Government to tighten planning rules for flood risk areas

Planning guidance for building in flood risk areas is to be tightened, the government has announced.

Government is to tighten planning rules for flood risk areas. Photograph: ProjectB / Getty Images Government is to tighten planning rules for flood risk areas. Photograph: ProjectB / Getty Images

The news comes as part of a joint DEFRA and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announcement of the Flood and Coastal Erosion Investment Plan, which sets out the government's plans for new flood and coastal schemes to protect 336,000 properties by 2027. 

It says that more than £860m is to be spent in 2021-22 to support the design and construction of more than 1,000 flood alleviation schemes across England. The announcement also trails changes to the UK flood reinsurance scheme, which helps homes at risk of flood secure insurance cover. 

A recent review of decisions by DEFRA, MHCLG and the Environment Agency (EA) found that over 97% of planning decisions for residential properties were made in line with EA advice in the year 2019/20, but 866 homes were granted planning permission in spite of EA advice to the contrary. 

In its announcement, the government promises it "will bring in tighter guidance for planning authorities as part of a package of actions to better protect and prepare communities for flooding". 

Since 2009, and reiterated in an April direction, when local planning authorities are minded to approve an application for major development contrary to an EA objection, it must be referred up to the secretary of state. The new guidance, “designed to drive up compliance with planning rules”, is set to reaffirm the requirement.

Yesterday’s announcement adds to this, saying the government will also consider how planning decisions in areas at risk from surface water flooding could be subject to the equivalent rules in future.

In a statement, George Eustice, environment secretary, said: “The tragic recent events in Germany and Belgium serve as a sobering reminder of how devastating flooding can be. We are standing by communities and will bolster defences against flooding across England with many thousands more properties better protected by 2027.”

Responding to the announcement John Alexander, managing director of flood management solutions company Aquobex, welcomed the news of tighter restrictions on planning permissions for new builds in flood risk areas, but added that another issue “is how we remedy surface water flooding, which is increasingly affecting communities as we saw in London last week”. He said that remedies for surface water flooding are improved drainage, sustainable drainage systems, and natural floodplain management in suburbia.

The revised version of the NPPF, published last week, updated national policy on flood risk. It now spells out that plans should manage any residual flood risk by using opportunities provided by new development and "improvements in green and other infrastructure to reduce the causes and impacts of flooding (making as much use as possible of natural flood management techniques as part of an integrated approach to flood risk management)".

According to a written ministerial statement by housing minister, Robert Jenrick, last Tuesday, the changes around flood risk and climate change "are an initial response to the emergent findings of our joint review with DEFRA of policy for building in areas of flood risk". 

This week, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency also launched a joint consultation with local authorities, to help shape the direction and delivery of flood risk management across Scotland.

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