Report says future flood risk could increase twenty-fold

An influential committee of MPs has warned the government that funding for flood defences needs to increase to £1bn a year in the long term to cope with climate change.

A report published by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee urged ministers to act immediately amid fears flood risk could increase twenty-fold.

To minimise flood risk, it said the government needed to give the Environment Agency (EA) statutory consultee status for planning applications for developments in flood-risk areas.

This would mean significant housing developments proposed in flood plains against the agency's advice would be referred to ministers - a move being considered by the government.

In 2004, 693 houses were built in flood-risk areas against agency advice - with less than 60% of applications consulted about the possible risks.

The agency estimates more than five million people and two million homes and businesses in England and Wales are at risk of flooding, putting assets valued £250bn at risk.

A Department of Communities and Local Government spokesman said the department was consulting on giving the EA statutory consultation status and would publish its findings shortly.

A Defra spokesman said government spending had increased from £307m in 1996-1997to £600m in 2005-2006. "The government's comprehensive spending review in 2007 will set spending levels for the following three years," he said.

Royal & SunAlliance property underwriting manager Alan Gairns said: "Flooding is affecting more and more homes and businesses each year and the government and insurance industry need to work together to ensure people in high-risk flood areas can continue to get insurance cover in the future."

An ABI spokesman said: "We are pleased the report recognised that spending must be sustained. We also back the call for more power to be given to the Environment Agency."

The ABI is working on a submission to the government's spending review which will be published later this year.