‘We can’t win a war against water,’ EA chief warns


The Environment Agency (EA) has called for £1bn a year to be spent on flood and coastal defences in preparation for a possible 4°C rise in global temperature but warned that some communities may need to be 'moved out of harm’s way'.

Launching the EA’s Draft National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England, chair Emma Howard Boyd called for a new approach to ensure that communities are resilient to the threat of flooding posed by climate change.


She said the Environment Agency is preparing for a potential 4°C rise in global temperature and that urgent action is needed to tackle more frequent, intense flooding and sea level rise.

Ms Howard Boyd said: ‘The coastline has never stayed in the same place and there have always been floods, but climate change is increasing and accelerating these threats.

‘We can’t win a war against water by building away climate change with infinitely high flood defences. We need to develop consistent standards for flood and coastal resilience in England that help communities better understand their risk and give them more control about how to adapt and respond.’

The strategy recommends:

  • As properties built in the flood plain are likely to double over the next 50 years due to population growth and climate change, between now and 2030 all new development must be resilient to flooding and coastal change
  • Flooding and coastal change projects should support local economic regeneration, unlocking potential for new housing and business
  • All new development must not only be resilient to flooding but also should contribute to an environmental net gain
  • Government, the EA and risk management authorities need to be agile to the latest climate science, growth projections, investment opportunities and other changes to our local environment
  • In some cases, the scale of flooding or coastal change may be so significant the concept of ‘build back better’ may not be appropriate. This may mean potentially moving communities out of harm’s way in the longer term.

The strategy calls for all infrastructure to be flood resilient by 2050 and the EA has committed to working with risk management authorities and infrastructure providers to achieve this.

In addition, an average of £1bn will need to be invested each year in traditional flood and coastal defences and natural flood management, the EA said.

The strategy calls for more to be done to encourage property owners to ‘build back better’ after a flood. This could involve home improvements to make them more resilient, such as raised electrics, hard flooring and flood doors. The Environment Agency said it will work with government, insurers and financial institutions to review how to bring about this change by 2025.

The Local Government Technical Advisers Group (LGTAG) said it welcomed the draft strategy as ‘a further recognition of the scale and intensity of future flooding’ but warned that local authorities 'need to understand that future intensity might overwhelm historic approaches to resilience and response'.

LGTAG President John Lamb said: ‘As a country we have 24/7 arrangements for snow and ice for a few months of the year; but for flooding we are ad hoc and reactive, with no national training standard for front line teams especially highways departments. New forms of mutual aid are required if our neighbouring councils are also inundated.

A consultation on the strategy runs until 4 July 2019.


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