Ahead of Flood Action week we worked alongside independent think tank Localis and have found that planning applications for over 50001 new homes in areas at high risk of flooding have been approved in England. We think that a change is needed to protect everyone from these developments, and to keep homeowners safe from potentially devastating floods. This is because we believe no homeowner should be subjected to the unnecessary risk of flooding.
- What we’ve found out about the plans
- The damage caused by flooding each year
- Tips to help you protect your home from flooding
Where are these homes being built?
We’ve identified the most affected regions are Yorkshire and The Humber and the East Midlands, with nearly half of these homes set to be constructed on a floodplain in North Lincolnshire. But what’s even more worrying is for around a third of the approved buildings in the top five highest risk areas a Flood Risk Assessment wasn't identified. These areas are South Holland, Boston, Fenland, Runnymede and King’s Lynn & West Norfolk.
What’s the scale of the problem?
According to existing data, nearly 20%2 of properties across the country are at risk of flooding, with 2.4 million buildings actually standing on floodplains. This is concerning enough already for homeowners, and the problem is only set to get worse. Over the last ten years, floodplain development has gone up 12%3. Together with the growing population, this could mean the risk of homes flooding in England doubles over the next 50 years4.
Although some properties are protected by Flood Re – an agreement between the government and insurers to cover homes at severe risk of flooding – this doesn’t cover properties built after 2009. This cut-off point was introduced to try and deter developers from building in flood risk areas, but the latest figures show this clearly has not worked.
How much damage does flooding cause?
Floods cause an estimated £1.1 billion of damages per year in England and on average we pay out £32,000 for a flooding claim. But putting the financial cost aside, floods can cause incalculable emotional stress, and we know how upsetting this can be. Your home should be your safe space, the place you feel protected and comforted. Building homes that are at a severe risk of flooding just isn’t right.
Let’s also not forget that with the climate crisis worsening, the risk of severe weather events is increasing. And with local authorities experiencing a critical shortage of skills and expertise when it comes to planning for climate change as well as understanding flood risk, it’s clear that fundamental change is needed.
What should be done?
We believe that there needs to be a change to stop high-risk flood development. A long-term holistic approach to flooding must be developed, with property developers, insurers and local authorities coming together to tackle the issue of building on floodplains.
That’s why we, together with Localis, have come up with these policy recommendations which we’ll take to Government:
- Floodplain development should be avoided wherever possible.
- If it’s unavoidable, appropriate flood defences should be built alongside the new developments.
- Local authorities with planning teams should appoint a chief resilience officer. This person should be required to sit on local resilience forums. They should also become a single point of contact for English local government districts on the issue in county/district areas, or in unitary authorities.
- Specific funding should be made available to establish a new cross-departmental task force to look at flood-risk development.
- A new ministerial post, between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), should be set up to oversee and provide accountability for this task force. This task force should become a single point of contact on the issue.
- The creation of this post would allow for engagement with, and capacity training for, local authority planning teams (particularly chief resilience officers). It would also provide for the design and funding of graduate schemes for flood resilience professionals in planning, water management and other key disciplines.
- Money must be made available for upgrading the maintenance of flood defences (overseen by the task force).
- There should be a blended mix of revenue allocation via the Environment Agency to local authorities, and to internal drainage boards who would undertake essential work on existing flood defences going forward.
A future risk-based approach to development
- The insurance industry should work with the government, local authorities, developers and other key stakeholders to help decide what measures might be needed in the future to mitigate climate change and ensure that homes are (and remain) insurable.
LV=’s Claims Director Martin Milliner says “Climate change will increase the UK's exposure to weather-related hazards such as flooding, and it's vital we prepare for this. Whilst we welcome the Government's commitment to increase housing, we have concerns about the UK's resilience to future flood events, and in particular the number of new housing developments in flood risk areas that are still receiving approval. With those involved in the planning process ignoring the current guidance, this runs the risk of putting an ever-increasing number of communities at risk.
"Flooding is an extremely traumatic event which has a devastating impact on a person's life, both physically and mentally. This research highlights a concerning amount of current and future development in high flood risk areas. To tackle this, we need to come together and develop a holistic approach to flooding for the long term, with property developers, insurers and Government - both nationally and locally - tackling the issue of building on floodplains."
Jonathan Werran, Chief Executive at Localis, added: “There is a clear need to reset government policy and regulation to prevent an otherwise unavoidable 50% uptick in the numbers of houses being built on floodplains over the next half century.
“At the same time, with climate change another unavoidable reality, we need to strengthen communities to become resilient in adapting to, living with and responding to flood pressures.”
Top tips if you think you might be affected by flooding in the future
While we hope to see a significant reduction in flood damages in the future, it’s important you know how to prepare for a flood just in case the worst should happen. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re safe and protected:
- Create a list of emergency contact numbers in advance. Include any home emergency helplines offered by your insurer, local authorities and utility companies. It’s a good idea to save all the numbers you need on your mobile phone – make sure it’s always fully charged in case of an emergency.
- Keep an eye on weather forecasts and warnings for your area. There are three types of warning issued by the Met Office when flooding is forecast: flood alerts, flood warnings and severe flood warnings.
- Make some practical preparations around the home. Plug up your drains, sinks and baths, as this can prevent sewage back-up. If you can safely do so, raise all your appliances off ground level using solid bricks.
- If you can, move important possessions upstairs and keep valuables locked safely away in a waterproof container that can be moved easily.
- If it’s safe to do so, raise up heavy furniture and wrap wooden legs in cling film or plastic bags to stop water soaking in.
- Clear your garden of any ornaments or plants that could be swept away.
- Have a copy of your home insurance policy documents and your policy number to hand. This will be helpful if you do have to call and make a claim.
All data accurate as of November 2021
1 Localis analysis of over 16,000 planning applications across England
2 Environment Agency
3 Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee
4 Committee on Climate Change 2021 Progress Report