Funding gap may hamper flood risk management

The government’s response to the Pitt Report has given local authorities responsibility for surface water management. But the Local Government Association has warned funding is inadequate.

Local authorities will struggle to carry out their new role of managing surface water flooding without significant extra funding, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

The government announced a £15 million fund for local authorities to manage flooding risk in its response to the Pitt Report on the 2007 summer floods, published in December.1 But an LGA survey in November revealed nearly two thirds of councils do not have enough funds to carry out existing flood risk management responsibilities. It estimates £250 million is needed to enable councils to carry out their duties effectively.

The government has proposed that local authorities will also have responsibility for "on-the-ground management" of surface water flooding, which caused two thirds of the flooding in 2007.

Local authorities will coordinate and lead flood management, identify flood risk and drainage assets and who owns them, and assess community needs, the government said. They will also have to adopt and maintain new and redeveloped sustainable drainage systems on highways and the public realm.

Vanessa Goodchild-Bradley, the LGA’s policy consultant on flooding, welcomed the new role in principle. "Local authorities are best placed to take this on. But it will cost each authority about £1 million extra each year."

"Flood risk management has been underfunded for some time, particularly in view of the growing population and development," she said. "We’re not saying it’s not going to happen without the money, but it will be a lot slower."

The government’s response contained a pledge that any "net new burdens" for local authorities would be fully funded in the next comprehensive spending review, but Ms Goodchild-Bradley called for more clarification of this pledge.

Local authorities in three of the worst-hit areas - Hull, Leeds and Gloucester - will each receive £50,000 immediately to map surface water flooding in their areas.

Richard Davies, head of risk and emergency planning at Leeds City Council, said his council had pumped £1.2 million extra into flood risk management since the city suffered a series of floods in 2005. It has set up a working group with Yorkshire Water to identify problems with drainage. He welcomed the £50,000 from government, but estimated that a surface water management strategy would cost £0.5 million in total. "We don’t know where the extra £450,000 will come from," he said.

Lack of capital funding is also an issue for local authorities trying to protect their areas from floods. The council has developed a flood defence system for the city centre. This is estimated to cost £80-100 million, some of which may be funded by the Environment Agency. The council was hoping to raise some money from local businesses, but Mr Davies was doubtful this would be possible, given the economic downturn.

"If you need money and you don’t have it, and you can’t raise it, that suggests that the work won’t get done," he said.

The LGA’s survey was funded by the Environment Department (DEFRA) which has withheld the full publication until it has been scrutinised by ministers.

The survey indicated that partnership working between local authorities and water firms on drainage will be more difficult than the government envisages. Only half the councils who responded had a partnership with local water firms to discuss these issues. A provision forcing water firms to cooperate with local authorities needs to be in the Floods and Water Bill, Mr Davies said.

"They’ll only do what they’re required to do," he said. Water firms’ spending is restricted by Ofwat, which is part of the problem, he added. No allowance has been made in water firms’ five-year spending plans for working with local authorities on drainage. These are being reviewed by Ofwat (see pp 49-50).

The LGA is developing a data-sharing protocol with Water UK and the Environment Agency to improve cooperation.

The Agency, which now has overall strategic responsibility for all types of flooding, urged local authorities to start implementing their new duty and not wait for the Floods and Water Bill, a draft of which is expected in the spring.

An extra £8.5 million in government funding will help the Agency better predict and map surface water flooding and make flood warnings available to ex-directory households.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the government had accepted all of Sir Michael Pitt’s 92 recommendations.

Other measures announced as part of the response include:

  • £5 million for a new national Agency/Met Office forecasting centre to provide an integrated national forecasting and alert service for emergency responders.
  • £5 million for a grant scheme to help people protect homes from the flooding using measures such as door boards.
  • Up to £1.25 million for "Local Resilience Forums" to prepare emergency plans in case of reservoir dam failure.
  • £560,000 for projects showing the benefits of working with natural processes to prevent flooding. This funding was announced last July. A report on the potential benefits of flood storage areas will report in September 2009.

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