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Simon Evans

Simon Evans

09.07.2014 | 12:30pm
FloodsFuture flood risk: the CCC says under-investment is storing up trouble
FLOODS | July 9. 2014. 12:30
Future flood risk: the CCC says under-investment is storing up trouble

Increased flooding in future is the biggest climate change risk facing the UK. Floods and storms this winter highlighted the extent of disruption that can be caused.

But the government is still not spending enough to stop flood risks from increasing according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Its new adaptation  progress report looks again at flood spending.

“There’s still under-investment in the longer term,” the CCC’s head of adaptation Lord Krebs told journalists before the report was launched. “You’re storing up trouble for the futureâ?¦ is the government prepared to allow risks to increase?”

Long term argument

Ever since the coalition came to power and brought in big cuts to government spending there has been debate over investment in flood defences. The CCC  weighed in on the debate back in January.

Then in March the government  promised an extra £270 million to shore up defences damaged by this winter’s storms. The CCC has crunched the numbers and says this money, shown as purple bars below, is a temporary boost that fails to address long term  increases in flood risk that are expected due to climate change.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 At 17.43.06

Source: CCC Adaptation Sub-Committee progress report 2014

The graph shows the CCC’s latest assessment of flood spending against two different scenarios for future flood risk. Don’t worry too much about the sources of funding shown in the different coloured bars. We’ve looked at these in detail before.

For now the most important thing to look at is the dashed lines. The red horizontal line is a scenario where the number of homes at significant flood risk will increase by 50 per cent, from 490,000 homes today up to around 750,000 in 2035. That’s the trajectory we’re on with current spending plans.

The yellow slanted dashed line shows the spending levels that would be required to maintain current flood protection levels. So we’re not keeping up with increasing climate change risks, the CCC warns.

Defences on hold, defences not maintained

Under-investment means there are almost 500 planned new flood defence schemes on hold until at least 2019, the CCC says. That’s a £3.6 billion bill we’re shoving under the front door mat for hope it’ll go away.

Even existing defences are suffering, the CCC says. It thinks three-quarters of flood defences are getting less money for maintenance than they need to provide the most cost-effective protection.

Just 10 council areas in England account for a quarter of the total homes at risk of flooding. The chart below shows where they are.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 At 11.37.10

Source: CCC Adaptation Sub-Committee progress report 2014

Flood staff cuts

Government spending cuts have filtered through to cuts in the number of Environment Agency personnel working on flooding. That’s despite government assurances that ‘front-line’ flooding staff were being protected.

In total there are 716 fewer agency staff (19 per cent) working on flooding now than there were four years ago. Within that, there are 40 per cent fewer staff advising council planning departments and building companies on flood risks from new developments.

One consequence is that the agency no longer gives specific advice for small developments of up to 10 homes. The CCC estimates there were 12,000 of these applications last year. There is generic ‘standing advice’ covering these developments but it isn’t clear if it is always followed.

That represents a significant cumulative potential increase in flood risk, said Krebs, that could be locking in flood defence spending requirements for the future.

Another problem is that less than half of the 4 million homes in areas of flood risk have cottoned on to the fact, the CCC says. In 2012/13 some 55 per cent either didn’t know or claimed they weren’t at risk at all.

The CCC report identifies a bunch of other reasons for concern over flood defences. We’ve already taken a look at one these – the resilience of vital national infrastructure like roads, railways and water treatment works.

The CCC wants the government to come clean on how a lack of spending today will mean increased flood risk in future, when it publishes an updated assessment of flood defence needs this autumn.


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