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Managing flood risks


Flooding and coastal erosion put lives, livelihoods and people’s well-being at risk. The Environment Agency estimates that 5.2 million homes and businesses in England are at risk of flooding and that around 700 properties are vulnerable to coastal erosion over the next 20 years. In addition, more than two thirds of properties in England are served by infrastructure sites and networks that are at risk from flooding.

The Met Office’s UK climate projections show more extreme weather events and sea level rises resulting from climate change. This, when combined with increased housing development, will heighten flooding and coastal erosion risks.

The government set the Environment Agency (EA) a target of better protecting 300,000 homes from flooding between 2015 and 2021, through an investment of £2.6 billion, and it is currently on track to meet this target within its budget. Since 2015, over 700 new flood defence schemes have been introduced, providing better protection for over 242,000 homes.

On average, EA has spent £2,750 for each property with an annual likelihood of flooding of at least 1%. By providing better protection for 242,000 homes, EA’s investment programme has delivered valuable benefits for people, with flood risk being substantially lower for many thousands of homes in England.

However, the headline figure of 242,000 homes better protected also does not take account of properties that have become less well protected due to factors such as housing development, climate change and the condition of flood defence assets.

Following the 2019-20 autumn and winter floods, the number of properties at risk as a result of the condition of EA flood defences and other infrastructure assets increased by 171% from 70,000 in 2018-19, to 189,000 in 2019-20. The cost of repairing and maintaining flood defences could increase by between 20% and 70% a year as a result of climate change.

The government’s approach is designed to ensure deprived areas do not miss out on investment, but the proportion of funding for flood defence going to the 20% most deprived areas has reduced substantially since 2014. The government requires many flood schemes to be part-funded by communities, local authorities or businesses in the private sector. The system includes provisions for deprived communities who may have difficulty raising this type of investment.

However, very few of the homes better protected in 2019 were in deprived areas; the proportion rose from 4% in 2011, to 29% in 2014, but then declined to 8% in 2019. Defra believes this decline is because most of the possible schemes in deprived areas have been completed, but has not carried out any analysis to support this explanation.

The Committee will question senior officials at Defra and the Environment Agency. If you have evidence on government’s management of protecting homes from flood risk, please submit it here by 6pm on Thursday the January 2021