Open letter from landscape, planning and environmental bodies demands flood action

Manor Fields: scheme provides community park and sustainable drainage for new housing development - image: Ian Stanyon
Manor Fields: scheme provides community park and sustainable drainage for new housing development - image: Ian Stanyon

The Landscape Institute and Arboricultural Association have joined together with 15 other professional organisations, who regularly work together on projects designed to manage water, prevent flooding and increase resilience, to ask for proper long-term planning to avoid further flooding devastation in the UK.

The group, which also includes the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, The Institution of Environmental Sciences, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and Energy Institute, calls for a complete re-think to the way the country manages, stores and distributes its water, and how we plan both the natural environment, and the built environment of our towns and cities to make them more resilient.

In the letter to the Daily Telegraph, experts from 17 environmental and planning organisations - including landscape architects, engineers, hydrologists and ecologists - made a plea for the government to listen to them when it came to devising a flood defence policy for the future.

"While we are pleased to hear that the prime minister will provide leadership and funding, it is essential that government actions are based on best practice developed over many years," they said.

"Water management techniques could have helped prevent the effect of flooding on villages, towns and over surrounding land seen recently.

"Emergency measures are in order for the immediate crisis. But in the long term, the management of water requires a clear strategy."

They suggested measures to cut the risk of future flooding, including:

  • Use of forestry and land management to hold back water in the upper reaches of rivers, as well as dredging for the lower reaches
  • Fitting sustainable drainage systems on existing buildings and new buildings
  • Buildings and land that cannot be properly protected should be made to withstand flooding
  • All new housing on flood plains must be resilient when built
  • More co-operation between experts, the water companies, internal drainage boards, local authorities, the Environment Agency, and Natural Resources Wales, as well as between them and landowners or residents

The letter urged David Cameron to hold a cross-departmental conference, similar to one set up to deal with ash dieback, and to include Whitehall departments, the Environment Agency and other experts to prevent a repeat of the scale of damage caused by recent floods.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls accused the government of "short-termist salami-slicing" of budgets for flood defences.

In response to the letter, a Downing Street spokesman said: "We are looking at all potential options to tackle flooding and are spending £2.4bn on flood management and protection from coastal erosion. That is more than ever before.

"We have already announced a record level of capital investment at £370m in 2015/16 rising to over £400m in 2020/21 as part of our long-term plan to improve resilience.

"We need to employ a range of techniques to alleviate flooding, including dredging in some areas.

"We will look at the lessons to be learned to see where additional flood protection can help."

The Landscape Institute wants all new housing in flood plains to be resilient from the moment they are built and for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDs) to be comprehensively retro-fitted, and for SuDs to be a compulsory requirement for all new buildings.

Speaking about the letter, Sue Illman, president of the Landscape Institute said: "Why do we keep spending money putting homes and lives back together when we could spend it more effectively preventing the problem? 

"The Landscape Institute has long been campaigning for Water Sensitive Planning - that considers the entire water cycle - for a comprehensive programme of retrofitting SuDS in our towns and cities, and the full implementation of schedule 3 of the Floods and Water Management Act. 

"We need hard and soft engineering to work together to manage water, protect people and their livelihoods, whilst improving the natural and built environment for all." 

The letter was also sent to the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, Anne McIntosh MP and Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency.

To view the full letter visit

The full list of signatories include:

Sue Illman President, Landscape Institute 

George Adams President, CIBSE 

Heather Barrett-Mold Chair, Institution of Environmental Sciences 

Martin Baxter Executive Director – Policy, IEMA

Shireen Chambers Chief Executive, Institute of Chartered Foresters 

Adam Donnan Chief Executive Officer, Institution of Environmental Science

Michael Doran SocEnv RICS Council Representative, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors 

John Gregory Institute of Fisheries Management 

Sally Hayns  Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

Louise Kingham OBE Chief Executive, Energy Institute 

Steve Lee Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management 

Karen Martin Chief Executive, Arboricultural Association

Dr Peter Spillett President, Institute of Fisheries Management

Alastair Taylor Chief Executive, Institution of Agricultural Engineers

Professor William Pope Chairman of the Environmental Policy Forum

Mike Summersgill President, CIWEM

Jim Whelan Council Member, Institution of Environmental Science

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