The ABI has gone on the offensive to put flooding back on the govern-ment's agenda after "bungling" by the Department of Environment and Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) resulted in a flood defence spending cut.

Last week saw Defra lambasted for a £200m overspend and ordered by the Treasury to shave £15m off its flood defence spending (News, 2 November).

But in its report on the dangers posed by flooding, Coastal flood risk - Thinking for Tomorrow, Acting Today the ABI warns that the major cities on the east coast of England are under threat from rising sea levels.

Jane Milne, head of property and creditor at the ABI, said: "We are looking to put the issue of flooding risk back at the top of the government's agenda after the difficulties with Defra and on the back of the Stern Review. The latter has given important impetus to the debate on climate change and the need for urgent action. We hope we can set out a clear framework to take the issue forward."

The ABI said greater investment is needed now to deflect disaster on the east coast.

Stephen Haddrill, director general of the ABI, puts this figure at £8bn over the next 25-30 years to improve coastal defences along the east coast.

"To deal with the rise of sea levels it will take £8bn, which is a big cost, but will produce a greater return on investment ratio which we believe to be as much as six times. This is greater than many private market initiatives."

Without improvements to existing flood defences, the cost of a major coastal flood could soar by 400% and cost £16bn says the ABI.

The ABI data studies the threat from rising sea levels examining the impact on the east coast, in particular on Hull, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, Southend, east London and Hastings.

It concluded that a 40cm rise in sea levels, possible by 2040, will put a total of 404,000 properties at risk, up nearly 50% on the current number. In Hull alone 19,000 properties could suffer serious flooding with 24,000 properties affected in Southend.

The ABI said that in this scenario, essential services and lives will be at risk, with 15% of fire and ambulance stations and 12% of hospitals and schools in flood-risk areas.

The elderly will be particularly affected, as the number living on, or moving to, the coast is well above the national average.

Haddrill added: "This report shows that Britain needs a sustained and prolonged investment in coastal flood defences. This investment needs to start now."