Greater support for SuDS welcomed, but more holistic flood modelling required
Stuart Pearce responds to the recommendations in today's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Commons Committee report on future flood prevention
A third report on flood risk management this year has called for radical reform. Following the National Flood Resilience Review and Climate Change Committee report, the recommendations include replacing the Environment Agency, after criticism by the committee on how it has handled recent flooding. It wants to replace the agency with a new floods commissioner, regional flooding and coastal boards, and a rivers and coastal authority.
While disbanding the EA is unlikely and probably unpalatable at an uncertain time with Brexit, there is much to commend in the report, and by following its recommendations the government could satisfy the cross-party Commons committee with some quick and important wins.
We welcome the call to increase mandatory use of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) and to end the automatic right to connect surface water run-off to a mains sewer. This, together with requirements for developers to comply with planning conditions, means that detailed and effective site drainage and flood risk suitability should now be automatic for every development.
We also welcome the call for water and sewerage companies to take on greater adoption of SuDS and to become statutory planning consultees. This should mean greater clarity on responsibility and make it easier for solicitors and property buyers to check who is responsible as part of the conveyancing process.
The jigsaw of flood management approaches that includes local surface water management, upland replanting, and incentives for flooding farmland is badly needed. We must stop just building higher hard defences in downstream urban areas and think differently.
We look forward to playing an active role in the roll-out of real-time data for flood warning systems and have been engaged with exploratory trials with the National Flood Forecasting Centre in support. Our winning Geovation Challenge project is already modelling how upland catchments can respond with better natural flood management assets.
However, the report is again a missed opportunity when it comes to better understanding of the role of groundwater flooding. Groundwater has provided the background signature to many recent severe flood incidents. The report recommends the development of a single publicly available map on flooding from all sources. However, groundwater must play a more central role not just in flood risk modelling, but also in resilience planning and response, given its impact on critical infrastructure.
It is encouraging to see the Commons Committee supporting many of the same recommendations made by the House of Lords in the Housing Bill concerning SuDS and a fuller implementation of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. We look forward to a positive government response on these relatively quick wins for more holistic flood management.
Stuart Pearce is the managing director of GeoSmart