William Eichler 25 February 2020

Environment Agency chief executive calls for more flood resilience

A new ‘twin track’ approach focused on better flood protection and resilience is needed to deal with the climate emergency, the chief executive of the Environment Agency says.

In a speech at the World Water-Tech Innovation Summit, Sir James Bevan will say that while we must continue to build and maintain strong flood defences, communities will also need to become more resilient.

An increased focus on resilience, he will tell the summit, will mean that when flooding does happen it will pose less risk and does less damage.

‘First, we must continue to do what we have been doing for some years now: building and maintaining strong defences to reduce the risk of communities being flooded,’ Sir James will say.

‘But in the face of the climate emergency, we now need a second, parallel, track: making our communities more resilient to flooding so that when it does happen it poses much less risk to people, does much less damage, and life can get back to normal much quicker.

‘The best way to defuse the weather bomb is better protection and stronger resilience. We need both.’

The Environment Agency is currently spending £2.6bn building new flood defences that will protect 300,000 properties by 2021. It is also spending over £1bn to maintain existing defences in England.

Sir James will acknowledge that it is unrealistic to stop all development on areas prone to flooding, particularly as ‘much of England is a flood plain’.

However, he will also warn that building on flood plains should only happen when there is ‘no real alternative’.

‘The clue is in the name: flood plain,’ he will say to the summit.

‘So we can and should insist that development only happens there if there is no real alternative, that any such development doesn’t increase other people’s flood risk….and that properties built on the flood plain are flood resilient, for example with the garages on the ground floor and the people higher up.’

‘Greater resilience also means designing new places, buildings and infrastructure so that they are built to cope with flooding,’ he will add.

‘It means building back better after a flood, not simply replacing what we had before, so that homes, businesses and infrastructure are more resilient to future events.

‘It means accepting the hard truth that in a few places, the scale of coastal erosion and the risk of flooding from rivers or the sea will become so big that it may be better for communities to choose to relocate out of harm’s way.’

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