Following the winter flooding in 2015/16 characterised by Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank, the Parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee launched an Inquiry into flooding. Their report ‘Future Flood Prevention’ was published last week – you can download it here.
The report contains a number of recommendations to Government. Whilst Select Committees are advisory and Government are under no obligation to implement the recommendations reports such as this are considered influential in the debate. The EFRA report follows on the back of the Government’s own National Flood Resilience Review (see here) which specifically covered protecting strategic assets such as power stations etc during flood episodes.
Of particular interest to me are the sections in the report that relate to catchment wide measures to prevent flooding and natural flood management measures. I have written extensively about this topic – follow this link and you will see the blogs I have produced.
There is more research to be conducted on this topic but a number of trial projects are mentioned in the report favourably e.g. Holnicote in Somerset, Pickering’s ‘Slow the Flow’ and the Moors for the Future work in the Peak District and the Pennines.
The two specific recommendations from the Report are:-
- Defra should commission by July 2017 a large-catchment trial of the effectiveness of natural flood risk management approaches such as installation of leaky dams, tree planting and improved soil management, alongside other measures;
- Farmland should be used in some places to store flood water: the National Farmers’ Union and Defra must develop storage approaches with low impact on farm productivity and appropriate incentives to recompense farmers
It wasn’t that long ago that natural flood management measures and the need to work on a catchment scale were simply the mantra of a few environmental organisations and academics – it is now seen as a mainstream solution.
The second point regarding the use of farmland to store flood water is also significant. The NFU have long opposed such a move and indeed ‘flood defence’ measures from the 1970s to very recently have been designed to protect farmland from flooding rather than allowing flood plains to flood. As the recommendation suggests there is still some way to go but there is a clear marker that in some places this needs to happen – better to allow flood water onto farmed flood plains than allow it to rush into people’s homes downstream of the protected farmland.
The Report has also tasked the Environment Agency and the Met Office with improving flood risk communication i.e. ‘the 1 in a 100 year flood’ message is confusing to the public and is becoming meaningless in a world where the climate is changing and extreme storm events are increasing.
EFRA also call for various measures to be taken around the planning system to improve resilience to flood. For example developers who flout planning requirements should be made liable if flooding subsequently occurs.
The final set of recommendations in the Report centre around ‘a new model for managing flood risk’. It says
“Our model gives a strong focus to joined up, efficient action to improve flood protection by:
Establishing a new National Floods Commissioner for England, to be accountable for delivery of strategic, long-term flood risk reduction outcomes agreed with Government. Delivery would be via:
New Regional Flood and Coastal Boards to coordinate regional delivery of national plans, in partnership with local stakeholders. These Boards would take on current Lead Local Flood Authority and Regional Flood and Coastal Committee roles;
A new English Rivers and Coastal Authority, taking on current Environment Agency roles to focus on efficient delivery of national flood risk management plans.”
These ideas are not very different from those proposed by Dieter Helm, the Chair of the Natural Capital Committee – see here.
I’m not really sure what I make of these recommendations, on one hand it takes us back to something akin to the old National Rivers Authority which was considered effective and successful, on the other hand though in a world of Brexit and all the upheaval that will ensue I’m not sure that DEFRA will have the capacity and the brainpower available to re-organise the Environment Agency. (DEFRA will be extremely busy working out what follows the Common Agricultural Policy and gaining access to the Single Market for farmers).
The CLA aren’t very impressed with these recommendations either calling them a ‘backward step’ – see here.
Apart from EA re-organisation proposals the report has been well received by a wide variety of organisations interested in reducing flood risk.
Perhaps the most odd press release on the EFRA report comes from the Countryside Alliance which suggests that the report ‘recognised that there is no proven link between grouse shooting and flooding’ – see here. It is an odd statement as nowhere in the report is there a mention of grouse shooting.