Engineers voice concern over flood defence funding


25 OCTOBER 2010

The impact of reduced public funding for flood defences will demand a more innovative approach to managing flood risk, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has said today.

Yesterday’s announcement will see DEFRA reduce its resource spending by 29% and capital spending by 34%, with £2bn allocated to coastal and flood defences over the four year review period, 2011 to 2015. However this is less than the commitment made in the previous review period of £2.15bn over three years, 2008-2011.

According to the Environment Agency, for every pound spent on flood defences we save eight in the future in terms of reduced damage.

David Balmforth, who leads the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) work on flooding said flooding is one of the biggest challenges the UK faces. “While we welcome the Government’s recognition of the importance of maintaining the UK’s investment in flood risk management, we would have liked to see the level of funding more adequately reflect historical investment and address the implementation of the Floods and Water Management Act.”

ICE also has concerns that in light of the budget cuts, current investment in addressing sewer flooding may not be maintained in future water company spending plans. 

Balmforth continued “With public funding decreasing in real terms, delivering better value from our investment in managing flood risk will be crucial. Funding mechanisms and regulation must work to enable progress rather than hinder it, and improved collaboration between the many responsible bodies will be essential. The private sector will also need to play a bigger role in future and Government’s role will be vital in creating a stable environment to attract and facilitate this investment.”

He continued, saying that in practical terms, investment will need to shift from a reliance on defence to building resilience. “We will need to change our focus, looking for innovative alternatives that deliver multiple benefits to society. Central to this will be public engagement -without the support of local communities, finding practical and sustainable solution will become much more difficult and costly.”

The ICE has previously said that to deal with the increased risk of rising sea levels and other affects of climate change in the future measures such as coastal realignment will need to be considered more widely. More radical solutions such as building out into the water and constructing defences that can also be financially viable through building in secondary commercial functions, for example rentable space, will also need to be looked into.  

ICE’s report, Rising Sea Levels: Attack, Retreat, Defend, laid out possible scenarios of how  alternative options for the future of flood risk management could work in the UK earlier this year.

Download it here:

By this argument, and in the worst case scenario, a reduction of £150m in the budget over the next four years could cost the public circa £4.8bn in the future.

More information

[1] Flooding in England: A national assessment of flood risk (Environment Agency).

Media contacts

Emily Beadon, ICE Media Relations t: 020 7665 2261, e:

Notes to editors

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) was founded in 1818 to ensure professionalism in civil engineering. It represents 80,000 qualified and student civil engineers in the UK and across the globe. The ICE has long worked with the government of the day to help it to achieve its objectives, and has worked with industry to ensure that construction and civil engineering remain major contributors to the UK economy and UK exports.