Building on Flood Plains – We Are Getting There

According to Tracy Hall, expanding development in floodplains is not necessarily a calamity waiting to happen.

As last year’s holiday travel season came to a close, storms in the United Kingdom left almost 100,000 houses without electricity and thousands of people stuck at airports and train stations. Planning minister Nick Boles is already pressing for stricter limitations on new construction in flood-prone areas, as many homeowners face uncertainties about their insurance policy.

In spite of this, and to accept the fact that many people already live with the repercussions of floods, the government has entered into agreement with the insurance industry to protect those people who currently reside a flood zone. The Flood Re reinsurance programme offers to give affordable insurance for properties located in areas prone to flooding by restricting premiums and establishing up a central pool of money to cover pay outs for flood damage. There is currently a lot of debate over the extent of such cover and the property owners who are entitled to it, most of it informed by the enormity of the problem over this past winter.

Since 2009, more than 4,000 new homes have been constructed on flood plains, according to press accounts. The total number of buildings in the UK just hit its highest in five years: 67,422 new homes were registered by the NHBC for the first half of this year. At first look, it could seem that the risk around a mere 4,000 dwellings is quite minor by contrast. With over 100 flood warnings last Christmas, it is apparent that development on flood plains remains a potentially highly problematic issue for local authorities, the construction sector, property owners and insurers alike.

Residential developers, some of whom will develop on flood-prone ground provided the appropriate consents are given, have been blamed for some of the problem, according to one school of thinking.

However, a growing concern about a lack of new dwellings is the other side of the storey. The construction sector may legitimately argue that the demand for houses surpasses the hazards of flooding, which occurs at an unpredictable regularity, when coupled with a desire to get Britain building again. And with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation forecasting a property shortfall of more than a million homes by 2022, it’s this side of the storey that underscores the urgency to scale up the rate of development in the UK. The outlook for future flood protection is also much brighter, thanks to David Cameron’s announcement of a “enormous programme” of investment between now and 2020.

Concerns have also been made concerning local authorities that have issued planning consents in locations that have been recognised by the Environment Agency as at risk. Nick Boles recently issued a sharp warning to such councils, reminding them that any new buildings on flood plains must be “flood resistant and resilient,” with further caution that developers will have to start adhering to “stringent tests” if building on flood plains. To what extent this will be adopted and enforced remains to be seen, however new guidance is currently in the queue, trying to encourage councils to evaluate more closely any constructions that raise the risk of flooding. Closer ties among local governments, developers, and the Environmental Agency appear to be an important first step toward better risk management.

There is no doubt that the floods of recent years have proved exceedingly upsetting. There are several fundamental and crucial processes already in action that should offer an effective framework for all those involved in this business, however, if financing is likely to increase and is coupled with the promise of tougher limitations for developers and municipalities. This would appear to be the case. It’s critical that the government and the building industry exercise caution and good judgement as they work to alleviate the housing shortage and increase the supply of affordable housing.

Last Updated on December 29, 2021


Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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