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Several million properties in England are at risk of flooding.

There are different sources of flood risk. Flood risk can come from rainwater, rivers, the sea and coasts, and can include surface water flooding and groundwater flooding.

It is not possible to prevent all flooding or coastal erosion, but the impacts on communities can be reduced with effective flood and coastal erosion risk management (often referred to as FCERM). 

Who is responsible for managing flooding? 

In England, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) leads on FCERM and provides funding for projects. The Environment Agency disburses funding and delivers FCERM projects.

The Environment Agency produces a national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy for England. The current strategy was published in July 2020, alongside a new government policy statement on FCERM. The strategy was updated in June 2022 with the publication of a roadmap to 2026.The current national strategy focuses on resilience, and includes measures to:

  • create ‘climate resilient places’ (through understanding the impacts of climate change on flood risk),
  • invest in infrastructure and make planning decisions with a long-term focus, and
  • ensure local communities understand their own flood and coastal risk responsibilities, and how to act.

There are several ‘risk management authorities’ involved in managing flood risk in England at all levels: the Environment Agency; regional flood and coastal committees; lead local flood authorities; local authorities; and internal drainage boards.

All powers relating to flooding and land drainage are permissive, so the bodies involved do not have a duty to act.

Property owners have the main responsibility for safeguarding their property and land against flooding.  

Flood risk management in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the devolved administrations. 

What measures can reduce flood risk?

A range of measures are used to prevent and manage flood risk:

  • “Hard engineering”, where construction is used to prevent the risk of flooding. Solutions can include sea walls, flood barriers and embankments.
  • “Soft engineering”, where natural processes are used to reduce the risk of flooding. Solutions can include restoring bends in rivers, changing land management approaches, creating saltmarshes, and wider nature-based solutions.
  • “Property level resilience”, which can include both hard and soft solutions taken by individual homeowners to protect their property. Solutions can include “resistance” measures, such as installing flood doors and barriers, and “resilience” measures, such as moving electric sockets above floor level.

It is not possible to prevent all flooding, and both preventative and management measures have limitations. 

Funding for flood defences and management 

By the end of the 2017-19 Parliament, the government committed to investing £2.6 billion in capital funding for flood defences between 2015/16 and 2020/21. Final spending during this period was £2.8 billion. In March 2020, the government announced that in the next six-year investment programme the total capital budget would double to £5.2 billion.  

Funding for flood risk management is complex. The Environment Agency receives some  funding from the government to spend directly on FCERM activities. Additionally, risk management authorities can apply to the Environment Agency to fund local projects, although these projects may also require top up partnership funding from other sources.

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