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MPs call for flood management commissioner

Words: Laura Edgar
Floods in the UK

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee wants an overhaul of flood management in England and the creation of a national flood commissioner responsible for flood management.

The committee is unsatisfied with the Environment Agency’s recent performance on flooding and wants its powers to be handed to new bodies proposed in its report, published today (2 November).

In Future Flood Prevention the committee also says more evidence is required on managing water flows from the top to the bottom of river catchments.

The study says the Environment Agency should work with academics and other flood risk management bodies to fill this evidence gap.

Neil Parish, chair of the EFRA Committee, said five million people in England are at risk from flooding.

He said the committee proposes a “radical alternative” to the government’s National Flood Resilience Review’s “limited solutions to the current “fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood risk management arrangements”.

“Flood management must include much wider use of natural measures such as leaky dams, tree planting and improved soil management. And some areas of farmland should be used to store flood water."

As Storm Imogen moved across Britain earlier this year, The Planner looked at what is being done or what could be done to prevent the damage flooding causes.

We spoke to a number of people who said development in areas at risk of flooding should only go ahead if the development could be protected and if properties and infrastructure could be made more resilient. Working with nature could be a solution in some catchments.

The committee recommends a new governance model, headed by a new national flood commissioner responsible for flood management in the country.

The commissioner would agree with the government’s strategic, long-term flood risk reduction outcomes, says the report, and be held account for their effective delivery by:

  • A new Regional Flood and Coastal Boards coordinating regional delivery of national plans, in partnership with local stakeholders.

  • A new English Rivers and Coastal Authority, taking on national flood risk management roles, which are currently the responsibility of the Environment Agency.

Parish said the model would streamline roles and pool expertise to allow bodies to “deliver their unique roles”.

Funding, he continued, would be linked to outcomes.

“The commissioner would hold the new English Rivers and Coastal Authority to account on whether it spends its budgets efficiently – whether by directly undertaking work or by commissioning projects from catchment partnerships or internal drainage boards. New regional boards would enable a close link between national plans and local aims."

The committee also calls on the government to improve help for communities and individuals to cope with and recover from flooding, and building regulations must be tightened to flood-proof homes if a voluntary agreement is not signed by the end of the year.

Guy Shrubsole, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said removing the Environment Agency’s role in flooding is a “terrible idea”, and that it would waste vital expertise and could cause more delays in planning better ways to avoid flooding.

"The environment committee clearly understands that better management of our rivers and waterways needs more joined-up thinking – not less. This includes working with nature across entire river catchments and dealing with climate change.

"Government should heed MPs' welcome proposals to tackle flooding at root – but not distracting proposals to break up the Environment Agency."

Future Flood Prevention can be found here.

The RTPI's response to the report can be found  on the institute's website.

The Planner reported in June that the Common’s Environmental Audit Committee claimed a reactive approach to funding flood defences is exposing the government’s lack of long-term strategic planning to flood risk.

The MPs pointed to initial cuts to funding in the last Parliament that had only to be increased after the winter floods of 2013-14. While there is national policy in place to plan for flood prevention, the number of local flood plans and strategies under the National Planning Policy Framework is “worryingly low” and the government does not “seem to be supporting local authorities to develop them”, said the MPs.

More about this story can be read here.

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