Committee on Climate Change report: Could do better

Concerns about the flood risk implications of further creekside housing developments have been dismissed as unfounded. We are told that, despite the redesignation of the floodplain in 2010 to allow development that would otherwise have been prohibited, the provisions agreed with the Environment Agency in the Fullwood Report will ensure that any new developments are safe and will not increase flood risk elsewhere.

How much confidence can we have in such assurances?

A disturbing new report from the Committee on Climate Change says that increased flood risk is the greatest threat to the UK from climate change and we need to spend a lot more to deal with it, in terms of both permanent defences and capacity for emergency response. Instead, spending has been slashed. Despite a one-off injection of government funding following last winter’s widespread flooding, there is not enough money even to maintain existing flood defences (nearly three quarters of them will not have the necessary maintenance in 2014/15).

Underinvestment in flood prevention is increasing the potential for avoidable flood damage, the report says. Cost-effective activity is being postponed for lack of both national and local funding support. Developers are not implementing mitigation measures and the authorities are not forcing them do so: uptake of sustainable drainage systems and permeable paving in new developments is low, and the automatic right to connect to public sewers is still in place six years after the Pitt Review [link] recommended that it should be withdrawn.

With plummeting staffing levels – the number of staff available to scrutinise planning applications in flood risk areas is 40% lower than it was in 2010 – the Environment Agency has had to prioritise larger developments, so smaller ones are slipping through the net.

In 2013, an estimated 12,000 applications for smaller developments in floodplain areas did not receive site-specific advice. Many of the individual developments proposed on waterfront sites along Faversham Creek would fall into this category.

In such circumstances, is it irresponsible to push for new developments that may not be as resilient as they should be, and which – even if they are – will add to the burden of emergency response systems that are already overstretched?

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