ABI welcomes move

The Environment Agency (EA) has called on the government to make changes in its management of flood risk, and requested it take on strategic overview role of agencies involved in dealing with surface water flooding.

The announcement came as part of the agency’s review of this summer’s floods which revealed that two-thirds, or 35,000 of the properties affected were damaged because of drains and sewers being overwhelmed.

The report highlights the vulnerability of critical infrastructure and the complexity of responsibility for dealing with flooding relating to drainage.

Chairman of the EA Sir John Harman commented: “We need a clear coordinating framework to deal with flood risk from drains and sewers, which could see the Environment Agency take on a strategic overview role in England.

The ABI welcomed the move. Nick Starling, director of General Insurance said: “The Government must give The Environment Agency a clear strategic role replacing the current complex system of flood management.

"We need a long-term strategy, with a comprehensive assessment of the real flood risks from rivers, drainage and coasts, and a long-term investment programme to match."

Harman continued: "We also need to be assured that the providers of critical public services are taking seriously their role in reducing the consequences of flooding. The extreme flooding showed just how poorly protected much of our vital public infrastructure is. Water and electricity supplies were particularly vulnerable.”

He insisted that regulatory bodies must ensure operators protect critical infrastructure from floods. “Incident response plans need to consider the possible impact on critical infrastructure more effectively, especially under the threat of climate change."

At present a range of organisations, including local government, water companies and the Highways Agency are involved in the management of surface water flooding. The EA called for greater collaboration between them at the local level.

Harman described the government increased in flood defence spending to £800m by 2010/11 as a “step in the right direction”, but warned that funding should continue to steadily increase over successive government spending reviews.

The review makes 33 recommendations including:

• The development of and ability to rapidly deploy temporary flood defences, especially in the event of flooded roads.

• In collaboration with the Met Office, the introduction of enhanced and broader scale flood warning systems, despite being “technically challenging and costly”.

• The government to grant the EA access to its full electoral roll in order to provide enhanced access to its automated telephone flood warning service. At present, only 41% of the population (276,000) who can receive the service have signed up.

Two thirds of the population believe that improved drainage should be the government's priority, according the research by the ABI.