Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management
If you are worried about flooding please phone the Environment Agency's Floodline number:
(0845) 988 1188
You can also get information on current flood warnings from the Agency's website. Emergency response to events will be led by the police alongside the other emergency services (ambulance and fire) and in liaison with local authorities and the Environment Agency. At the national level, Defra has the lead Department role in planning for flood emergencies.
Defra has overall policy responsibility for flood and coastal erosion risk in England. Defra funds most of the Environment Agency's flood management activities in England and provides grant aid on a project by project basis to the other flood and coastal defence operating authorities (local authorities and internal drainage boards) to support their investment in capital improvement projects to manage flood and coastal erosion risk. Defra does not build defences, nor direct the authorities on which specific projects to undertake. The works programme to manage risk is driven by the operating authorities. We regard this arrangement as a partnership, try to ensure that risk is managed effectively by the authorities and provide guidance to help ensure this. Traditionally, flooding in this context has meant from watercourses or the sea rather than from other sources. However, Defra's new strategy (Making space for water) is taking a holistic approach to management of risk from all forms of flooding (river, coastal, groundwater, surface run-off and sewer) and coastal erosion, and seeking to ensure the programme helps deliver sustainable development.
Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk
Anyone who has suffered flooding or coastal erosion will testify to the stress, disruption and unhappiness that can be caused as well as the physical danger and loss. For flooding, feelings of fear continue long after the actual flood event and storms at sea, heavy rain and high river levels can cause worry for those at risk even if flooding does not occur. Those owning property near the edge of an eroding coastline can experience great uncertainty and fear too, long before any actual property loss might take place. In recognition of this and the destructive power of rivers in flood (and the sea), Defra takes the threat very seriously and is working hard with the Environment Agency to reduce risk.
Flooding and erosion are natural phenomena and cannot be entirely prevented. Our National Appraisal of Assets at Risk report estimated that 1.8 million residences and 140,000 commercial properties equating to 4 - 5 million people could be affected. The recent National Assessment of Defence Needs and Costs estimated the capital value of assets at risk to be approximately £250 billion (at 2004 prices). Average annual damages from flooding were estimated at some £1bn per year. Average damages that would occur if nothing were done to manage the risk were estimated at more than £3 billion per year. (Please note these are expected values over the very long term derived by combining the potential damages from a wide range of possible events, from the rare and extreme to the very frequent, with their probabilities to provide estimates of the annual expected average. They are not useful estimates for any specific year and it should be noted that there is significant uncertainty associated with them. Work is currently underway to improve data and methods of analysis.)
Effect of Climate Change and Increased Wealth
Climate change has the potential to increase probability of flooding due to increases in sea level and potential changes in the frequency, duration and intensity of storms. Defra has for many years published guidance to the operating authorities on taking account of the likely effects of climate change in the design of present-day measures to reduce risk. Increased economic wealth will also tend to increase the value of losses. In 2004 the Government's Foresight Future Flooding report estimated that, taking these and other factors into account, annual average flood damages could increase by between 2 and 20 times by the end of the century. Changes will be highly dependent on the actual impact of climate change and sea level rise, patterns of growth, development (building etc) and future flood risk management activity.
Managing the Risk
Defra's policy is to reduce risks to people, property and the environment from flooding and coastal erosion through the provision of defences, flood forecasting and warning systems, increased flood resilience of property, beneficial land management changes and discouragement of inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding. There is much more to be done to reduce the overall level of risk. Unfortunately large numbers of people will remain at risk from particularly severe exceptional events beyond the design standards of defences and planning for emergencies is an important part of our work with the Environment Agency and other partners. The Government invests significant sums of money each year to reduce risk.
Defra's programme includes High Level Targets for operating authorities, encouragement of Shoreline Management Plans and Coastal Groups, our joint research and development programme with the Environment Agency and funding of the Agency's flood risk maps, Catchment Flood Management Plans, Public Awareness Campaigns and the National Flood and Coastal Defence Database and associated risk assessment methodology.
Defra is committed to an achievement target to cover the period of the 2004 Spending Review (April 2005 to March 2008). We are developing a new Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management - Making space for water. A Stakeholder Forum has been established, partly to inform this Strategy work. Given the importance to the public of flood insurance, the Government has agreed to work with the Association of British Insurers on flood risk.
The National Flood Forum, which receives some funding from Defra for certain activities, aims to provide an independent voice for those at risk.
Standards of Defence
The flood and coastal defence operating authorities have permissive powers to undertake works to manage risk - there is no statutory obligation on them to do so and thus no statutory right to levels of protection. Individuals and communities will have variable standards of defence according to geography, the operating authorities' different approach and priorities, and the varying ratio of benefits and costs from providing particular defences.
A recurring theme in correspondence relates to the technical, environmental and particularly economic appraisal of projects - in other words, the assessment of whether a particular proposed construction project is acceptable and worthwhile for public funding. On top of this basic appraisal we also apply a system of prioritisation to ensure that those projects which will provide most benefits are funded first. Economic appraisal and prioritisation are necessary where the demand for investment exceeds available resources.
A useful organogram and responsibility table were published by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee which show public-sector responsibilities for management of flood and coastal erosion risk. Minister of State, Phil Woolas, is responsible for this policy area in England. The Welsh Assembly Government and Scottish Executive have similar responsibilities to Defra in Wales and Scotland. Other Government departments with an interest include the Department for Communities and Local Government for development planning policy and building regulations (for example see publication Preparing for Floods).
In line with wider Defra policy, Flood Management Division reorganised from 1 April 2006 into a more efficient programme-led structure.
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Page last modified: 17 December 2007
Page published: 15 July 2001