions, she said, adding that effective flood defences will be a vital component of new infrastructure.

The Government proposals allow for housing to be built in flood-prone areas, providing defences are in place, however – a fact which has caused concern amongst insurers.

A spokesman for the Home Builders Federation told edie that the government’s planned flooding review might suggest some fine tuning, but on the whole the organisation was happy with the current planning system.

“In some areas it may be difficult to avoid given other issues for possible alternative sites,” he said.

“You have to have the proper flood risk assessment and look at whether it’s an undue risk or a manageable risk and if so how to do it in a sensible way.”

In the end, he said, market forces would govern developers’ choices of where to build and nobody would want to put up homes where the public had no appetite for them.

“On the whole if you can’t manage these things properly I can’t see that developers in the future will want to take undue risks as they need to be able to sell to customers in a commercial market and they will want to know what the risks are.”

Sam Bond

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