Sector responds to Government National Flood Resilience Review

The Landscape Institute says the review could be a "missed opportunity" for a more holistic approach to landscape flood management, while the NFU says the review does not do enough to protect agricultural land and Friends of the Earth says the reviews misses the opportunity plant more trees.

SUDS flood mitigation HW
SUDS flood mitigation HW

The review says the Government will no longer use terms such as one in 100 years chance of flooding after floods in Cumbria in December 2015 and elsewhere were the worst in 100 years and the third serious floods since 2005. Millions of pounds worth of new flood defences built by Government after modelling work post-2009 failed in many areas.

The Landscape Institute and others called for more tree planting and rewilding to mitigate flooding, but the review does not specifically go into that detail.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a £700 million increase in flood defence and resilience spending in 2016. The new report promises £12.5m to increase the Environment Agency’s stock of temporary flood defences and other incident response equipment.

The Government says it will spend £2.3bn on flood defence by 2021.

Defra says it will manage "whole river catchments intelligently" as part of a 25-year plan, "developing sophisticated modelling to work out what can be done in each part of the catchment to minimise flooding", starting with a project in Cumbria. The Government now says it expects rain to be worse that it previously thought and "Extreme Flood Outlines" will include working with Sheffield to "develop and pilot a new model of self -financing investment which could bring together flood defence, aesthetic improvement and urban development to make our cities more beautiful, more prosperous and more resilient".

Noel Farrer, former President of the Landscape Institute said: "Today’s National Flood Resilience Review calls on improvements in the control of rainfall in the natural environment through the management of whole river catchments effectively.  This is welcome but it still seems we are plagued by a lack of strategic, long term thinking.

‘The Government’s developing 25 Year Plan for the Environment for instance is still separate from its forthcoming 25 year Strategy on Food and Farming. This is a mistake, the two cannot be divorced.  What we need is both to be part of a National Rural Land Use Management Policy developed with an emphasis on the management of land to deliver benefits to both the public, farmers and landowners.

‘It may be beneficial in some places, for example in those areas where the priority is to reduce flooding, that this takes precedence over intensive food production. Working with nature to absorb flood water and the slow release of that water should be a valued outcome for which the farming community is paid.

‘Mitigating floods will need a holistic approach. We need to look at larger catchment management issues, how forestry, land management and soft engineered flood alleviation schemes can hold back water in the upper reaches of rivers. All are easier to implement and cost significantly less than ‘grey’ hard engineering solutions that have high impact and even higher costs on our towns and cities but I fear the government is still taking a piecemeal approach to the problem and the review is another missed opportunity. ‘

NFU Environment Forum member Richard Bramley said: "The NFU welcomes this review from Government and is taking resilience to future flooding seriously. We recognise the need for national flood resilience to focus on the future protection of people and property, particularly concentrating on England’s core cities.

"However, we are concerned that there is very little mention of agriculture, rural communities or food security. Food and farming generates £108billion for the economy and, put simply, we need productive agricultural land to produce food in order to feed the nation. The report also focusses heavily on the future protection of infrastructure. However, it does not recognise that much of the country’s infrastructure - our roads, rail network or electricity grid, for example – is on farmland.

"Government policies for flood resilience and food security must be based around three core principles – planning, protection and funding models.

They need to be planned at a catchment scale, ensuring engagement with stakeholders holding invaluable local knowledge; protected by ensuring appropriate valuation of agriculture to the nation now and in the future; and funded using long-term, transparent funding models for both the development of new defences and ongoing maintenance.

"It is fundamental, therefore, that we have appropriate policies and systems in place to protect some of our most productive agricultural land, rural infrastructure and communities at the same time as working together to minimise the impact of flooding."

The NFU also said that the announcement of an extra £12.5million for temporary flood defences in the North of England was a welcomed move but it warned that these should be available for all communities affected, including those in the most remote locations.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: "This review suggests a sea-change in government understanding of floods, but its recommendations are a wash-out.
"£12.5m for temporary flood defences is a drop in the ocean when the review concludes that winter rainfall could increase by up to 30 per cent in future in parts of the UK - signalling politicians' acceptance that the climate is changing radically.
"This is a huge increase in rainfall on top of the unprecedented extreme weather that caused such suffering last winter, and will put thousands more homes and businesses at risk.
"Yet the review ducks a commitment to higher long-term investment in defences, and contains nothing on working with nature to reduce flooding, such as planting trees. These are challenges Andrea Leadsom must now address, or many more households will face the misery of flooding in future."

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