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News analysis - After the deluge: What should be done?

Words: Laura Edgar

Last year, The Planner looked at the measures the Treasury vowed to fund to protect 300,000 homes. It pledged to fund more than 1,400 flood defences using a £2.3 billion investment over six years.

Flooding in YorkThe article, Turning the tide, considered areas that have suffered from severe flooding in recent years, including the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Northern Ireland, as well as considering the ways to protect urban areas, such as storing water and sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDs).

This year, the north of England and parts of Scotland are beginning to repair the damage from the wettest December on record, according to provisional Met Office statistics, following Storms Eva, Frank and Desmond.

Now Storm Imogen is moving across Britain, with homes in south-west England, south and mid-Wales and the Midlands being left without power.

What is being done or can be done to prevent the damage these events cause?

Government investment


UK Government

  • £200 million to support homes, businesses, farmers and councils, including:

    - £40 million to help repair flood damaged roads;

    - £3.3 million to restore listed Tadcaster Bridge in Yorkshire; and

    - Grants of over £500 to help people install new flood barriers.

Scottish Government

  • £12 million to aid communities in their recovery, in addition to £4 million allocated by Deputy First Minister John Swinney in the Draft Budget 2016-17.

  • Grants of £1,500 through local authorities for households, businesses and charities.

  • Action plan to protect homes, businesses and communities from flooding. First phase supported by £235 million.

Welsh Government

  • £4.2 million for Boverton in the Vale of Glamorgan and Porthcawl to complete flood defence schemes. Allocated in Draft Budge 2016-17.

  • £3 million announced in December 2015 for St Asaph.

Is the government doing enough?

 In York…

Following the extreme flooding in York, Steve Stewart, chief executive of the City of York Council, said the city is now in the recovery and debriefing stage of its Emergency Plan, which involves round-the-clock and substantial coordinated effort by the council and partner agencies.

He said teams have been making door-to-door visits to homes in the affected areas to provide advice as well as gather information on properties and residents to fully understand the situation and help coordinate the clean-up.

“To help assist the clean-up we have placed over 60 skips in flood-affected areas of the city to support residents in the clean-up process. We are assisting residents financially with a one-off payment of £500 to support the clean-up process. Residents whose homes were internally flooded are also entitled to a council tax exemption from 27 December 2015 to 31 March 2016 inclusive.”


Friends of the Lake District don’t think the government is taking the right kind of action in addressing the floods by just giving out money for repairs.

Instead, said policy officer Kate Willshaw, the government should be putting money into mitigating climate change, including reducing CO2 emissions and “increasing the resilience of our landscapes, properties and infrastructure to withstand more extreme rainfall”.

Dr Hugh Ellis, head of policy at the Town and Country Planning Association, told The Planner that the government is “critically underprepared” for climate change.

What he finds most “extraordinary” is “the government’s refusal to consider climate change in the consultation of the National Planning Policy Framework”.

“Economies,” he said, “are being undermined by repeated flooding events”.

Why is it still an issue?


If climate change predictions are correct – and the increased number of flooding events in the past 10 years would suggest that they are, said Willshaw – “the goalposts are moving”. A one-in-100 years’ chance of a flooding event is now a one-in-50 chance.

Currently infrastructure – including roads, energy and water infrastructure as well as flood defences – has not, said Willshaw, been "designed to cope with a changing climate and the risks that come with it”.

“This must be addressed,” she urged.

Ellis said the missing ingredient is political will. A conversation about 2050 is not being had about better flood defences or building communities in more resilient places. “The conversation should have been had 10 years ago.” 

The role of planners in flood prevention


The key role for planners, said Chris Findley, assistant director of planning at Salford City Council and RTPI North West member, is the location of development. The form of development is also important; “understanding potential flood impacts when planning forward through local plans and allocating sites, masterplanning so that flood risks are property mitigated, and considering flood impacts in determining individual planning applications”.

Findley explained that in densely built-up areas such as Salford, older developments of Victorian terraces lie within flood plains. Therefore, the council seeks to ensure that flood protection is built into new development through plans, planning guidance and planning applications.

“This often involves working in partnership with the Environment Agency, the private sector and other agencies,” he said.

He cited Lower Broughton in the Irwell flood plain as an example. The council worked in partnership with Countryside Properties and through detailed work on specific planning guidance on development and flooding to replace sub-standard housing, it secured a regeneration ‘”that protects future residents from flooding”.

What can be done?

Trees for Life

Following the floods over the Christmas, New Year and into January, Trees for Life, a Scottish charity aiming to restore the ancient Caledonian Forest to the Scottish Highlands, said that climate change is making “intense weather patterns increasingly commonplace”.

The charity emphasised: “We must act now to begin the process of forest restoration at catchment levels across Scotland and England.

“It is no coincidence that the headwaters of the Dee, Don and Tay – the most recent rivers to flood - are dominated by heather moorland, sheep pastures and older non-native plantation forests which have been intensively drained.”

The charity explained that these three land uses tend to accelerate the rate at which water moves from soil to stream, and then downhill, causing flooding in towns and cities.

“The problem is an ecological one – soils and vegetation in vast areas of Scotland’s river catchments are now incapable of holding onto water and releasing it slowly (“the sponge effect”), and we need an ecological solution – more natural levels of grazing and browsing that encourages woodlands and other habitats to develop in our uplands,” said the charity.


Scottish Environment Protection Agency chief executive Terry A’Hearn said Flood Risk Management Strategies have been developed to reduce the damage flooding can cause.

“We have been working closely with local authorities to identify the most suitable actions to manage flood risk, and this is targeted towards areas where it will be most effective based on improved knowledge of the sources and impacts of flooding.”

Belinda Gordon, head of government and rural affairs at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said the first step must be to reconsider and reduce further development in areas that are prone to flooding. It should only go ahead if the development can be protected. Gordon said a range of techniques should be used rather than “assuming costly man-made structures are needed”.

Willshaw said properties and infrastructure can be made to be more resilient, while working with nature may be a solution in some catchments. Although she emphasised that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The UK Government will, Willshaw continued, need to look at portfolios of ways of managing extreme rainfall, “some of which will be upstream land management, some of which will be flood relief, and some of which will be hard engineering”.

Turning the tide can be found here.