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The Flood and Water Management Act came into force in 2010 with the aim of providing better, more comprehensive management of flood risk for people, homes and businesses. The legislation implemented a number of recommendations that came out of the Government's investigation into the summer 2007 floods, led by Sir Michael Pitt.
Five years on from the implementation of the Act, it seems opportune to reflect on whether Pitt's aspirations have been realised.
The Act was a catalyst for change in the flood risk management world, as it clarified the roles and responsibilities of different flood risk management authorities. Of note was the introduction of the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA).
The LLFA gained responsibility for managing flood risk from
They do this through :
Though roles and responsibilities can be written in black and white, the behaviour of floodwater often makes it very difficult to apportion responsibility. In my role as Flood Mitigation Manager at Nottingham City Council, I have worked with several communities in the City where the cause of flooding was multifaceted. As with many urban locations, communities that suffer flooding can live many miles from a river. In intense rainfall events, highway drainage can be overwhelmed, water can flood out of public sewers, road gullies may work in reverse and high river levels can ‘tidelock’ outfalls from sewers and drains. Streets turn into rivers, fountains spray out of the carriageway and water flows into homes and businesses.
I’ve had many lengthy conversations that debate the question:
When rainfall exceeds the design capacity of sewers and causes water to flow overland, who is responsible? The Water Company, the LLFA, the Highway Authority?
It is not a single organisation that has responsibility and reducing flood risk in such situations is not straightforward! Try explaining that to a member of the public who has had their life turned upside down in the blink of an eye. In these situations, the duty for LLFAs to lead flood investigations, coordinate risk management authorities and support communities is, in my view, a fundamental achievement of the Act.
Reducing the risk of flooding in these complex situations is costly. Defra’s recent move to develop a six year capital investment plan is a step in the right direction. However, the reduction in revenue funding is a major concern. Should we build more infrastructure when it’s becoming more and more difficult to look after what we already have?
New development provides flood risk management opportunities and Sir Michael Pitt recognised that there were long standing issues with the adoption and maintenance of sustainable drainage features in new developments. As a result, the legislation included provision for LLFAs to become a Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) Approval Body (SAB) which would:
In April 2015 Defra and DCLG opted for a ‘watered down’ version of the SAB placing no responsibility on a single organisation to adopt or maintain SuDS. The lack of adopting body for SuDS is a cause for concern among many LLFAs.
Many of Sir Michael Pitt's aspirations have been realised in the past five years and countless communities across England have benefited as a result. LLFAs have made vast progress in establishing resource and skills to implement the new legislation. Progress, capacity and resource vary nationally and Defra’s ongoing review into the implementation of the Act will undoubtedly identify geographic disparities.
There remain key areas for improvement and Defra, the Environment Agency, Local Authorities, Ofwat and Water Companies must work together to resolve the funding and regulation disparities that create challenges for managing complex flooding issues.
The new Government must realise that as long as rain falls from the sky, flooding will happen and communities will suffer. Consistent and sufficient funding must be guaranteed to ensure adequate investment in new flood risk management infrastructure and long term maintenance of existing assets.
Fay Bull is the current Flood Mitigation Manager at Nottingham City Council and will shortly move to AECOM as a Principal Flood Risk Management Consultant.