Richard Lamberth's (15 August, Insurance Times) quite rightly points out that planning departments are still allowing riverside developments and suggests that the insurance industry should bring some pressure to bear.

The planning community should certainly be aware of the problem: in the last 18 months, I have been invited to write four articles on the subject for publication in the planning community's professional journals.

I have also been invited to address national conferences organised by each of the three main planning community professional bodies, two national conferences organised by the professional body for local authority risk managers, and one organised by the Emergency Planning Society.

In all of these I have emphasised the need for caution in permitting developments in flood hazard areas, and possible insurance problems ahead.

In my many discussions with planners, I have found a distinct difference in attitude between England and Scotland, with Wales somewhere in between.

In the South-East, where households outnumber houses by 49,00 (rising to 147,000 by 2010, according to a recent report by Cambridge Econometrics), planners are under pressure from government to meet targets for new housing.

For them, flood is very much a secondary consideration to these targets, especially as the government's planning guidelines (PPG 25) allow them to permit development in high hazard flood areas if there is no other suitable land available.

Indeed, some 27% by value of new housing in England is currently subject to objections from the Environment Agency on the grounds of flood risk.

In Scotland, on the other hand, I have found planners to be much more receptive, thanks partly to the enlightened approach by the Scottish Executive. The 1996 Scottish planning guideline NPPG 7 (to which I contributed) positively encourages planners to take insurance aspects into account.

Since 1996, I have been funded by the insurance industry to meet regularly local planning authorities, that currently cover more than 80% of the population.

I advise the planners on insurance issues, sustainable drainage, and best practice for flood management.

As a result, many of them have now adopted my "insurance template" in their structure plans, and hardly any will permit new housing where the flood hazard is more than one in 200 per annum.

This is one of the reasons given by esure, for example, when it recently announced that it would adopt a more lenient approach in Scotland on underwriting flood risks.

Professor David Crichton
Chartered Insurance Practitioner,visiting professor, Middlesex University Flood Hazard Research Centre

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