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Briefing sheet

UK flood risk management organisation

11 May 2015

The management of flood risk is a devolved responsibility in the United Kingdom - it is dealt with separately by the administrations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This briefing provides a guide to each administration’s approach.

UK flood risk management organisation
Machinery at work on the Humber flood alleviation scheme.

There is no single standards setting or overseeing body for flood risk management in the UK. Policy and delivery is administered separately by the governments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For civil engineers and others working in the flooding sector, especially those active in more than one region, it is important to understand the organisational structures and the roles of the different bodies involved. This briefing provides a guide to each administration’s approach.


Flood risk management in England is predominantly based on the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. This requires the establishment of a national Flood and Coastal Risk Management (FCERM) strategy.

The strategy is developed jointly between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency (EA), an executive non-departmental government body. The EA receives around £750m of annual grant-in-aid funding from Defra to deliver, maintain and monitor the strategy. The EA leads on flood risk from main rivers, reservoirs and the sea, as well as issuing flood forecasts and warnings, and guidance for flood events.

Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs), i.e. county councils and unitary authorities, develop local strategies that align with the national FCERM strategy. Local strategies cover flood risk from surface water, groundwater and ordinary watercourses. LLFAs receive funding from both Defra and the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The DCLG is also responsible for planning policy, which now includes sustainable drainage.

There is a duty for all parties to co-operate to manage flood risk, including district councils, highway authorities and water and sewage authorities. Co-ordination is provided by Regional Flood and Coastal Committees RFCCs, 11 of which exist in England) whose members are appointed by the Secretary of State and the relevant local authority. In areas of special drainage need, Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) exist to manage water levels and reduce local flood risk. There are 113 IDBs in England.

Sewerage undertakers (often water companies, which raise funding through water rates or meter charges) are responsible for flooding from most sewers.

Coastal (local) authorities and the EA manage risk from coastal erosion. Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) exist as strategies for particular stretches of coastline.


Management of flood risk in Wales is predominantly based on the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. This requires the establishment of the National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management in Wales.

Welsh Government provides around £50m of annual funding to operators to deliver the strategy. Operators include Natural Resources Wales (NRW), local authorities and drainage boards.

NRW provides an oversight role in relation to all flood and coastal risk management in Wales and is responsible for managing flooding from main rivers, reservoirs and the sea. It also provides technical advice and support, flood warnings, and leads on national initiatives such as Flood Awareness Wales.

The 22 local authorities in Wales, which act as LLFAs, are required to produce Local Flood Risk Management Strategies which complement the National Strategy. LLFAs are responsible for managing flooding from ordinary watercourses, surface water and ground water and for investigating local flood incidents.

Four Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) in Wales cover management of flood risk from coastal processes and are developed by Coastal Groups, with input from local authorities and NRW. There are also three IDBs in Wales.

Water and sewerage companies are responsible for flooding from water and sewerage systems including sewer flooding, burst pipes or water mains and floods caused by system failures.


The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act 2009 sets out the requirement for Flood Risk Management Strategies and Local Flood Risk Management Plans in Scotland.

The policy framework for flood management is set by Scottish Ministers, who bear ultimate responsibility for the actions and objectives set out in the Flood Risk Management Strategies. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the flood warning authority for Scotland, produces the Strategies which are built from plans for 14 Local Plan Districts.

SEPA works closely with local authorities, Scottish Water, the National Park Authorities and Forestry Commission Scotland, to identify actions to address flooding in areas of risk and to ensure a nationally consistent approach. Local Plan District boundaries are based on river catchments and cross local authority administrative boundaries, making partnership working an essential feature of flood risk management implementation in Scotland.

The 32 Scottish local authorities are responsible for producing Local Flood Management Plans, which feed into the national strategy. Each plan identifies delivery dates for mitigation measures, considers funding needs and co-ordinates actions. Local authorities also implement and maintain flood protection measures, and clear and repair watercourses to reduce flood risk.

SEPA also provides flood warnings and advice on preparing and coping with impacts, and offers detailed information on areas most at risk via its flood extent maps.

Scottish Water is responsible for the drainage of surface water from roofs and paved ground surfaces within a property boundary, and flooding caused by overflowing or blocked sewers.

Northern Ireland

Flood risk management in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. However, it currently has no formal definition in legislation.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is the statutory drainage authority under the terms of the Drainage (Northern Ireland) Order 1973 as amended. This legislation empowers DARD to carry out drainage schemes, including flood alleviation projects. DARD is also the competent authority for implementing the EU Floods Directive, and the Lead Government Department (LGD) for flooding. This is mainly an emergency planning role though also includes coordinating response efforts for certain flood events.

All of DARD’s flood risk management functions are carried out through the Rivers Agency division. About £22m per year is allocated to Rivers Agency to manage the flood risk from rivers and the sea.

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) is responsible for public roads and water supply, so also has an interest in flood risk management. DRD’s road-related functions are delivered through Transport NI. Public water functions are delivered by NI Water, a government-owned company (GoCo).

The number of local councils in Northern Ireland is currently being reduced from 26 to 11. The new bodies will start to take a more significant role in civil contingency activity, including the management of some flood emergency events.

There are currently no shoreline management plans for Northern Ireland and no single body has responsibility for coastal erosion.

  • Ben McAlinden, manager (international partnerships) at Royal Academy of Engineering