The government will spend a record GBP5.2bn on reducing flooding in England over the next six years, as the climate crisis increases the risk to homes and businesses.
The Environment Agency will spend GBP860m next year to support more than 1,000 schemes, with significant funds for Yorkshire and the Humber and the north-west, regions that have been hit hard in recent years.
Ministers also announced tighter guidance to deter the building of new homes in flood-prone areas and changes to a government-backed insurance scheme to allow flooded homeowners to be paid to better protect their homes.
The government said 336,000 properties would be better protected by 2027, helping to avoid GBP32bn in damage to the economy and reducing the national flood risk by up to 11%. The EA said, however, that not all flooding would be prevented and that people should check their flood risk.
The moves were broadly welcomed, but some experts said maintenance budgets for flood defences would also need to rise and that local authorities still needed more resources.
Events such as the flash floods in London this week will get more common as a result of global heating because warmer air can hold more water. The UK Met Office has already observed an increase in intense downpours. Scientists said earlier in July that the catastrophic floods that struck Europe recently could become much more frequent because of global heating.
The UK government has been repeatedly told in recent years that its preparations to protect people from increased extreme weather were failing. Parliament’s public accounts committee said in February that the government was not doing enough on flooding and that local authorities needed much more help, including more cash.
Announcing the flood spending, the environment secretary, George Eustice, said: “The tragic recent events in Germany and Belgium serve as a sobering reminder of how devastating flooding can be. We are standing by communities and will bolster defences against flooding across England with many thousands more properties better protected by 2027.”
Emma Howard Boyd, the EA’s chair, said: “No one can prevent all flooding and climate change means the risk is increasing, but we can reduce the risks. [However], no one should have a false sense of security. I strongly urge people to sign up for flood warnings and regularly check flood risk online.”
Neil Parish MP, the chair of the Commons environment select committee, said: “The new investment plan is a welcome step toward greater flood resilience as we adjust our homes and our lives to cope with the changing climate. However [the investment in defences] must be matched by a long-term budget for maintenance.” He said local authorities also needed the resources to factor the impacts of the climate crisis into development decisions.
Changes to Flood Re, the insurance scheme for homes at high risk of flooding, will allow insurers to help flooded households make their homes more resilient. This could include installing air brick covers, flood doors and flood-resistant plasterboard, and homeowners could then benefit from lower premiums.
“The government is finally waking up and smelling the floodwater,” said Mary Dhonau, a flood resilience consultant. “Repairing flooded homes on a ‘like-for-like basis’ is money ill spent. Giving financial support to help those newly flooded to ‘build back better’ is a win for both the homeowner and the insurance industry.”
Paul Cobbing, the chief executive of the National Flood Forum, a charity that supports people at risk of flooding, said the announcements were “a really positive message for communities” but added: “The detail will be important, including how this all considers the impacts of future climate change.”
He said proposals to improve planning decisions in areas at risk of surface water flooding were of particular note. “Thousands of people currently suffer from development proposals that are inappropriate and we need to rapidly rectify the situation,” he said.
A recent government review of residential property planning decisions found that while 97% were made in line with EA advice in 2019-20, 866 homes were granted permission contrary to it. New guidance will reaffirm that planning authorities must refer decisions to ministers when the EA objects to a proposal on flood risk grounds.
“Flooding has a devastating impact on people’s lives and that’s why we’re strengthening our guidance,” said the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick.