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Flooding is a devolved matter and this Briefing Paper covers England only, unless otherwise specified. Section 6 contains some information and further resources on each devolved administration and more detailed briefings can be provided by the Library on request by Members or their staff.

Overview of the problem

Around 5.4 million properties in England are at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea, surface water or both. Annual flood damage costs for the whole of the UK are estimated to be in the region of £1.1 billion. 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 (FCERM).

Who manages flood risk in England?

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead Government department on flood policy and provides funding for FCERM projects, predominantly through the Environment Agency. The previous Government published a National Flood Resilience Review in September 2016 which assessed how the country can be better protected from future flooding and increasingly extreme weather events; and committed to publish a 25-year environment plan which was expected to include an integrated approach to flood risk alleviation. The plan is expected to be published by the end of 2017 or early 2018.

There are several different authorities involved in managing flood risk in England, including: the Environment Agency; regional flood and coastal committees; lead local flood authorities; local authorities; and internal drainage boards. Importantly, all powers relating to flooding and land drainage are permissive, so the various bodies involved do not have a duty to take action. Landowners have the main responsibility for safeguarding their land and property against flooding.

Funding for flood risk management

Central Government funding

The Government committed to investing £2.5 billion in capital funding for flood defences for the period 2015-16 to 2020-21, stating that the six year investment would protect a further 300,000 properties and reduce flood risk by 5 per cent. Previously funding was allocated on an annual basis only. Revenue funding is allocated for a one-year period only, however maintenance funding was protected by the 2015 Government in real terms at the 2015/16 level (£171 million) and budgets were allocated for each year up to 2019/20, totalling about £1 billion.

Funding for flood defences has been the subject of political debate and scrutiny, particularly in relation to whether current Government is spending enough or more than previous Governments. Over the five years under the 2010 Coalition Government, flood defence expenditure did increase overall compared to the previous five-year period under Labour, but it was originally set to decrease. The eventual total spending under the Coalition Government was higher due to the additional funding provided at the end of the period in response to the winter floods 2013-14.

Local funding

Risk management authorities can apply for a grant in aid (GiA) from the Government’s central funding to carry out FCERM projects. A project will be assessed based on how much public benefit it will have. If it qualifies for only a proportion of GiA, the funds can be ‘topped up’ through partnership funding from the local community. The future capital investment is contingent on £600 million partnership funding contributions. As at September 2016, the Government confirmed it had raised £270 million of this target, with sources for the remaining £330 million identified.

Further information

For more information about household flood insurance, see the Library Briefing Paper on Household flood insurance.

For more information about building in floodplains, see the Library Briefing Paper on Planning and flood risk.

For more information about flooding events in winter 2015/16, see the Library Briefing Paper on the Winter Floods 2015-16.

For further information on the position as at 2014, please refer to the Library Briefing Paper on Flood defence spending in England (Nov 2014).

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