February 2020 was the wettest February on record in England and, indeed, right across the UK, with some places experiencing over four times the average monthly rainfall. According to the Environment Agency the annual average cost of damages following floods in England and Wales is £1.6 billion. Currently, 520,000 properties in England, including 370,000 homes, are at risk of damage from coastal flooding whilst 2.7 million UK homes remain at risk of surface level flooding. This issue is also likely to only get worse, as climate change is making the UK warmer and wetter leading to more frequent extreme weather events. According to the Met Office, 9 out of 17 record breaking rainfall months or seasons since 1910 have occurred after 2000.
The devastating impacts of last winter’s flooding were an important reminder of the need to continue to invest and accelerate action to reduce the impact of flooding on our communities. The government have therefore committed to an extra £5.2 billion of funding for flood defences between 2021 and 2027, offering better protection from flooding. As well as this, additional funding of £200 million will help communities most at risk of flooding recover faster in cases where they are affected by flood damage. These announcements have also followed the National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy which in part aims to help local authorities better communicate the risk of flooding to their communities. Furthermore, Flood Re, launched in 2016, is designed to improve the availability and affordability of household insurance policies for people living in high flood risk areas. Under the scheme, funds raised via a levy on the home insurance industry, totalling around £180 million annually, are used to provide broader coverage for homes at significant risk of flooding.
Significant progress has been made since the original National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England was published in 2011. Risk management authorities, working with local partners, will have invested £2.6 billion of government funding in flood and coastal risk management, better protecting 300,000 homes between 2015 and 2021. However, as future climate projections predict increased and extreme weather variability, questions remain over the extent to which the nation is prepared for severe flooding. A report published by the UK Committee on Climate Change in 2018 claims that by the 2080s, ‘up to 1.5 million properties, including 1.2 million homes, may be in areas at significant level of flood risk.’ In lieu of further investment, DEFRA predicts that, ‘the number of properties at medium or high risk could rise from 0.75 million to 1.29 million in 50 years’. Moreover, recent research by the Met Office and Flood Forecasting Centre illustrates the importance of continued research into effective modelling of extreme weather occurrences in understanding flood risk and building national resilience.
Following the Environment Agency’s publication of its national flood defence strategy in July this year, stakeholders from across central and local government, flood risk experts and advocacy groups will examine this strategy, assess existing provisions to mitigate the effects of flooding and develop new strategies to manage future risk. As well as gaining a unique perspective on the macro policy challenges surrounding national flood resilience, delegates will also consider the challenges faced by local communities and the role of local authorities in building a cohesive national policy apparatus.