Public spending on flood risk in England is skewed towards dealing with the after effects of floods, rather than on preventing them, and the misery and damage they cause. Failure to account for the impacts of different forms of land management on flood risk is resulting in millions of pounds in agricultural subsidy being spent in ways that may actually increase vulnerability to flooding.
New research from think tank Green Alliance has revealed that, in England:
- nearly four times as much money (£1.5 billion) is spent on land management that ignores or even increases flood risk, than on land management that helps to prevent flooding (£419 million); and
- twice as much money (£613 million) is spent on dealing with the after effects of a flood than on hard flood defences (£269 million).
As well as the devastation caused to local communities, flooding in northern England in 2015 cost the economy £5 billion. If floods continue to be managed in the same way, associated damages could increase by as much as 150 per cent by the 2080s. And, in the worst case scenario, the number of people living in properties exposed to flooding could rise by as much as 98%.
A major failing of the current system is its lack of support for natural flood management methods (NFM), which have been proven to reduce flood risk when used alongside traditional flood defences. In the North Yorkshire town of Pickering, methods like creating woody debris barriers in rivers have reduced peak river flows by as much as 7.5%, which allowed it to escape the floods in 2012.
The report has three chief conclusions:
1. The UK farming support scheme that replaces the Common Agricultural Policy should reward land management that helps to prevent flooding.
2. A dedicated fund for natural flood management projects should be established. This would allow enough evidence to be gathered at larger, catchment scale to demonstrate where NFM is best applied as part of flood risk management programmes.
3. Regional Catchment Management Boards are needed across England, to consolidate decision making powers related to flood risk in a single local body.